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Benchmark Young Adult School Loses Lawsuit Against Former "Student", Michael Crawford

5th November 2008

Press Release: Benchmark Young Adult School Loses Lawsuit Against Former "Student", Michael Crawford 

Several years ago, when I was 18, I ended up in what I thought at the time to be a "boarding school".  It didn't take long to realize, however, that it was far from what I expected.  I was enrolled at Benchmark Young Adult School, which bills itself as a residential "emotional growth school" for so-called "troubled young adults", from September 2001 to June 2002.  After I left the program, I did extensive research on Benchmark and other "troubled teen" programs.  Had Benchmark been an isolated case, I might have simply "moved on" without reflecting too much on the past; however during my research I found that Benchmark was far from unique as it is only one school out of a very large industry that remains for the most part completely unregulated.  I found that there were hundreds, if not thousands, of schools just like Benchmark operating in a very similar manner, some of which were/are based off the infamous Synanon cult.  Some of these "schools" / "programs" had been shut down after lawsuits, while the vast majority managed to remain open.

Soon after realizing all this, I set up a website, "Benchmark Young Adult School Exposed" both  to share the negative experiences that I and other "students" I had spoken to had at Benchmark and to join in and contribute to the public debate surrounding the growing "troubled teen industry".  Despite my  strongly-held opinions about Benchmark, I sought to be as accurate as possible where my website addressed statements of fact.  To this end, I sent Jayne Longnecker, the owner of the "school", an email stating "I'd rather avoid the lawyers if at all possible.  I am making an effort to be as accurate as possible and if for some reason I made a mistake I would rather have you correct me.  Note that corrections will only be made upon providing proof of inaccuracy.  Feel free to write a response and i welcome an open debate."  I received no response, which only confirmed  to me the accuracy of my statements of fact.  As such, no modifications were made to the website's text or appearance since the date of publication in December 2006.  I received no complaint from anybody about the website until I was served with a lawsuit in March of 2008.  In that lawsuit, Benchmark and Jayne Longnecker sued me for libel, interference with economic relations, and other claims, sought compensatory damages of over $1 million, punitive damages, and a court order prohibiting me from posting any defamatory comments regarding Benchmark on the Internet.   

On receiving the complaint, I sought an attorney to defend me against Benchmark's lawsuit and  I ultimately retained the services of Robert Broadbelt and Benjamin Scheibe of the law firm of Dreier Stein Kahan Browne Woods George.  I am forever indebted to the fantastic services they provided on the case.  They felt that the lawsuit filed against me was  unmeritorious and the best response would be to file an anti-SLAPP motion, which if successful, dismisses a case and awards attorney's fees to the defendant.  After months of litigation back and forth, this approach proved successful, as the judge ruled in our favor and dismissed the entire case.

If there is any moral to this story, it's this:  If you are threatened with a lawsuit for expressing your first amendment rights, stand up for yourself.  If you back down, it sets a precedence of silence, a chilling effect on all free speech.  Truth wins out eventually, although sometimes one must fight for it.

The unmoderated Fornits forum discusses this issue at http://www.fornits.com/phpbb/viewtopic.php?f=9&t=26095