Updates on the Dawkins/Timonen Lawsuit October 26, 2010

Updates on the Dawkins/Timonen Lawsuit

There’s been a statement released by Blaine Greenberg, the counsel for the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science, regarding the lawsuit against former employee Josh Timonen, his girlfriend, and his production company:

Despite the public interest in this case, I have asked Professor Dawkins and the staff and Trustees of RDFRS not to comment on this litigation while it is still pending.

I hasten to emphasize, however, that the scope of this suit is narrow. Richard Dawkins’ only role is as plaintiff in a single cause of action seeking the return of unearned money he personally paid Mr. Timonen. The Foundation’s claims seek the return of profits from the sale of merchandise from the Store on the RDF website that defendants failed to remit to RDFRS. NO DIRECT DONATIONS TO THE FOUNDATION OR NON-BELIEVERS GIVING AID HAVE BEEN MISAPPROPRIATED.

The Store has been under the Foundation’s direct control since May 2010 and stringent financial safeguards have been established to insure its profits will be used to further RDFRS’s charitable mission. Richard Dawkins regrets that his trust in a colleague has proved to be misplaced. The Trustees of RDFRS authorized the filing of the pending suit to recover all the profits generated by the Store and reassure all Store customers that the proceeds from their purchases will benefit the causes of reason and science.

The full complaint can be read here (PDF).

I’m still hoping RDFRS gets this resolved quickly, the money goes to wherever it was intended to go in the first place, better safeguards are put in place to ensure this doesn’t happen again, and we can all move on from this.

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  • NewEnglandBob

    …and we can all move on from this.

    Not so fast. Restoring the money is step 1. Prosecuting anyone responsible for criminal acts is step 2.

  • Shawn

    I desperately wanted to correct his use of “insure” in the above. I double-checked it first and, apparently, his usage is correct.

    So what I’m trying to say is, some good has come from this.

    It sounds wrong and ugly to me, though, so I’ll still use “ensure”.


  • I never liked Josh Timonen anyway. He was a bad assistant…not to mention impolite and irritating.

  • muggle

    I’m with NewEnglandBob. If this man embezzled and they have evidence of it, why aren’t criminal charges being brought? They should be.

  • Jesse

    Please keep us updated. I’ve been extremely interested in this guy ever since the whole forum debacle and was always curious if it was true what people said about Josh.

  • Claudia

    Yes please keep us updated. These sorts of things are terrible for non-profits. They depend heavily on donors trusting them to make proper use of their money. If these allegations are true, I would like RDFRS to see this through to the end; not just get the money back, but pursue Timonen to the fullest extent of the law, so it’s clear that the foundation is very pro-active in maintaining its good name.

  • I think the butler did it

  • I’m halfway through the complaint. This is interesting. I’m not sure they have enough for a criminal case, but it seems like they have enough evidence for a civil suit. I think its incredibly irresponsible of Dawkins and his foundations to wait until 2010 to ask to see the defendant’s (UBS, Timone and Norton) financial records from the store they were operating on behalf of RDFRS. RDFS could have and should have made the agreement to review the store’s finacial records EVERY quarter. In my opinion, RDFS dropped the ball on this one. But that’s not to say they are not entitled to the money back.

  • JB Tait

    It sounds wrong and ugly to me, though, so I’ll still use “ensure”.


    “Ensure” is indeed correct, however, in the U.S. it has been replaced with the incorrect term “insure” so much so that my daughter was marked wrong on a test (ostensibly as a spelling error) as early as 1989 when she used it appropriately.

  • Rieux

    Hate to be the bearer of bad tidings, but the chances of this being “resolved quickly” seem very slim to me unless (1) Timonen has much deeper pockets than he appears to have or (2) Dawkins and the Foundation are willing to accept a settlement that provides only a tiny fraction of the amount they request in the Complaint. Neither one of those appears likely, so I think this will drag on for months at least.

    As for criminal charges, that’s not up to Dawkins or the Foundation. In light of the facts those plaintiffs allege in their Complaint, their cooperation would apparently be very important to any prosecution—but in the end it’s California law-enforcement authorities who would make the decision as to whether Timonen and/or his girlfriend should be brought up on charges. Both the substantive law (the civil suit is about a lot more than just embezzlement) and the burden of proof are quite different in criminal court than they are in civil—so it’s entirely possible that a California district attorney could decide there’s no criminal case to be made even if the plaintiffs win the civil suit.

    And I don’t see any indication that law enforcement knew anything about this until the past handful of days. There won’t be any charges filed until some government attorneys somewhere get their heads around the accusations against Timonen and the evidence that exists to support them; again, that could well take weeks or months. Or maybe they’ll wait for the civil suit to play out and make a decision after that. There’s nothing inevitable, or (probably) quick, about any of this. And that includes the possibility that Timonen’s counsel will put on a ringing defense, demonstrating that the plaintiffs are full of it and the Complaint a farrago of misrepresentations. Who knows?

    (IAAL, though I don’t practice criminal law, or in California.)

  • Abbie

    “Ensure” is indeed correct, however, in the U.S. it has been replaced with the incorrect term “insure” so much so that my daughter was marked wrong on a test (ostensibly as a spelling error) as early as 1989 when she used it appropriately.

    If it’s in common usage, it ain’t incorrect.

    Language evolves, deal.

  • Rich Wilson

    Even if ensure has evolved into insure, ensure ain’t extinct yet. When it is, we will have lost a perfectly good word, and be stuck with a single word with two different meanings. What a ball.

  • Non-Litigious Atheist

    This scandal notwithstanding, it strikes me as naive to think that the Dawkins forum closing was Timonen’s doing. Surely he was just the messenger boy, delivering the news about what the board of trustees of the foundation had decided – that a forum wasn’t really promoting the goals of the foundation and so should be replaced with something that does.

