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Harvard Law Plagiarist Loses Defamation Claim Against School

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By William Peacock, Esq. on January 09, 2015 7:26 AM

Megon Walker is a Harvard Law graduate and was on a journal. One would imagine that those two notes on her resume alone would guarantee her a high-paying position in BigLaw.

Except there's a little note on her transcript: a reprimand for plagiarism.

In 2009, she submitted a journal article for editing that, according to the school, had significant portions of previously published articles included without proper citations.

The school investigated and issued a formal reprimand on her file and transcripts, yet allowed her to graduate with her class. Walker then sued, alleging that the notation was defamatory and cost her job opportunities with prestigious firms, reports the National Law Journal. Unsurprisingly, she lost.

Her Defenses: It Was a Virus, Preliminary Draft

After the intrepid editors of the Journal of Law and Technology noticed the uncited passages in Spring 2009, Walker claimed that she had gotten a computer virus which damaged her then-incomplete draft. (Yes, it's the old "a virus ate my citations" excuse.)

According to NLJ, she also argued that because it was an incomplete, preliminary draft, it did not meet the criteria for plagiarism as defined by Harvard's student handbook, and that the school improperly deviated from its normal investigative processes.

Judge: Truth Isn't Defamation

Judge Rya Zobel, to put it mildly, was unconvinced.

"There is simply no situation where [Harvard Law School] could have reasonably expected a third-year member of a law journal to believe that handing over a draft article to that journal for editing prior to publication was not 'submitting' the work within the meaning of the handbook," Zobel wrote. "Because the plaintiff committed plagiarism within the meaning of Harvard's Student Handbook, the publications of fact she alleges libelous are true, and she cannot recover."

Lessons: Don't Plagiarize, Know When to Fold

The obvious lesson is to not plagiarize in the first place. Duh. It's 2015. Even 10 or 15 years ago, anti-plagiarism tools were available to academics to scan student papers. How does anybody, let alone a third-year law student at one of the most prestigious universities in the world, think that using others' work without attribution will fly?

The other lesson: Know when to give up. Walker was caught. Her transcript has a reprimand, which according to NLJ's reporting of the other legal filings in the case, has reportedly cost her multiple BigLaw gigs. Now? She has that and news coverage of a court case where a judge concluded that she did, in fact, commit plagiarism.

Try Googling her name: It's nearly all bad.

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