This article about how anti-vaccine activists try to use liability insurance policies to make money and target people was written by Dorit Rubinstein Reiss, Professor of Law at the University of California Hastings College of the Law (San Francisco, CA), who is a frequent contributor to this and many other blogs, providing in-depth, and intellectually stimulating, articles about vaccines, medical issues, social policy, and the law.
Professor Reiss writes extensively in law journals about the social and legal policies of vaccination. Additionally, Reiss is also a member of the Parent Advisory Board of Voices for Vaccines, a parent-led organization that supports and advocates for on-time vaccination and the reduction of vaccine-preventable diseases. She is also a member of the Vaccines Working Group on Ethics and Policy.
An anti-vaccine activist tried to get my liability insurance policy to target me using the latest fake paper-terrorism effort that resulted from the marriage between anti-vaccine activists and sovereign citizens. Finding out I don’t have one, he, on learning my school has a liability insurance policy, decided that provides him with a double opportunity: revenge (for imaginary harms) and windfall. The problem is that it does not work like that. Liability insurance policies don’t really provide anti-vaccine sovereign citizens to make a windfall by attacking pro-vaccine advocates.
This kind of behavior, however, lends support to calls to put in place laws to combat paper terrorism, the sovereign citizen tactic of filing baseless legal claims to harass and distract, like the laws put in place to combat the related sovereign citizens’ practice of filing liens to harass people.
My hope with this post is to give people an introduction to some tactics sovereign citizens use to target people and provide them with an explanation of why these tactics are invalid. Given the growing merger between anti-vaccine activists and sovereign citizens, I think this could be useful.
This post proceeds in four parts. In the first part, I will provide a bit of background on my experience with the current harasser, self-appointed Pastor Ricardo Beas, which I think is important to understand his latest effort. Then, I will describe paper terrorism and the recently combined anti-public-health and sovereign citizen effort to use bonds. Finally, I will describe Mr. Beas’ latest foible and why it is unfounded. Finally, I will offer some guidance to other people targeted.
An anti-vaccine harasser — A story
I generally don’t write posts devoted to individual harassers. In part because it may give one person out of many too much importance. In part, it feels like punching down, targeting someone without real reach or power. But with the growth of sovereign citizen style tactics from anti-vaccine activists, I think addressing this story can be useful to others. And although Mr. Ricardo Beas is not unique in his views or tactics, he has been a persistent harasser, and I think that removes any claim he has not to be named.
He is a sovereign citizen, and although I did not realize it at first, has been one for a long time. He is clearly very anti-vaccine. He also promotes MMS, a product that is, essentially, industrial strength bleach and has been used against children with autism, and has no known medical uses (see also here). I do not know how long he has been anti-vaccine.
I met Mr. Beas in person during the hearing for Whitlow v. California, the first case litigated against SB277, California’s law removing the non-medical exemption. The hearing was in August 2016, and since I knew anti-vaccine activists were planning to attend en masse I came early to make sure I had a seat. In fact, I came in the morning, since I had to fly from California, and I spent the day watching the judge in action.
Mr. Beas and I stood in line and chatted. He seemed nice. Since time was limited, I suggested he’s welcome to continue the discussion by email – yes, a mistake, in hindsight. Mr. Beas and I corresponded for a while. But Mr. Beas’ emails were very lengthy, and after the first two times I tried to answer in length, my impression was that he did not give much attention to my response.
Mr. Beas appears to be self-employed. I am not. I have a full-time job, two children, and my advocacy. I was answering Mr. Beas at night, cutting into my sleep at a time when my younger son was a toddler and sleep was at a premium (when is it not?), and it was too much for a discussion that was going nowhere. I told him – politely, I hope – that I will not continue this. I ignored several following emails. I did not think badly of him at the time, but it was simply too much. Mr. Beas, I think, took it to heart. In my view, his continued obsession with me stems from this refusal to continue to engage.
In the years since Mr. Beas has filed multiple – I am not sure how many – public records act (PRA) requests with my school. His first request included a request for my oath of office. I later learned that this is a common sovereign citizen tactic, and in his case, it seems based on the assumption that since he decided that – in contrast to my view and the judicial consensus – vaccines mandates are unconstitutional, my speaking up for them was, in his opinion, a violation of my oath of office. (Vaccines mandates in the United States have a long jurisprudence showing them constitutional; but even if that were not true, taking a position on a legal issue is not, by itself, a crime or a violation of the oath of office). Over the years he asked for a range of my emails — for the syllabi of my courses, for my salary, and several other things. Public Records Act cases allow citizens access to public records – documents the agency has – regardless of their motivation. The reasoning behind that is that public transparency is a public benefit by itself, and the public benefits from more information in the public realm, regardless of the intent of the seeker.
