The (Imaginary) Trial of Peter Gleick – Part 1, Preliminary Hearing and Arraignment

I’ve been thinking about how cool it would be (strictly from a gossipy obsessive’s self-interested point of view) if the Peter Gleick / Heartland affair were to end up in court. It would be great to have all the arguments laid out pro and con, with a referee and rules of evidence and all that.

It seems unlikely we’ll be getting that any time soon, so I thought I’d pretend. This is the result. I put it in screenplay format, since that seems as good a way as any to represent a fake courtroom drama.

Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction. It features characters based on real people and evidence based on real events, and is as close to reality as my whim and imagination allow. But it’s completely fake.

I plan to use public writing (magazine articles, tweets, blog posts, comments, and online reviews) by the various witnesses in an attempt to have them give testimony that is more or less true to their stated views, but I assume I’ll also be taking some creative liberties. I’ll provide sources for the witnesses’ statements, so you can verify how well (or poorly) I’ve done at keeping things real.

I’ll send the witness testimony to the witnesses themselves privately, via email (assuming I can find their email addresses) prior to posting it, so they’ll have a chance to correct anything they think is being incorrectly attributed to them. I’m also willing to correct testimony after the fact if any witnesses object to the words I’ve put in their mouths. No idea if anyone will actually want to take advantage of that.

Anyway, here goes.



All rise. The Imaginary Court of the Internet is now in session. The honorable Judge Mumble K. Mumbles presiding.

The JUDGE enters the courtroom from a door behind the bench. He or she is imaginary, and looks more or less like you would expect a judge to look, depending on how judges look in your part of the world. The Judge takes his or her seat.


Be seated. Bailiff, what do we have on the docket today?


Your honor, preliminary proceeding and arraignment in the matter of the Internet vs. Peter Gleick.


Are the parties present? Prosecution?


Here, your honor.




Defense counsel present, your honor. The accused is not in court, and will not be appearing today.


Will not be appearing?


That is correct, your honor.



Hm. Given that this proceeding is imaginary, I suppose I must allow it. Let the record show that the accused is being tried in absentia.

The Judge glances down and goes through some papers.


Defense counsel, please rise.



Yes, your honor.


Your client, Dr. Peter H. Gleick, stands accused of the following charges: That on or about January 27, 2012, your client did knowingly and with malice aforethought impersonate a board member of the Heartland Institute, entering into an email correspondence with a person or persons within that organization. That as a result of that deception, your client caused a representative or representatives of Heartland to email your client confidential Heartland information, including documents relating to the organization’s donors, activities, and budget. That your client subsequently used that illicitly obtained information to forge an additional document, the so-called “2012 Heartland Climate Strategy”, taking the form of an internal Heartland memorandum but with language specifically crafted to paint the organization in a negative light. That on or about February 14, 2012, your client sent these documents via email to a group of recipients, identifying himself only as “Heartland Insider”, with the intention that the recipients would publicize the documents, including the forged strategy memo, leading to public outcry against Heartland and embarrassment for its board members, staff, and supporters. Defense counsel, do you understand these charges as I have read them?


I do, your honor.


Are you prepared to enter a plea on behalf of your client at this time?


I am, your honor. My client, Dr. Peter H. Gleick, pleads not guilty.


Very well. I accept your client’s plea of not guilty, and hereby set a court date of some date in the future when this blog’s operator has time to write the next installment. A quick procedural note: In keeping with the imaginary nature of these proceedings, we will be skipping all that boring pretrial stuff: no witness lists, pretrial motions, or jury selection. I assume there are no complaints about that. Anything else?

The Judge glances around the courtroom. No one speaks.


(bangs gavel)

Court is adjourned.

Next: Part 2: Prosecution Opening Argument.

2 Responses to “The (Imaginary) Trial of Peter Gleick – Part 1, Preliminary Hearing and Arraignment”

  1. Anithil Says:

    Imaginary Internet court. Lawls.

  2. jbc Says:

    Thanks for the links. I’d already been following the discussion at Climateaudit, but I hadn’t seen the CJR article. I think I remember finding some of their articles ideologically congenial in the past, which would tend to support your recollection of them having a liberal bent.

    You write, “Gleick’s NCSE was created to combat such efforts,” which I think might not be quite right. My understanding is that NCSE has been around for a number of years, during which time it has predominantly focused on countering attempts to smuggle the teaching of creationism (under various guises) into public school science curricula. The broadening of the organization’s scope to include countering climate change denialism in the classroom, and (I assume) Peter Gleick’s involvement with the organization, are much more recent. I believe that initiative was announced just within the last several months.

    Thanks for the information on the legal situation faced by Gleick. As may be apparent in the original post above, I’m not concerning myself with actual laws in the mock “court case” I’m imagining, but am instead planning to look into the question of what the truth is about Gleick’s actions with respect to the phishing and (especially) the strategy memo, and to use the format of a fictional trial to recapitulate some of the arguments I’ve been reading from various sources.

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