Geller vs Randi & CSICOP: A Tale of Two Press Releases
Earlier this year the Parapsychological Association (PA) received two press releases on the disposition of the various lawsuits between CSICOP and self-proclaimed psychic Uri Geller. The discrepancies between the two accounts proved interesting and PA Member, Dr Marcello Truzzi (Eastern Michigan University) was asked to write a commentary and interpretation. Preceding Truzzi's article are the two press releases, unedited, printed as they were received.
Press Release from Uri Geller Enterprises, February 15, 1995:
It is reported that Mr Uri Geller and the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of the Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP) have now reached by mutual agreement a comprehensive settlement in relation to the last remaining lawsuits between them. This follows earlier settlement of the action against James Randi and Mr Geller's agreement not to pursue the 500,000 Yen award obtained by him against Randi in the courts of Japan.
The settlement reached includes dismissal of the case pending in the English courts against Prometheus Books, Victor Stenger, Paul Kurtz and others. This case was shortly to be set down for trial. Paul Kurtz is the Chairman of CSICOP and the manager of Prometheus Books (Defendants in the English Action). Mr Kurtz and Prometheus have agreed to send a letter confirming that they issued an "errata" in all editions of the book, Physics and Psychics since they first learned of the error in 1992, and will ensure that any future edition will not contain those erroneous statements.
In , Kurtz had issued a sworn Affidavit, stating inter alia: "Prior to publication [of the book] neither I nor anyone employed by [Prometheus Books, Inc.] were aware that there were any errors in Physics and Psychics and I never knew that it contained the words complained of until I heard from the solicitors for the Plaintiff.... I now understand that it is untrue . . . I unreservedly apologise to him both on behalf of myself and the first defendants [Prometheus Books]."
Uri Geller stated: "I welcome this global settlement of the remaining law suits which arose for the purposes of protecting my name and reputation in various countries where I am well known, against what are now accepted as unjustified attacks. I have accepted Mr Kurtz, apology, and feel that justice has been done, and my reputation vindicated. My immediate future plans include the forthcoming release of the film inspired by my life story, Mindbender directed by Ken Russell and starring Terence Stamp. I have also accepted invitations for television and 'live' appearances, and I am currently preparing a TV special with Sir David Frost."
Gordon Hausmann, Geller's principal UK solicitor says: "It is sensible for Mr Geller to settle these disputes, in spite of a strong and compelling legal case, which I believe would have been upheld by the Courts, in order to end protracted litigation in different jurisdictions, and come to an amicable settlement."
According to Geller's U.S. Attorneys, Richard William Winelander of Baltimore, and Ruth Liebesman of New York, the settlement also requires that Geller sue the attorneys whose default resulted in the sanctions, and Geller agreed to assign the first Fifty Thousand Dollars ($50,000.00) of any recovery to CSICOP's attorneys. Richard Winelander, Geller's principal attorney says this is the first case in the United States, of which he is aware, that Rule 11 Sanctions were awarded against a client for his lawyers, procedural defaults. Although Winelander would like to petition the Supreme Court to address this issue, the settlement agreement specifically bars him from doing so.
The settlement also requires that Geller pay Forty Thousand Dollars ($40,000.00) to CSICOP's attorneys within two weeks and Ten Thousand Dollars ($10,000.00) per year for the next three years. Geller may be reimbursed for these amounts from the suit he is required to file against the defaulting attorneys, assuming his recovery exceeds the Fifty Thousand Dollars ($50,000.00) assigned to CSICOP's attorneys. Assuming these terms are met, CSICOP's counsel is waiving the remaining fees ordered paid by Geller. Including interest, the sum that Geller had been ordered to pay had reached nearly One Hundred and Seventy Thousand Dollars ($170,000.00) although, in a recent edition of its publication Skeptical Briefs, CSICOP claimed it had incurred Two Hundred and Fifty Thousand Dollars ($250,000.00) in costs defending the libel actions against it.
The Agreement stipulates that it will represent full and final settlement and mutual release of all disputed claims between the parties, and hopefully conclude several years of litigation in various jurisdictions by mutual agreement and accord between the parties.
For further details, please contact: (in the United States) Richard William Winelander, 19 East Fayette Street, Suite 301, Baltimore, Maryland, 21202; and (in the United Kingdom) Gordon Hausmann, LL.B., Curry, Ch. Hausmann, Popeck, 17A Welbeck Way, London, W1M 7PD, England.
And from the Skeptical Inquirer, the following press release was issued on March 6, 1995:
'Psychic' Must Pay Skeptics Up to $120,000
Amherst, NY: Self-proclaimed psychic spoon-bender Uri Geller has paid to the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP), the first $40,000 of up to $120,000 as part of a settlement agreement to a court-described "frivolous complaint" made by Geller against CSICOP.
The settlement ends a four-year battle in the Washington DC courts that began with Geller filing a $15 million suit against CSICOP and magician James 'The Amazing' Randi, alleging defamation, invasion of privacy, and tortuous interference with prospective advantage. Geller filed suit because Randi had stated in an April 9, 1991 interview with the International Herald Tribune that Geller had "tricked even reputable scientists," with tricks that "are the kind that used to be on the back of cereal boxes when I was a kid. Apparently scientists don't eat cornflakes anymore."
