By Brooke McLaughlin, Elizabeth Richards, and Antonio Alfaro
For our interview with Professor Emily Erickson we asked her 4 questions relating to her job, past research, current research, and any obstacles she may have had to overcome for her research. We wanted to get the inside scoop to everything were is to know about Comm Law!
Question 1: What research have you done + what are you currently working on?
Emily Erickson teaches communication law here at California State University, Fullerton and after sitting down for an interview with her we discovered just how intense her research experience has been. Since Erickson teaches the law, she also mainly focuses on legal research. Legal research focuses more on looking at previous court opinions and the Supreme Court’s rulings, however, it has also begun to incorporate more social scientific research, which is more like what we have learned about. Erickson further elaborates that you begin legal research with an argument in mind, which is different from social scientific research. That being said she has shared her experience in both types of research and concludes that they may have many differences in the way they are conducted, but with the new adaptation of social scientific practices within legal research, they are able to base their research off more case studies as well as still looking at previous rulings and opinions.
In her experience with social scientific research, she had conducted 12 case studies of freedom of information laws in 12 different states, in order to examine how journalists were becoming activists. She further exclaims her interest in the topic by stating that when she began looking further into these journalists she would see them doing things that were not “normal” for a journalist to do. The example she uses is a journalist who conducts an investigative piece and then they’d take it the step further by taking it to the political figure and urging them to take action to put an end to the wrongdoing. So her case studies were about the first 12 states that had done record audits, the investigative pieces. She would also go on to conduct around 120 interviews with journalists and attorneys in order to learn more about these audits. She would then include more theories over the next few years of her research and look at how they informed the dynamics of the states.
As for her current research, she is focusing more on legal research. More specifically, Anti-SLAPP laws, which are laws that focus on making it harder for public officials to sue their critics, and how they are used in different scenarios. One example she gives is how public officials will go through different states, that they do not reside in, to file their Anti-SLAPP case because these states have less strict laws
Question 2: How was the research conducted?
Professor Erickson and her longtime boyfriend Matt both teach Comm Law and share a passion for always pursuing new knowledge in the field. Erickson discussed how she continued learning such knowledge by a law called “Freedom of information”, which is a law that gives us access to public records. Erickson and Matt recently started conducting research on the Anti-SLAPP law and how it has affected our court systems. Currently, California’s Anti-SLAPP law is so broadly written that anyone can lodge an Anti-SLAPP counterclaim. These counterclaims are used both by the rich and poor within the courts which made the courts pull back to reexamine the law. A recent case that Professor Erickson spoke about that public officials used in the state of New York was the court case of Kesha v. Dr. Luke. Kesha is accusing Dr. Luke raped her among other terrible things. This case is such a huge deal because even though these things may or may not have happened, she is contractually tied to him. Kesha is a popular public figure, but because Dr. Luke is more of a public figure; he is given the burden of proof in this case. He would need to show specific examples of negligence and actual malice, which is not an easy task. In simple terms he needs to show more proof than a regular average joe would have to in this specific case because he is a public figure.
Erickson and Matt have been conducting research through investigative journalism for their research paper. Through past research, experience and several interviews they have been able to produce five pieces for the paper’s dissertation. The current research includes extensive statutory analysis, along with looking at how the statute is a matter of public concern vs. looking at the end result of the case. Erickson reminded us of the “Freedom of Information” law and stated that this had been a major contributing factor to the research they were able to access. Erickson also advises to “go really deep and learn 200% more than you actually use, you need to know more than you will actually use for your paper”.
Question 3: What made you want to get involved in this research topic?
Professor Erickson found an interest to start an Anti-SLAPP law paper with her co-writer, Matt, through a combination of her passion for teaching law communication courses and Matt’s interest in California’s use of the current Anti-SLAPP law in place. They had been watching Anti-SLAPP laws become more problematic, especially since “California’s courts are clogged with all of these Anti-SLAPP counterclaims.” This became the focus because of the idea that people could go “jurisdiction shopping”, meaning the individuals involved could go out of state for an easier way out of the punishment because as stated in the interview, suing someone as punishment it would be recommended not to do it in California. This was the initial spark that Matt found interest in, then Texas would amend their law, then New York passed one, these stepping stones brought in the collective interest of Matt and Professor Erickson to begin researching for their paper.
Question 4: What were some obstacles that you encountered while conducting your research?
Professor Erickson started researching the global #MeToo movement, due to the parallels between #MeToo and the Anti-SLAPP laws. This led to unexpected obstacles such as the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic caused all cases to stop, this was problematic due to many of the cases being undecided. This resulted in a backup in the court system leaving little to no cases to get information from. The next step was to expand the search, ideally to investigate the state of New York because of the law passed in November the year before. Fortunately, “Cases that had already been underway, courts have in most cases willingly retroactively allowed Anti-SLAPP counterclaims to be brought for those cases.” This allowed a greater availability of information with most Anti-SLAPP counterclaims, just needing the discussion of Anti-SLAPP laws. The obstacle would lead to an abundance of five to six court cases, but regardless time is an obstacle that requires patience. Just as Professor Erickson states “you need to wait on the information to be there, like if you have a statue that’s passed you need to wait for a while for there to be case law to see how it’s being applied.”
Overall, it was an honor to get the opportunity to interview Professor Erickson and learn a little more about how to conduct professional research.