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Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Stanford Prof to Battle Defamation Lawsuit in Santa Clara Court

Posted By on Tue, Mar 2, 2010 at 3:20 PM

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A prominent criminal-law professor at Stanford University will have the home-court advantage in a defamation lawsuit brought against him by a former student who asserts that law school officials discouraged firms throughout the Bay Area from hiring her.

The plaintiff, South San Francisco resident Usha Viswanathan, graduated from Stanford Law School in 1994. In 1997 she pursued a lawsuit against the school, claiming that female, minority students were not getting the same access to career counseling and opportunities as white students. (Viswanathan is of South Asian heritage, according to court filings.)

After the dismissal of that suit in 2001, Viswanathan claims in pleadings, law firms with whom she interviewed for jobs were warned by unknown sources at Stanford not to hire her. In one communication, she says, a "computer-generated voice mail message" was left with a potential employer warning that Viswanathan was "a dangerous personality," had "caused a lot of trouble for professors and companies in the past," and had "even stalked a Stanford professor."

The present lawsuit alleges that this voice mail and other communications to potential employers were a systematic defamation campaign carried out by Robert Weisberg, co-director of the Criminal Justice Center at Stanford Law School. The lawsuit claims that Weisberg exercises "substantial influence" in recommending students to firms.

It's not the first time Viswanathan has gone after Weisberg, who, according to court papers, has denied recognizing her or knowing much about her in the course of legal proceedings. In 2006, after receiving what she said were "harassing" hang-up phone calls, Viswanathan sought a restraining order against the professor, which a judge declined to grant.

A San Mateo County Superior Court judge ruled in favor of Stanford's request that the current defamation suit be transferred to Santa Clara County, home to the university.

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Peter Jamison


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