CSICOP, an Amherst, New York based not for profit scientific and educational organisation dedicated to investigating claims of psychic phenomena such as those made by Geller, was not charged with any specific conduct. CSICOP maintained throughout that it was a frivolous suit brought by Geller to harass the organisation. The US District Court in Washington, DC, ruled in favour of CSICOP and awarded almost $150,000 in sanctions against Geller.
In efforts to overturn the sanctions award Geller then lost two motions for reconsideration in the District Court, followed by a 3.0 loss in the US Court of Appeals and most recently another loss in the appeals court when his petition for rehearing was denied on January 25, 1995.
The settlement agreement calls for Geller to pay CSICOP $70,000 in cash over three years and the first $50,000 of any sums recovered by Geller in a new action he is bringing against his former attorneys. In addition, Geller must also drop another suit against skeptical book publisher Prometheus Books and other skeptics filed in London, England.
In an earlier suit that Geller had brought against Prometheus Books, Victor Stenger, and Paul Kurtz in Miami, Florida, Geller was compelled by the Court to pay Prometheus Books an additional $20,000 in legal fees.
Barry Karr, CSICOP executive director, commented: "Although we settled for somewhat less than the entire $150,000 awarded to us as sanctions for the frivolous suit, we are very pleased with this victory. Prior to filing suit, Geller, an Israeli citizen living in England, placed his assets in trust, rendering uncertain our ability to collect. Instead of spending thousands more in legal fees to pierce the trust in London, we decided it best to end it now."
Paul Kurtz, CSICOP chairman, said: "When the principles upon which CSICOP was founded are at stake, we are prepared to do battle all the way, if it should prove necessary. We believe deeply in a free press, freedom of speech and scientific inquiry, and the importance of dissent.,, He characterized the Geller suit as the "kind of suit being used as a means of silencing debate on significant scientific issues."
[For more information write Barry Karr, Skeptical Inquirer, P.O. Box 703, Buffalo, New York, 14226 who issued the press release.]
And now for the commentary:
An End to the Uri Geller vs Randi & CSICOP Litigation?
by Marcello Truzzi (Eastern Michigan University)
For the last six years, there have been frequent media accounts of the various legal suits brought against magician James Randi and the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP), particularly those by the reported millionaire and psychic Uri Geller. Matters 'may, have finally been settled between the parties. Geller has repeatedly said that he has not minded controversy about his psychic abilities but claims his suits were brought because these attacks have depicted him as a criminal and con man. Geller says he wants the record set straight to protect his family and his personal and business reputation. The defendants claim that Geller's suits are attempts to stifle their freedom of speech and critical inquiry and are merely legal harassments intended to destroy them financially via the high expenses of defence litigation. The suits have involved a tangled web of issues, and all parties have sought to put their own spin on matters, often resulting in confusion and sometimes a bit of misdirection. Many may have obtained the impression that the suits centrally concerned issues of the paranormal, the validity of Geller's psi and PK claims, and the rights of critics, free expression. As we will see, the facts are quite different.
Matters erupted when James Randi gave an interview published in the June 1988 issue of Rod Serling's Twilight Zone Mystery Magazine in which he falsely asserted that parapsychologist Eldon Byrd was in jail as a convicted child molester. Randi also referred to Uri Geller as involved with Byrd in a nasty "blackmail campaign" against him. Randi made further remarks along similar lines on May 10 when he spoke at a meeting of the New York Skeptics. Byrd had never been arrested for or convicted on such charges. Later matters suggest Randi's accusations may have been a gross distortion growing out of information about an earlier actual conviction of Byrd on a pornography charge. Byrd filed a libel suit in March 1989 against Randi, CSICOP, and the magazine's publisher, arguing that Randi was acting as a legal agent for CSICOP. Geller tried to file a suit in , but it was dropped because the action exceeded the one-year statute of limitations.
Byrd's suit continued with many preliminary activities (depositions, etc.) while several new and independent legal actions were underway, but Byrd versus Randi and CSICOP finally went to trial in May 1993. The magazine's publisher and the author of the interview were dropped from the case, presumably because the magazine went out of business. CSICOP had tried to be dismissed from the suit but was unsuccessful. The trial ended with Randi being judged guilty of libel with malice (legally defined as ,"showing a reckless disregard for the truth"), but the jury awarded no money to Byrd. Having heard much that was unsavoury, the jury apparently did not much care for either Byrd or Randi. The jury did find in favour of CSICOP, agreeing that in this case there was no agency relationship present between it and Randi. Though Byrd legally won, the lack of monetary award made his a Pyrrhic victory. Despite the jury's verdict and the high legal expenses borne by Randi (estimated to have been about $150,000, costs not covered by CSICOP's legal insurance), Randi has repeatedly declared that he "won," because no money for damages was awarded to Byrd.
