A Superior Court judge, hinting of what it considered something of a ‘witch hunt,’ rejects a conservative publisher’s efforts to squelch scientist Michael Mann’s lawsuit alleging he was defamed in a magazine article equating him to convicted pedophile Jerry Sandusky.

It looks like Penn State University climate scientist Michael Mann, the scientist most clearly identified with the iconic climate change “hockey stick” research, may get his day in court that he has requested.

A superior court judge for the District of Columbia’s Civil Division denied a motion by National Review, Inc., to set aside Mann’s court challenge claiming he was defamed by an article in the magazine that he feels equated him to convicted pedophile and former Penn State football coach Jerry Sandusky.

Pointing to the legal definition of defamation, Judge Natalia M. Combs Greene wrote that “The Court finds that there is sufficient evidence in the record to demonstrate that Plaintiff [Mann] is likely to succeed on the merits.” The court ruled that the magazine’s description of Mann “as the man behind the fraudulent climate change ‘hockey stick’ graph’ was essentially an allegation of fraud.” For a scholar, the judge wrote, “it is obvious that allegations of fraud could lead to the demise of [Mann’s] profession and tarnish his character and standing in the community.”

The court, in denying National Review’s effort to halt Mann’s proceeding with his legal challenge, wrote that it “clearly recognizes that some members involved in the climate-change discussions and debates employ harsh words.” But it pointed to “a line between rhetorical hyperbole and defamation” and said “something more than mere rhetorical hyperbole is, at least at this stage, present” in the case. It pointed to terminology such as “whitewashed,” “intellectually bogus,” “ringmaster of the three-ring circus” and “cover-up” as “more than rhetorical hyperbole.”

The court pointed to findings by “several reputable bodies” that Mann’s work on the hockey stick research “was sound” and said evidence before the court “indicates the likelihood that ‘actual malice’ is present in the NR Defendants’ conduct.” The court’s decision said “the NR Defendant’s persistence despite the findings of the investigative bodies could be likened to a witch hunt.” Putting Mann’s name “in the same sentence with Sandusky (a convicted pedophile) is clearly outrageous,” the court ruled.

The decision does not yet amount to an outright victory for Mann in his defamation claim, but it leaves the way open for him to pursue his case further in the court system.

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