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Monday, October 25, 2010

More Laws, Less Results

In the wake of the Tyler Clementi cyberbullying tragedy, an anti-bullying bill has been introduced in the New Jersey State Assembly to combat various forms of bullying and intimidation in schools.  The proposal would allow schools to suspend or expel students determined to have been bullying.

This bill (A.3466, text inexplicably not available on state website) is a political goldmine. Bullies are indefensible and considered politically unpopular, so the bill will have a real chance of enactment. The problems are in the bill's implementation, its definitions of terms like "bullying" and "intimidation" (which cannot be evaluated yet because the text of the bill has, interestingly, not been provided to the public) and its unintended consequences.

My concern -- just like your concern -- is not the issue of stopping or deterring bonafide harmful bullying.  My concern revolves around the abuse of such definitions to give the legal cover for people to intimidate others into silence or non-involvement in civic, political or public affairs under threat of false accusations of bullying or intimidation.

In the real world, bullies tend to be popular, protected and given the benefit of the doubt. (As to the definition of popular, that might reflect the tendency to try to ingratiate oneself with the bully in order to insulate oneself from abuse.) This is an issue, when false accusations start flying.  An anti-bullying law can easily become a weapon by which the more powerful can -- well, bully -- the less powerful, the less popular and the less able to defend themselves.  This law may give the malicious and powerful, particularly in New Jersey's warren of small hick towns, a new tool to coerce compliance.   There is enough corruption in New Jersey, and this law could actually provide new avenues for the abuse of power to flourish.  

The new bully tactic may become: Submit to our wishes, or be accused a bully and face expulsion.

Get it?  Understand how this works?  Think this is about protecting the weak?  Or giving legal and PR cover to the manipulators out there, who are already working to proactively defend themselves? 

We don't need more laws against bullying. We need more supervision, more eyes actually watching, more ears actually hearing, and more people being concerned and active and working to protect our kids.  People who already break the rules won't be impressed -- much less deterred -- by more laws.  They will only respect the power that comes from bonafide vigilance.

More laws won't cure the problem of absentee parents and indifferent, overpaid school administrators.

Eric Dixon is the president of Eric Dixon LLC, headquartered in New York City.  Mr. Dixon has been a New York lawyer since graduating in 1994 from Yale Law School.  Mr. Dixon handles litigation counseling and litigation stress management for those who are the subject of lawsuits, have been threatened or expect to be sued or investigated.  Mr. Dixon has extensive knowledge of corporate governance, the federal securities laws (including the many anti-fraud provisions and related issues) and election law, and significant experience in representing businesses and their owners and managers in litigation, government investigations, settlement negotiations, complex due diligence investigations and business formations.  Mr. Dixon has also represented over two dozen political campaign committees and candidates for public office, including presidential and gubernatorial campaigns, on ballot access issues.  Mr. Dixon may be reached for a confidential consultation and case assessment at 917-696-2442 or via e-mail at

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