Meanwhile, in 1990, Geller sued Randi and the Kodansha publishing house in Japan. In a 1989 interview there for the magazine, Days Japan, Randi stated that metallurgist Dr. Wilbur Franklin (who had endorsed Geller's psychic metal bending) was so ashamed when Randi discredited Geller that Franklin committed suicide. Randi also described Geller as an uncaring "sociopath". In fact, Franklin's death certificate shows that he died of natural causes. Though Geller initiated an action on this in the United States in late 19X9, so few issues of the magazine had been sold in the United States that he was forced to move this suit to Tokyo. In September, 1992, Randi wrote the Japanese court saying that he could not afford to hire representation or come to the trial to defend himself since his legal costs in his various cases by that time had been "in excess of $220,000" and that he was financially drained. In March 1993, the court ruled that Randi's remarks had been an "insult" to Geller and awarded a judgment against Randi for 500,000 Yen (about $2000). (It was reported that a judgment on Geller's case against Kodansha would be announced in May, but it seems to have been settled out of court.)
In February 1992, Geller and his brother-in-law, Shipi Strang, sued in Hungary against a newspaper there that in January published an interview with Randi that quoted him as saying that "Uri Geller and his companions are swindlers", and that Strang had helped Geller in his trickery. The suit was not brought against Randi. Geller says that because he has relatives in Hungary who were hurt by the charges, his main concern was with getting a speedy newspaper retraction. The court ruled in favour of Geller and Strang, and beyond making the newspapers pay Geller and Strang's legal costs, made them publish a retraction and pay damages of 6000 Forints (about $75).
In February 1992, Geller began a suit in London against Prometheus Books (both U.S. and U.K. branches) and Prof Victor J Stenger. This was over Stenger's and other Prometheus Books' authors falsely asserting that Geller had been arrested and convicted in Israel for misrepresenting himself as a psychic. This tale, which confuses a civil suit against Geller with a criminal action, seems to have started in Randi's first book on Geller, but that book's publication date was well beyond the statute of limitations. The later authors seem to have relied on Randi's early version. Geller brought a similar suit in April against Stenger and Prometheus in Florida, and in November against Stenger in Hawaii. The Florida suit was brought after the date set by the statute of limitations. Ruling that Geller's attorney did it knowingly, the Court ordered Geller to pay Stenger's legal costs (originally around $49,000 but eventually reduced to around $20,000, which Geller paid). The Hawaii suit was dropped when it, too, encountered a problem with the statute of limitations. Of this group of litigations, this left only the suit in London active, and it ultimately became part of the final settlement.
During all this, the suit against Randi and CSICOP over the International Herald Tribune interview churned forward. CSICOP motioned that it be dropped from the suit which was really against Randi. Geller's attorney, who was undergoing legal problems of his own, failed to respond to CSICOP's motion for dismissal. So its unopposed motion was granted. CSICOP then argued that this showed that the case against it had been frivolous, and the court awarded CSICOP its legal costs, sanctioning Geller about $150,000. Randi was now fighting the case alone. On his computer hot-line and to those backing his legal defence fund, Randi repeatedly claimed he was anxious to get into court to expose Geller by forcing a test of his so-called psychic powers and to fire purported new and heavy ammunition against Geller. Randi's public comments always took the offensive, and a stranger to the law might mistakenly think that the burden of proof in court was going to be on Geller rather than on Randi.
Geller appealed the court judgment that dropped CSICOP from the suit and ordered that he pay its approximately $150,000 legal costs, but his appeal was rejected. Geller then negotiated a package settlement with CSICOP. Geller agreed to pay CSICOP a total of $70,000 ($40,000 immediately and the remaining $30,000 over the next three years) plus promising them the first $50,000 of any judgment he might receive from suing his attorney for malpractice for not filing to oppose CSICOP's motion dropping them from his case against Randi. Geller also agreed to drop his suit in London which, given the more protective British laws against libel, he had a good chance of winning and likely would cost CSICOP a great deal more to defend. Geller also accepted a written apology and acknowledgment of error from Paul Kurtz for Prometheus Books.
In addition to his lawyers, fees, sanctions in all these cases cost Geller about $90,000. CSICOP reported in its Skeptical Briefs that the litigations with Geller had cost it at least $250,000 (presumably beyond whatever might have been paid by any insurance coverage).
By Randi no longer had substantial funds (he said his MacArthur award money had been used up, and he reportedly was represented by an attorney working pro bono). CSICOP was no longer party to the suit, and Geller decided to drop his suit, now only against Randi. Despite Randi's earlier statements expressing his strong desire to get into court against Geller, he apparently decided to cut his losses, for he signed an agreement that would allow matters to end and agreed not to counter-sue. On his side, Geller agreed not to pursue collection of his Japanese judgment against Randi.
During these litigations and since, CSICOP has repeatedly described Geller's suits as frivolous "slap suits" and has given the impression that the litigation centred on the issue of Geller's purported paranormal powers. Its supporters seem to have been kept in the dark about the actual complaints in Geller's libel suits, most of which had nothing to do with his psychic claims at all. CSICOP used Geller's suits as a rallying cry for fundraising and although Geller's suits are now closed, CSICOP still uses memory of them in its fund appeals. As for Randi, despite his catastrophic financial costs, he continues to proclaim that he has "won" every suit against him, ignoring the actual court judgments and treating any suits dropped as suits won.