So the requests were respected, regardless of Mr. Beas’ potential motivations – and my impression is that he intended to target me. I think this is reflected in a document he wrote titled “Vaccine Class Action Complaint: Violation Of Civil Rights And Criminal Conspiracy By Criminal Conspiracy” – in which he accused me of a variety of creative and unrealistic (read: imaginary) things. This is not a valid legal document. It’s not a class action complaint. It is not a lawsuit. It’s basically a memo trying to make claims hoping some official will see something to act in them.
This stuff was a mild waste of time, but not much more. Even though anti-vaccine activists seized on one statement in my emails to try and make off-the-wall claims, by and large my emails are probably boring for anyone else. There just wasn’t much there they could use. Sorry.
In 2019 I was approached by people from Loma Linda University to do a panel on vaccine mandates and religious exemptions, together with a pediatrician, examining the intersection between individual freedom and vaccine mandates. It sounded nice, and I was happy to do that – I have given talks about such topics in multiple forums at that point. I got a plane ticket and was even planning to take my son with me.
Anti-vaccine activists saw the announcement and planned to attend. Mr. Beas especially made plans to attend. I told the organizers. They were concerned. After much deliberation, they decided to postpone the events (which has never happened). I thought that was a mistake, to be honest. It read like giving into bullying. But it’s their campus and their choice. They would have been responsible, and I understand that they were worried about it, given the aggressive tone of the anti-vaccine activists. I canceled my flight. They paid me back for it.
Mr. Beas decided to go in anyway. He went into the room where the talk was going to be, gave a talk to the empty room, and filmed himself doing so. He put the lecture online. He had to be escorted off campus by university security before he left.
Mr. Beas has commented on my Facebook timeline multiple times. I usually erase these posts, though I did make the mistake of answering his posts in the most recent attack story.
My point in this history is that this is a person who had been targeting me for years, appears focused on me, and appears to have had abundant time to devote to his obsession (in contrast, despite his efforts, he hasn’t been a big part of my life in the past years. He’s certainly been a mild annoyance, but not someone who took up a great deal of my time or focus until this recent effort – and even then, it’s hardly a major focus; honestly, who has time for this?). He is also not conversant with the law, and, as is true for many sovereign citizens, thinks the law should work his way and can be used to target people he disagrees with.
This context, I hope, will help people assess the more current events.
On sovereign citizens and liability insurance
Generally speaking, sovereign citizens are people who are anti-government, who believe that the government is invalid, and who believe the laws do not apply to them. There is more to it than that, and since they’re a real potential danger, I encourage people to learn more – I provided multiple links that I hope are a good starting place, and I enjoyed and learned from Dr. Christine Sarteschi’s book about sovereign citizens – but the relevant point here is that sovereign citizens believe the law does not apply to them and believe they can use pseudo-law to avoid a penalty when they violate the law. Sovereign citizens often use pseudo-legal terms – taking legal terms out of context, making claims that can sound legal to the uninformed but have no basis in law – to achieve a range of goals ranging from personal to ideological. A classic paper on this was written by my talented friend and colleague Colin McRoberts.
One tactic that sovereign citizens use involves filing legal claims against people, in some contexts called paper terrorism. This description has been used, initially, for the filing of fraudulent liens to harass opponents, and that tactic has received abundant attention and some – if imperfect – legal response.
But the term can reasonably be expanded to include other uses of legal tools to harass and target opponents, and journalists – rightly – have applied it to the most recent tactic born out of the marriage between sovereign citizens and anti-public health activists, the attempt to use surety bonds to intimidate school (and other) officials into not protecting children from COVID-19.
An organization called Bonds for the Win is encouraging parents to try and find the security bonds of school officials and use them to impose financial consequences on schools that impose mask mandates, or even schools that do not (accuracy and substance are not a forte of the organizers or activists. I addressed in a previous post the lack of legal basis for the tactic.
Even though the strategy has gotten no legal wins, and several companies and lawyers rejected it, it has caused a commotion, work, and distress for some school districts. Activists have alleged wins, but often the claims are simply untrue. As reported by NBC, “The FBI calls this general tactic “bond fraud,” cautioning in broader guidance that the “scheme frequently intermingles legal and pseudo-legal terminology to appear lawful.”