    Anyone saying that the forum closing is evidence of Timonen’s psychopathy needs a reality check. These nonprofits are just like any business – they heartlessly fire veteran employees and hire replacements so that they can pay the replacements less money than the veterans. Typical business practice, like sending jobs overseas for cheap labor. Nonprofits are not immune to this; they are modeled on it. Just look at the amount of turnover in their staff from one year to the next.

    If nonprofits are all too happy to boot their own workhorses so they can pay new ones less money, how much do you think they really care about ‘the online community’ that freeloads off of their site and doesn’t really do any work toward their goals? Reality check complete.

  • rob

    I like that in the complaint (p. 17), the “Plaintiffs pray for judgment.”


  • Ben Finney

    Hate to be the bearer of bad tidings, but the chances of this being “resolved quickly” seem very slim to me… I think this will drag on for months at least.

    That sounds pretty quick for a lawsuit 🙂

  • Ben Finney

    If nonprofits are all too happy to boot their own workhorses so they can pay new ones less money

    This particular horse is being booted for embezzlement. You might want to read the law suit before writing disingenuous nonsense.

  • Suedomsa

    You mean ensure isnt just an old people drink? 🙂

  • Rieux

    Ben, that’s why I said “at least.” Yeah, if both sides fight it out tooth-and-nail, a year or more is likely, even if there’s no appeal.

  • Non-Litigious Atheist

    @Ben Finney: You might want to read my comment before writing disingenuous nonsense.

    I didn’t say Timonen wasn’t guilty of embezzlement – I said that people who think the closing of the RDF forums was his idea are naive. It was obviously RDF’s idea since it couldn’t have been done without the RDF’s blessing.

    If Timonen is a psychopath for actually closing the RDF forums, than the RDF trustees would have to be psychopaths for thinking of it first and then actually ordering the ‘hit’ on the forums.

    Blaming him for that is like blaming the security guard for escorting you out of the bank when the bank executive ordered the guard to remove you.

    What’s the guard supposed to do, quit his job instead of remove you, or do his job? With the forums Timonen was just doing his job. If you want to spit vitriol at him for that than at least as much vitriol should be spit at the RDF trustees who are the ones that actually made the decision instead of just enforcing it.

    That is, unless you acknowledge and accept your place at the back of the line in the grand scheme of things – i.e. unless you acknowledge that RDF does not care about and has no obligation to care about your wishes.

    I stand by my comment about booting workhorses so you can pay their replacements less. Not that long ago Jesse Galef, who used to contribute here, was booted from a nonprofit not for incompetence or embezzlement but for ‘restructuring’ – execuspeak for replacing you with someone who will do twice the work for half the pay.

    Like any good CEO of a major corporation, the nonprofits will throw you out like yesterday’s trash. They would outsource your job to China if they could get away with it. They’re no better than any other business. Get used to it.

  • Bertram Cabot, Jr.

    I am shocked, SHOCKED, that atheists would engage in dishonest behavior.

    So what ever came down?

  • Paul

    I knew Josh well and am quite certain the suit is bogus. I remember when there was no Richard Dawkins site. Josh would carry around books by Dawkins, which he had been reading since a teenager, infectiously raving about them to all who would listen. He e-mailed Dawkins and suggested creating a site for him. Dawkins was pleased with the idea, and the two met in London to lay the groundwork for the site. Josh labored fiendishly 12-14 hours daily to get the site up and maintain it. I know because I would drop in on him and he was always working on it. I would call and he would tell me about what he was doing on the site. The site was his life. This went on for over a year, at least. Josh received absolutely no remuneration throughout that time. Everything came out of his own pocket. He met Maureen, the notorious girlfriend we’re always hearing about, who started supporting him. Josh was about to be evicted from his apartment, so Maureen offered to let him live with her. She came from an affluent family, had a good size home in Studio City, and supported him in a comfortable manner while he was struggling financially. I felt badly for Josh, seeing how hard he worked for no compensation at all, but was glad he had Maureen to bail him out. He was struggling to supplement his income through music recording for friends and colleagues in the LA area. He was a great recording engineer with an awesome flair at Protools and a great intuition for microphone placement and usage. Still, he was struggling in the most basic ways financially, depending a great deal on Maureen.

    During a trip to Los Angeles, Dawkins finally acknowledged to Josh how he deserved to paid something for his efforts. Josh didn’t know how much it would be, but felt elated that his efforts were going to be validated by actual payment. He had been terribly discouraged by the lack of financial support from Dawkins, though he liked him very much as a person and they got along very well from their first meeting. I encouraged Josh to speak directly to Richard, as I’m sure others did, about being paid.

    The important point is that Dawkins stated Josh would keep the net proceeds of the online store as his payment for the website. It was as simple an arrangement as that. This agreement had been set in place before there was any Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science. Skeptical of such an informal arrangement, I told Josh to try to steer clear of an semblance of impropriety: “Save all your documentation and share it with Richard openly,” I said. He agreed whole-heartedly. He had begun making a lot of money, all of which he richly deserved as remuneration for his extraordinary labor. He created the site single-handedly, and put in heavy hours maintaining it and expanding it continuously. He never worked any less than in the first days. Whatever remuneration he received, it was absolutely reasonable and customary. Neither Josh nor Maureen embezzled money. They earned money under the terms set forth by Dawkins himself. They were compensated fairly. I was so thrilled to see Josh become successful after the tremendous labor he committed in good faith. Nobody deserved that success more than him. Maureen was supportive of Josh and stood by him first in bad times, then later in the good. I hope they emerge victorious from this frivolous lawsuit plotted by the jealous RDFRS, who never treated Josh with the respect he deserved.

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