Magazine article Editor & Publisher

College Paper Defends Publication of Anonymous Letter

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

College Paper Defends Publication of Anonymous Letter

Article excerpt

A HARVARD UNIVERSITY newspaper's publication of an anonymous letter that vehemently degrades a prominent Los Angeles law firm recently drew a wrathful denial from the firm's management.

The letter in the Harvard Law Record was purportedly written by an associate of the firm of Morrison & Foerster, which is described as being "dreadfully mismanaged," with morale "virtually non-existent."

The writer also charged that, despite an announced policy of no layoffs, Morrison & Foerster has lost 30 associates since the fall of 1991, of which only a "handful have left voluntarily -- mostly out of fear of impending doom."

The letter went on, "From all accounts and from my discussions with colleagues at other Los Angeles firms, Morrison & Foerster is one of the least healthy firms in the city and may stay that way for some time."

Of the three partners who have been asked to leave the firm this year, all have been female, including a black woman, the writer continued.

Richard D. Fybel, Morrison & Foerster's managing partner, called the letter "shameful, inaccurate and irresponsible," as well as defamatory.

Asked by E&P if M&F planned legal action, Fybel said that no decision had been made on the matter. He was quoted in the Los Angeles Daily Journal, a legal newspaper, as saying of the letter, "The truth will out in the end and the truth is on our side."

Interviewed by phone, Robert Arnold, the editor of the Law Record, a student-run paper for the Harvard Law School, said he decided to publish the letter anonymously after verifying its allegations with the author, members of Morrison & Foerster, and people in the law school who have clerked for the firm.

Arnold said he also checked the legality of printing the letter with Harvard Law School faculty members and sent a copy of it to Morrison & Foerster before publication. This was acknowledged by Fybel.

A preface to the associate's letter stated that the Law Record normally does not publish unidentified submissions but was making an exception because of the "issues raised in the piece, the timeliness of the contents, and the fact that we have substantiated it through conversations with both the author and other members of the firm .... "

Arnold said that one faculty member, in supporting the paper's decision on anonymity, told him that the New York Times also publishes anonymous letters to the editor.

"We would not publish that kind of letter," said Robert Barzilay, the Times editor of the letters-to-the-editor column, in reference to the M&F letter. …

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