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Michael Schwern v. Noirin Plunkett

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TRIGGER WARNING This article or section, or pages it links to, contains information about sexual assault and/or violence which may be triggering to survivors.

Michael Schwern, prominent Perl developer and keynote speaker at the National Center for Women & Information Technology's 2013 summit, was arrested in Portland, Oregon on Sept 19, 2013 on two counts of misdemeanor domestic violence charges against his then-spouse Nóirín Plunkett -- specifically, harassment and strangulation. The arrest coincides with the day the couple filed for divorce (also Sept 19, 2013). Schwern was previously known in the Open Source community for giving public talks about diversity.

Two feminist organizations issued public repudiations of Schwern, the former Ada Initiative and Geek Feminism. Stumptown Syndicate, which runs various geek events in Portland, citing community safety and well-being concerns, barred Schwern from their events until further notice.

According to court documents from Feb 20, 2014, Plunkett testified that "after speaking with police and prosecutors... I told the prosecutors I did not want to proceed with a criminal case." Reviewing the case, the Multnomah County District Attorney's office declined to charge Schwern with a crime. On Sept 24, 2013, Schwern's attorney, Bear Wilner-Nugent, published a press release claiming that Schwern had been "exonerated". This claim was patently false, as exoneration can only occur after a person has been convicted of a crime. Schwern was neither tried nor convicted.

Wilner-Nugent subsequently took to twitter and threatened several people with defamation lawsuits for their statements about Schwern's arrest (example: [1] [2]). He deleted most of these tweets shortly thereafter, claiming "they had been read and thus done their job".

Schwern v. Plunkett Federal Civil Lawsuit Edit

On January 27th, 2014, Schwern filed a civil suit (PDF link), requesting $30M in damages based on his having "suffered immediate, severe, and lasting damage to his professional, volunteer, and social lives and to his reputation, together with profound emotional harm." Central to the case was the claim of defamation by Nóirín Plunkett, that is, the "communication of a false statement that harms the reputation of an individual person."

Documents from this case, including one which contains explicit detail of the alleged assault (PDF link, also trigger warning for sexual assault) are freely available online.

In April 2014, Plunkett tweeted publicly about the civil case, mentioning that they were seeking donations toward their legal expenses.

On March 27, 2015 a Motion to Withdraw as Counsel for Defendant (PDF link) was filed by Plunkett on behalf of counsel Erin Olsen. While no cause was given, court documents state that "Olsen advised defendant on March 26, 2015, that she would no longer represent defendant." On May 7, Plunkett appointed (PDF link) Portland-based Lake James H. Perriguey as counsel.

Following Plunkett's death in July 2015, Schwern filed a motion in October 2015 to substitute their father Patrick Plunkett as defendant in his capacity as personal representative of Plunkett's estate. This was granted in November.

On January 17, 2017, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit directed the District Court to strike Schwern's lawsuit, stating in its opinion. "Schwern’s theory offers nothing other than speculation to fill in the gaps in his evidence. His allegation that he believes Plunkett made the statements is insufficient." 

See Also Edit

Coverage of the case in Newsweek's "Today in Tabs" feature.

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