In short, this is a baseless intimidation tactic. It’s using pseudo-law to harass opponents. It’s not likely to net the harassers some money, but it can cause distress to the victims. And some of the harassers are likely acting on the belief that the sites setting them up to do this are right
Mr. Beas read the Bonds for the Win and saw that it was good (if not based on facts or law). He decided he wants to try it on me.
Liability insurance — the most recent anti-vaccine attack
On February 9, Mr. Beas commented on one of my Facebook posts, saying:
“Dear Dorit, I demand that you provide me with a copy of your University Surety Bond by email within the next three working days. I will separately send you an email to your university email address shortly. You have my email. Thanks. Ricardo Beas”
I responded, which was likely a mistake, saying “Ricardo Beas I don’t have one. This is another point of misinformation your leaders are feeding you.”
We had some back and forth, and I reiterated I do not have a security bond, which I do not. Then Mr. Beas emailed me and said:
I demand that you provide me with a full copy of your University Surety Bond by email within the next three working days. Please use this email to respond. If for any reason you refuse to provide it, which is against the law, please let me know the reasons for that.
As I explained on Facebook, I do not have a surety bond. In some states, some officials may have a surety bond; even there, this trick has no legal validity, though it might intimidate officials who do not know the law and do not understand that this is an anti-vaccine bit of misinformation. California is not one of them. Most agencies will have a liability policy, but since you have no valid tort claims against me, that’s not going to help you.
When anti-vaccine leaders tell their followers this is a real thing, they are, as they do on most things (like vaccines risks) misleading their followers.
I CCed a lawyer in our general counsel’s office that worked on these things.
Apparently, Mr. Beas then filed a public records act request with my university, saying:
Please provide me a full copy of Dorit Rubinstein Reiss’ Surety Bond to work in the university. If none exists, then please provide me the surety bond for Dean David Faigman andthe one for tthe University in general. Please provide it within the next 5 working days.
I heard of that when my school responded, on February 11, 2022, and told him that they don’t have any such records.
We had some further back and forth (Here is the full exchange – this post is already getting long), and then I told our counsel I intend to respond no further. I think it’s fair to say it was made clear to Mr. Beas that there isn’t a surety bond at least four different times.
On March 14, 2022, Mr. Beas submitted another FOIA request. I heard of it when my school answered. He asked for:
“1. A copy of Dorit Reiss’ Public Official Surety Bond to California Revised Code 460.1, regardless of where it is kept;
2. A photocopy of Dorit Reiss’ blanket surety bond if your university requires its staff to be bonded under a blanket bond;
3. A photocopy of Dorit Reiss’ and/or your University’s Errors & Omissions (E&O), a Surety Liability Insurance policy, and the Duty of Care policy if applicable;
4. A photocopy of your university’s General Obligation Bonds if applicable;
5. A photocopy of your general long-term bond for staff and Dorit Reiss if applicable;
6. A photocopy of your university’s Crime Policy if applicable;
7. A photocopy of your university’s Risk Management Policy if applicable;
8. A photocopy of the following documents if applicable: (a) ACORD 125, (b) ACORD 126, (c) ACORD 127, (d) ACORD 128;
9. A photocopy of the university’s Certificate of Liability if applicable;
10. Any Public Officials and/or any other bonds pertaining to proof of liability and policies, based on any and all loses of financial responsibility due to negligence or dishonesty, any and all based on the contract of terms and conditions;
11. A photocopy of the university’s Faithful Performance Bond if applicable;
12. A photocopy of the university’s Fidelity Bond if applicable;
13. A photocopy of the university’s Public Employee Dishonesty Policy if applicable;
14. A photocopy of the university’s Public Employee Blanket Bond if applicable;
15. A photocopy of the university’s Statutory Bond if applicable;
16. A photocopy of the university’s power of attorney for the surety bond company if applicable;
17. A photocopy of the Blanket Bond power of attorney for the surety bond company if applicable;
18. Please supply me with a copy of this bond for Dorit Reiss within (72) hours after receiving this request;
19. All information, documentation, correspondence and/or communication, to and from, among and between Richard Hart, Ted N. C. Wilson, Wonha Kim, other Loma Linda University staff, and U.C Hastings University staff with Dorit Reiss and/or regarding Dorit Rubinstein Reiss’ scheduled and cancelled conference of August 15, 2019, titled “The Vaccine Mandate – Faith, Liberty, and the Pursuit of the Common Good,” or any other matter. The documents sought are for the period from June 1, 2019 to December 31, 2019;
20. A copy of the Powerpoint and/or similar presentation, regardless of whether it was completed or not, prepared by Dorit Reiss, under her guidance, or for her to use in the August 15, 2019 cancelled presentation noted above;
21. All correspondence between Dorit Reiss and other U.C. University staff member mentioning or referencing Mr. Ricardo Beas. The documents sought are for the period from June 1, 2019 to March 20, 2022.”
