After multiple delays and near-capitulations by Peter McCormack, the Wright v McCormack trial will finally begin on Monday May 23. In a trial set for two days, parties will present their arguments over whether Peter McCormack is liable for defamation with regard to social media posts he made about Dr. Wright’s status as Bitcoin inventor Satoshi Nakamoto.
Though the case is about whether Peter McCormack’s tweets defamed Dr. Wright, the actual questions up for discussion at trial are relatively limited. Following a series of failed and abandoned defenses over the past two years, all McCormack has left in his defense is to argue that though his Tweets were indeed untrue, they did not cause serious harm to Dr. Wright.
Getting to this point has been a long and winding road.
It started with a series of tweets—some in response to other users and some made independently, but all with the same overall message: Dr. Craig Wright is a fraud and is not Satoshi Nakamoto. Some were even open invitations to be sued by Dr. Wright, asking if he (McCormack) would get to be first in line to be pulled into court.
“Craig Wright is not Satohis [sic]!” he said in a since-deleted tweet, “When do I get sued?”
McCormack got his answer on April 17, 2019, when Dr. Wright filed a claim for defamation against the blogger over that tweet and others like it. Other than infamous stablecoin Tether pledging to support McCormack (morally and financially) in his defense, the filing appeared to do nothing but set both parties on a collision course in the English courts.
In the three-plus years since, McCormack’s tone has changed considerably. Quite distinct from the man who said publicly that he was eager to stand by his publications opposite Dr. Wright in court, McCormack has been doing everything he can to avoid the trial he claimed to want.
In his initial defense, McCormack called Dr. Wright’s suit a “cynical abuse of the court process” and said that if Dr. Wright wanted to prove he is Satoshi, it would only be too easy—simply transfer early Bitcoin or sign a message with the Satoshi keys. This was always a red herring: Dr. Wright has been clear that he has no intention of using the so-called Satoshi keys to validate his identity that keys have nothing to do with ownership and Bitcoin has nothing to do with identity. Dr. Wright has always maintained that the best venue for disputes of this kind is in the courts.
Regardless, McCormack maintained that proof that Dr. Wright is Satoshi would be trivially simple.
However, McCormack’s bluster proved hollow mere months into the case. On the eve of discovery, when both parties were due to begin exchanging all of their relevant evidence, the blogger seemed to lose his appetite for challenging Dr. Wright within the rigorous, rules-based boundaries of the courts. He filed a motion requesting that the court delay discovery so that his request to have the lawsuit dismissed entirely could be heard. The evidence which McCormack (and Dr. Wright) had been so eager to have made public apparently didn’t look so appetizing to McCormack.
The attempt was rejected by the English High Court a week later. Master Dagnall, in rejecting McCormack’s application, said that such a delay would push discovery so close to the date of trial (then scheduled for May 4, 2021) that it would be ‘unsatisfactory’ and ‘not in the interests of justice’. Additionally, McCormack was ordered to pay £18,500 towards Dr. Wright’s costs associated with the failed application. McCormack’s strike-out application would be heard, but after discovery, in November 2020.
Discovery went ahead as scheduled, and once both parties had seen the evidence on the table it quickly became obvious why McCormack was eager to avoid it. Weeks after discovery, CoinGeek learned that Tether pulled its support for McCormack, apparently unwilling even to wait a matter of weeks to see if McCormack’s Hail Mary attempt to have the case thrown out would pay off (McCormack confirmed that Dr. Wright had submitted a ‘crazy’ amount of evidence that he is Satoshi a month later). The news was initially denied by Tether’s general counsel Stuart Hoegner, but was confirmed days before the hearing when counsel for McCormack informed Dr. Wright’s lawyers that they no longer intended to defend the claim.
As a result, Dr. Wright filed an application for summary judgment, which would have resolved the trial in his favor in light of McCormack’s decision to abandon his defense. However, the application was denied in November 2020 due to a paperwork error: the judge granted a request by Dr. Wright to expedite the trial to February 16, 2021, with the expectation that the summary judgment application could be corrected and re-heard then.
Before February, however, McCormack attempted to revive his defense at the eleventh hour. Tellingly, McCormack confirmed that he was withdrawing the most significant of his defenses: he was no longer arguing that his tweets were true (which would have provided a complete defense to Dr. Wright’s claim, if provable), no longer claiming that his statements were in the public interest and no longer arguing that the claim amounted to abuse of process. Instead, he would defend the claim on the sole basis that the allegedly defamatory tweets, though untrue, did not cause serious harm to Dr. Wright. The trial was ultimately re-set for September 2021.
However, as a part of the late resurrection of McCormack’s defense, he sought to introduce over 1,000 pages of documents into evidence which chiefly comprised of other publications made by third parties which purportedly contained the same allegations made by McCormack. Counsel for Dr. Wright argued that as well as amounting to a smuggling in of his already-abandoned truth defense, it also circumvented an established legal rule—established in Dingle v Associated Newspapers—that a defendant to defamation may not rely on other third-party publications to mitigate the offensive nature of their own publication.
The court agreed with Dr. Wright’s argument and, after denying McCormack permission to appeal, ordered that McCormack pay Dr. Wright an additional £90k in costs relating to the failed attempt and abandonment and then revival of his defense from the previous November. This was on top of the £18.5k earlier ordered, and the Judge recognized that these costs didn’t account for everything while leaving further costs orders to the trial judge.
Attempts to avoid court continued: this February, the U.K. Court of Appeal rejected McCormack’s last hope of appeal, with even the Court making clear that it is finally time for the blogger to face the music:
“This litigation has already been protracted, and several trial dates have already been lost. The effect of granting [permission to appeal] would be to lose the trial date once again. The remaining issues are relatively narrow, being meaning, serious harm and (if the claimant succeeds on these points quantum.)”
The trial, now, will definitively go ahead on May 23, 2022. This hasn’t stopped McCormack from dragging his feet, however. After failing to pay the aforementioned £90k, the court ordered McCormack down to London to give a full account of his financial means. The bill was paid at the last minute, pre-empting any such accounting. This itself would have been interesting, as McCormack appears to oscillate between complaining that Dr. Wright’s suit has bankrupted him and buying expensive cars, football clubs and taking out fraudulent loans.
On the eve of trial, the net result of all of this is that we will finally see Dr. Wright’s defamation case resolved in court, but on a very limited basis. Rather than a chance to see the much-talked-about evidence that Dr. Wright is Satoshi, some of which surfaced in last year’s Kleiman v Wright trial, McCormack has managed to engineer a situation where that can’t happen at all by abandoning almost all of his defense while still being able to cling to the hope of a pyrrhic victory if he can somehow argue that the tweets he now accepts were untrue did not seriously harm Dr. Wright’s reputation.
Trial begins on the morning of May 23, 2022.
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