COLLEGE PARK, Md. (AP) — A federal judge on Wednesday threw out a Baltimore attorney’s lawsuit accusing the Southern Poverty Law Center of defaming him in an article and a “hate map” that tied him to a neo-Nazi group.
The First Amendment protects the law center’s publications about attorney Glen K. Allen in 2016, U.S. District Judge Catherine Blake in Maryland ruled. Blake said Allen didn’t dispute the law center article’s “underlying factual assertions” about his history of supporting the National Alliance, a neo-Nazi group.
“First, Allen does not allege that the factual statements in (the publications) are false. Second, the statements he objects to are non-actionable opinion or hyperbole,” the judge wrote in her 18-page opinion.
Allen sued the Alabama-based law center, which has tracked far-right extremist groups for decades, and two of its former employees last December. He claimed the publications ravaged his reputation and cost him his job as an independent contractor at the City of Baltimore Law Department.
Allen said he plans to appeal the judge’s ruling. He said the judge erroneously accepted the law center’s argument that all of his suit’s state law claims can be held to the same dismissal standard as defamation claims.
“I don’t think that’s a fair characterization,” he said.
The law center’s August 2016 article described Allen as a “well-known neo-Nazi lawyer” who has “a long history of supporting one of the most notorious hate groups in America,” as a longtime donor and dues-paying member of the National Alliance for years. The article said federal records show Allen also had donated money to a “racist political party,” the American Eagle Party National Committee.
“Allen may well be a skillful attorney. But at a time when Baltimore and its police department are facing devastating criticism over their policing practices, and a crisis over their treatment of minority residents, the hiring of a known neo-Nazi to litigate for them surely raises questions,” the article said.
Allen claims a National Alliance accountant secretly scanned documents tying him to the group and sold them to the law center, violating a confidentiality agreement. His lawsuit included racketeering claims against law center employees.
Allen said he was earning about $90,000 as an independent contractor attorney for Baltimore when the city terminated his contract, after the law center published its article.
“The SPLC smear, from which it profited handsomely, essentially accuses Allen of professional ethical violations and incompetence, for which the SPLC had no evidence because it was not true,” his suit said.
But the judge rejected Allen’s allegation that the article contained the “false implication” that he would act unethically in litigation.
“While the article noted that the ‘hiring of a known neo-Nazi to litigate (for Baltimore) surely raises questions’ it cannot be said that the article implies that Allen would act unethically,” the judge wrote.
Other organizations and individuals have sued the law center for its articles about far-right extremism and its “hate group” labels.
In September, a federal judge dismissed a lawsuit that accused law center leaders of trying to financially destroy one of the organizations that it has labeled as a hate group. U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson in Washington, D.C., said the Center for Immigration Studies’ lawsuit was devoid of any allegation that the law center made a false statement about the Washington-based nonprofit.
In January 2018, a federal judge in Virginia ruled that the First Amendment protected a charity tracking website's use of the law center's hate group labels.
The founder of the far-right Proud Boys sued the law center in February for labeling the organization as a hate group. That federal case is still pending in Alabama.
In June 2018, the law center apologized to a London-based group, Quilliam, and its founder, Maajid Nawaz, and agreed to pay $3.4 million in an out-of-court settlement after labeling them as anti-Muslim extremists.