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AutoAdmit’s Owner Gets his Comeuppance

nelson-1024x768.gifI missed this last week, but for those of you following the Autoadmit (xoxoxo) fallout — as you recall, we posted about the WaPo article that started it all, one of the site owner’s defense, and Elizabeth Wurtzel’s take — the latest is that co-owner, Anthony Ciolli, a 3L at Penn, has just had his job offer revoked from Edwards Angell Palmer & Dodge. (If you don’t want to check the links — Autoadmit is a message board for law students that doubles as a free for all for racism, sexism, anti-Semitism, homophobia, and general bastardry). Ciolli had resigned as “Chief Education Director” about a month ago.

According to WSJ’s Law Blog, Ciolli had this to say: “Three years of legal education has been wasted because of an unmoderated message board. The timing is absolutely horrible … I don’t know what I’m going to do next.” The Law Blog also has a blow-by-blow account of how it went down, with Edward Angell’s managing partner, Charles DeWitt, telling Ciolli, in a letter, “We expect any lawyer affiliated with our firm, when presented with the kind of language exhibited on the message board, to reject it and to disavow any affiliation with it. You, instead, facilitated the expression and publication of such language… . ” adding that Cioli’s resignation was “too late to ameliorate our concerns.”

Ciolli, in a letter dated April 16, recounted the history of AutoAdmit and his joining as education director to “develop educational content and publications” for the site, including a working paper on which law schools place the most graduates at elite law firms, well after the site was founded in 2004. He played down his ability to control content on the site. “While I was free to give input and act in an advisory manner–which I often did, with mixed results–Mr. [Jarret] Cohen always had final say over all rules and policies related to the message board,” and that Cohen “rarely granted” his requests to remove offensive material.

Ciolli added that he was “still in the process of assessing all the lessons to be learned from this incident,” including “the importance of good judgment and proceeding with caution,” values he would appreciate “to a greater extent than a typical first year associate.”

Jill Filipovic, the NYU law student, feminist, and the subject of some pretty vile sexual harassment on the site, posted a long message on her blog sharing her feelings on the matter, including expressing her disappointment that Cioli “seems to be shifting the blame to Jarret — claiming he had no authority over what was posted, etc etc. Frankly, that smells like bullshit to me.” It smells kind of like bullshit to me, as well.

Finally, a Cornell ethics professor, Brad Wendel (who is a pretty damn good prof, I understand) added his perspective, noting that Ciolli might even have a difficult time passing the fitness and character portion of the bar. He writes:

Ciolli’s attitude all along has been “who me? I’m not posting this crap — I’m just providing a forum for the free and unihibited exchange of ideas.” As soon as it became clear that this unihibited exchange had degenerated into a game of who could be the biggest racist, Ciolli had a choice — either continue the site knowing that any value it had as a means of exchanging information about legal education was outweighed by the atmosphere of intimidation that had developed on the site, or take some modest steps to ensure the continued usefulness of the forum. Plenty of on-line discussion boards are moderated or have other ways of ensuring that the worst trolls don’t ruin the forum for everyone else. When Ciolli and his business partner decided not to do anything about the vitriol on the site, they essentially endorsed a particular style of exchange. It’s not unfair for an employer to see that endorsement as evidence that Ciolli doesn’t take racist and misogynistic threats all that seriously.

I’ll just add that Ciolli got off lucky — he exercised horrible judgment, allowed trolls to turn a potentially useful site into a cesspool of hate, and after all of that he still won’t have to bill 2400 hours a year, which might’ve been the ultimate punishment.