A former high school classmate of Brett Kavanaugh filed a lawsuit last week against the Huffington Post and its former journalist Ashley Feinberg for repeatedly making “false and defamatory” claims about him and a friend during the uncorroborated accusation-riddled confirmation process of the since-confirmed Supreme Court justice.
In the lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court on Wednesday, plaintiff Derrick Evans — an African American professor from Gulfport, Mississippi who went to Georgetown Prep with Kavanaugh after earning a full scholarship to the school — accuses Feinberg of defaming him and friend Douglas Kennedy in a report published by HuffPost in September 2018.
The report, originally titled “Brett Kavanaugh’s Prep School Party Scene Was A ‘Free-For-All’,” claimed that Evans and Kennedy helped arrange the purchase and delivery of cocaine to Georgetown Prep that ultimately led to the death of David Kennedy, Douglas’ brother and the son of former U.S. Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, in April 1984, the Mississippi Clarion-Ledger reported Thursday.
Evans is accusing HuffPost of either knowingly publishing false and defamatory claims, or, at best, “reckless disregard” of the truth. “These statements were not only false and defamatory, but outrageously so, and were published by defendants with knowledge of their actual falsity or in reckless disregard of the truth for the apparent purpose of creating a salacious story designed to drive internet traffic to HuffPost’s website,” the lawsuit charges.
“Defendants had no sources to support their outrageously false and defamatory statements about Derrick Evans and Douglas Kennedy,” the lawsuit states. “Nor did Defendants make any effort whatsoever to contact Mr. Evans for comment before accusing him of not only of committing a crime, but of being responsible for the death of David Kennedy. Indeed, if Ms. Feinberg or her HuffPost editors had done even the most basic research of publicly available sources, she and they would have known, if they did not already know, that Mr. Evans actively assisted law enforcement in identifying and prosecuting the individuals who actually sold the illegal narcotics.”
The lawsuit points out that after being contacted by Evans, HuffPost initially issued a correction, but the correction itself contained false information. The initial correction read:
This article previously stated incorrectly that Doug Kennedy was involved in helping his brother to purchase drugs in 1984. Kennedy was only sharing a room with Derrick Evans, who helped David purchase the drugs, according to an affidavit obtained by the New York Times. We regret the error.
That correction “was another complete fabrication published by HuffPost with actual knowledge that both it and the original publication were false or in reckless disregard of the truth, again without ever attempting to contact Mr. Evans for comment,” the lawsuit asserts. “As HuffPost knew, there was NO affidavit reflecting that Mr. Evans ever helped anyone purchase illegal drugs. Defendants had no such affidavit in their possession, and they could not have had such an affidavit in their possession.”
The site eventually revised the report to remove all reference to Evans and Douglas Kennedy and included the following correction at the bottom of the piece:
This article previously mischaracterized the involvement of individuals in a drug purchase. References to those individuals and the incident have been removed. We regret the error. Additionally, certain references by the former student to specific individuals have been removed to better reflect the intended purpose of the article: to provide a former student’s general characterizations of the party culture.
Evans, who has since gone on to earn distinctions as a history professor and found a nonprofit to address hurricane damage on the gulf coast, is suing for emotional distress and reputational harm for what his attorney describes as “false, malicious and fabricated” claims published “with a knowing, intentional, subjective awareness of, and/or reckless disregard of, their falsity.”
A HuffPost spokesperson told the Clarion-Ledger it would not comment on pending litigation.
After a series of increasingly outrageous sexual misconduct accusations — none of which were corroborated and many of which were quickly discredited — Brett Kavanaugh was confirmed as a Supreme Court Justice in October 2018. A month later, the Senate Judiciary Committee released its summary report and exhibits regarding the allegations. In the summary of its findings, the committee explained that after speaking with 45 individuals, taking 25 written statements, and working with 40 attorneys, law clerks, and other professionals, the committee did not find “any evidence to substantiate or corroborate any of the allegations” against Kavanaugh.
“After an extensive investigation that included the thorough review of all potentially credible evidence submitted and interviews of more than 40 individuals with information relating to the allegations, including classmates and friends of all those involved, Committee investigators found no witness who could provide any verifiable evidence to support any of the allegations brought against Justice Kavanaugh,” the committee concluded. “In other words, following the separate and extensive investigations by both the Committee and the FBI, there was no evidence to substantiate any of the claims of sexual assault made against Justice Kavanaugh.”