Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Science, Libel and the Law: A California Case

A California physician, who also serves on the UC Irvine faculty, says a lawsuit against him by a Korean stem cell scientist is an attempt to "stamp out any critical scrutiny" of the researcher's credentials and techniques.

The matter, which will hit a Los Angeles court room on Wednesday, pits Bruce Flamm against Kwang Yul Cha.

Flamm works at Kaiser Permanente in Riverside, Ca. Cha, an internationally known scientist, heads a "a vast conglomerate of medical facilities in Korea and the United States," according to legal filings by Flamm.

Last March the California stem cell agency awarded a $2.6 million grant to a nonprofit, Los Angeles subsidiary of the Cha organization. Directors of the agency approved the application without knowing the identity of the applicant, following a recommendation from another CIRM panel arrived at behind closed doors. Both procedures are standard for the agency. A flap arose when the media reported the applicant had links to Cha and reported the controversy surrounding the scientist. In September, the subsidiary withdrew its grant application.

The Flamm-Cha story began with a 2001 article by Cha and two other persons that was published in the Journal of Reproductive Medicine. Flamm said it reported that "distant intercessory prayer can double the success rate" of IVF. The article generated international attention and comment, including some from Flamm.

In August of this year, Cha filed a libel lawsuit against Flamm, saying that Flamm defamed him in a March 15, 2007, article in the Ob/Gyn News. In October Flamm filed what is known as an anti-SLAPP lawsuit against Cha.

Flamm's suit is based on a California law aimed at preventing stifling of public discussion through the use of lawsuits. SLAPP is an abbreviation for "strategic lawsuit against public participation."

Flamm is contending that his comments concerned matters of "significant public interest," are not prima facie defamatory and are protected by California's anti-SLAPP statute.

Flamm told the California Stem Cell Report via email that "Kwang Cha's attorneys will attempt to over-ride our anti-SLAPP motion" in Los Angeles Superior Court at 8:30 a.m. Pacific Standard Time on Wednesday.

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