The first thing the university told him is, again, that there is no security bond.
Then, on April 15, 2022, Mr. Beas posted this in his group, shared with me by a group member:
I’M COMING AGAINST DORIT REISS FOR ILLEGAL PRACTICES, CONDONED BY UC HASTINGS, THAT VIOLATE OUR RIGHTS
Dorit has been doing all she can to convince others to violate our religious rights not to vaccinate, from promoting that the unvaxed pay for outbreaks, to claiming that all our religious reasons for exemption to vaccination are fraudulent, to teaching classes to future attorneys on how to fight against any religious claims in our fight.
A new strategy that came out to fight against those that violate our rights, who are in public office (public university personnel fall in this category, and Dorit signed an oath of office to follow the Constitution), is going against them by suing/asking for damages under their surety bond insurance.
In a recent Skeptical Raptor she said that persons were using this strategy and said no such things existed. Under my PRA request I got confirmation that such is not the case, and that indeed they have insurance to cover for such violations. The doc that shows such potential liability is called “Educators Legal Liability.” Below is a screen shot.
What I will be requesting as a remedy will be noted on a future post, noting that their insurance covers up to $25 million “for each claim.”
My intent: To make an example of Dorit for others that violate or intend to violate our God-given rights
Pastor Ricardo Beas”
According to a screenshot Mr. Beas shared, what triggered this was the fact that my school sent him a copy of the university’s liability insurance policy.
On April 28 Mr. Beas wrote my school. In a post in his group, he said that:
UC HASTINGS IS REFUSING TO PROVIDE ME INFO ON BRINGING A CLAIM AGAIST THEM FOR DORIT’S ACTIONS – So I wrote them: …. your organization has an Educators Legal Liability Insurance Policy. The purpose of such policy is to protect your organization from legal claims, including lawsuits. This being the case, that means that your organization must have information to provide to anyone advising you that they are considering bringing a claim against your organization. Your Organization Has A Legal Obligation To Provide Such Information Upon Request – and I am hereby requesting it.
What’s going on here? Liability insurance covers the protected person’s legal costs if they’re “held legally responsible for someone else’s injury, or damage to someone else’s property.”
Our school liability insurance, in other words, is there in case the school gets sued in court the liability insurance can cover the cost of litigation and the covered part of any losses. It is not a personal bond against anyone. It does not allow anyone except the school to just demand money from the insurance company. Nor is there any legal obligation on a liability policyholder to inform anyone of how to get to the insurance company. What Mr. Beas wrote is just incorrect. Nobody is required to help him write letters with bogus claims to our insurance company.
Mr. Beas can try to bring a lawsuit against my school (he doesn’t have any valid legal claims, but he can try. Anyone can sue for anything). My school can then work with its insurance company to cover the costs of defending against him and any potential payments. But Mr. Beas has no business with the company. The liability policy isn’t something he can use.
Unfortunately for Mr. Beas, our school’s counsel understands the legal situation, and his attempt to intimidate the target is not going to work. And if he finds the insurance company, I expect them to politely send him away, too.
What should you do if this happens to you?
First, if you’re nervous, talk to a lawyer (which I am not) or your liability insurance company. This is a general suggestion for any time anti-vaccine activists target you with legal threats you are not familiar with.
Second, remember that this specific tactic is legally invalid. There is no record of these people successfully using surety bonds or liability insurance to get money from their victims because they have no basis for it. This is at best, a misunderstanding of the law by people who have been fooled by an extremist organization, and at worst, an attempted fraud. And in both cases, it is an attempt to intimidate and harass with unfounded legal claims.
Third, consider making this public. Send it to the journalists writing about misinformation, blog about it, or post it. Call it out, so others know who is doing this and what they are doing.
And finally, maybe it’s time to organize a call to lawmakers to put in place potential sanctions for people engaged in what the FBI describes as surety fraud, or consider using existing laws about insurance fraud. As this effort grows and covers more school districts or officials, there may be more support for providing a strong response to the harassers.