Koren Publications is probably the world’s largest supplier of patient education materials to chiropractors. Its president, Tedd Koren, D.C., also publishes an electronic newsletter and maintains a Web site. In 2002, I sued Koren and his company for falsely reporting that I had been “delicensed,” am a ” quackpot,” and was “in trouble” because I had been justifiably sued for racketeering. Koren’s report was based on a “news release” by Tim Bolen, a professional character assassin whom I am also suing for libel. Koren’s answers during his deposition indicated that he neither knew nor cared whether what he said was true. In August 2004, an arbitration panel composed of three attorneys awarded me $6,500 in general damages, $10,000 in punitive damages, reimbursement for certain costs, and publication of a retraction. Koren appealed, however, and after 3 days of trial, the judge ruled that I had failed to present sufficient evidence that Koren had acted with “reckless disregard of the truth.” We appealed the verdict, but the appeals courts
Hulda Clark is an unlicensed naturopath with a mail-order “degree” who fraudulently claims to have cured cancer, AIDS, and other serious diseases—sometimes within a few hours—by administering tiny electric currents to the patient’s body. In the Fall of 1999, Clark hired Bolen to harass her critics. Since that time, Bolen has distributed countless messages criticizing me and encouraged others to disseminate these messages through Internet news groups, Web sites, and print publications.
I have responded to this campaign by filing libel suits against Clark, Bolen, and several others who have spread the defamatory statements. In July 2001, Clark, through her attorney (who also did business as the “Health Freedom Legal Defense Council”), filed a cross-complaint that falsely charged me and about 30 other Clark critics with racketeering and a long list of other crimes and civil wrongs. Soon after the cross-complaint was filed, Bolen distributed messages headlined “Stephen Barrett Charged with Racketeering, and Civil Rights Violations, in California.” A few weeks later, Koren’s newsletter contained the following passages about me.
“ . . . there’s pretty good news about Stephen Barrett, MD, the de-licensed Quackbuster. Not good news for him, but it’s pretty good for us. Here it is below. . . .
Barrett and the other “Quack Busters” who have made a career of attacking chiropractic and other non-pharmaceutical health care arts have a very thin skin when they are attacked. Their modus operandi is to attack, threaten and start legal actions against those who don’t share their bigotry.
Ilena Rosenthal has a website support group for women who have had problems with breast implants. She called Barrett a “bully” and Quackwatch (his web site) “A power hungry, misguided bunch of pseudoscientific socialistic bigots.” One person christioned [sic] Stephen Barrett a “QuackPot”. It seems that this label drives him especially crazy. (Let’s use it all the time when referring to him.) Barrett sued for defamation and libel but the judge threw the case out. . . .
But there’s more. (is this starting to sound like a TV infomercial?)
Stephen Barrett, MD, William Jarvis and the entire Quackbuster gang including many of Barrett’s business enterprises, associates and organizations are being sued for $10 million for racketeering, malicious prosecution, abuse of process and other charges by New Century Press. The Health Freedom Legal Defense Council which represents the plaintiffs. The Health Free team includes Jim Turner, Esq. the attorney who fights for health care freedom. Mr. Turner . . . . has defended chelation MDs, mercury free dentists and most recently, us! Jim got the FTC to end its harassing investigation of me (Tedd Koren) and Koren Publications in their misguided attempt to limit chiropractic communication to the public.
But there’s more.
14 months ago I was told about the above lawsuit. Barrett is now in trouble. I can’t tell you more but I will keep you abreast with late breaking reports as the case develops. . . .”
In September 2001, during an e-mail discussion with Koren, I informed him that the “racketeering” suit was groundless and that I have never been “de-licensed.” In June 2002, after the suit was dismissed, I sent him the following message:
Dear Dr. Koren:
I hope you will believe me when I say that this is intended to be a friendly communication. Although we are miles apart when it comes to health beliefs, I think we are equally dedicated to promoting what we believe in and work very hard to communicate it. Unfortunately, you have libeled me, but for a variety of reasons, I would prefer to attempt to resolve the matter amicably without having to go to court.
The attached document describes why I believe I have grounds to sue you. In a nutshell, you have widely disseminated a false and defamatory message that I have been “de-licensed” and the misleading message that I have been involved in racketeering. I believe that I can sue you for libel from Pennsylvania or can add you as a “Doe” to our ongoing California suit against Clark, Bolen et al. And, although I have not discussed this particular point with my lawyers, we may also be able to involve you in any future action we take file against [Clark’s attorney].
The underlying facts are very simple:
With reservation of rights, I offer you the following. I am willing to let the matter drop if you agree to:
Feel free to telephone me if you would like to discuss the matter further.
When he did not respond, I consulted attorney Richard Orloski of Allentown, who filed suit.
To win a libel suit, it is necessary to prove that the defendant acted with “actual malice” (“knowledge of falsity” or “reckless disregard for the truth”). In October 2003, we had the opportunity to ask Koren to explain his behavior. During a deposition, he provided what my lawyer and I believe was ample evidence of both. Koren said that he had been aware of my criticisms of chiropractic for many years and has assumed that the information Bolen sent him had been true. After I notified him otherwise, the prudent thing to do would have been to check. But Koren admitted that he had never even seen the racketeering suit, and knew nothing about the status of my medical license. Even more peculiar, he said that he had had no foreknowledge of the suit; and it turned out that neither he nor attorney James Turner knew anything about the Health Freedom Defense Council. When asked why he had implied that he knew more bad things were coming, he said, “I was intending for them to keep subscribing to the newsletters so I can keep them informed as to the late breaking developments.” (In other words, he though it might be good for business purposes to tell his subscribers I was in trouble.) When asked why he didn’t issue a retraction, he replied that he removed the offending newsletter from his Web site (nine months after we filed suit) but didn’t want to give me “so much press.”
Following the trial court’s dismissal of the suit, Koren and his attorney issued a news release which stated that I “had filed similar defamation lawsuits against almost 40 people across the country within the past few years and had not won one single one at trial.” This statement, which was partly false and partly misleading, was intended to imply that I make it a habit to file groundless libel suits. During the trial, I testified that I have been the target of an organized libel campaign and had sued 6, 7, or 8 of the most serious offenders. (I wasn’t certain of the number.) Only one case, which I had lost, had gone to trial. The others, which did not go to trial, were either settled out-of-court, won by default, dismissed, or still pending.
I believe that Koren’s conduct provided sufficient grounds for a finding of “actual malice.” Even though the courts did not agree, the final outcome will not change the simple fact—as is readily apparent from Koren’s deposition—that he spread false information about me with the intention of harming my reputation.
This article was revised on June 9, 2008.