As a birth attendant and maternity photographer trying to establish himself in Hawaii, Danny Gallagher would often share a heart-wrenching story: his former partner had committed suicide in front of him, taking her life and the lives of the couple’s unborn twins — a trauma that Gallagher told people led him to seek solace helping other women deliver babies.

There’s just one problem with Gallagher’s story: It’s a lie. Gallagher has admitted under oath that he used the tale in a failed attempt to ingratiate himself into the community of Hawaii’s mostly female birth attendants, known as doulas.

Gallagher’s sob story didn’t work so well in the end. Instead of welcoming Gallagher into their fold, many of the doulas viewed him with suspicion. Eventually, based on what they believed was evidence that Gallagher had advised pregnant women on how to make money selling erotic photos, many of the doulas ostracized him as a sexual predator seeking to infiltrate their community.

Gallagher has sued several of these doulas for defamation. A trial is set to begin on Monday with jury selection in Hawaii federal court before U.S. District Court Judge Leslie Kobayashi.

Danny Gallagher’s “Danny the Doula” Facebook page is no longer active but is included in court exhibits. The trial against birth attendants Gallagher accuses of defaming him starts Monday. Screenshot

Gallagher’s attorney, Megan Kau, acknowledged in an interview that her client advised women about selling nude photos on the creative artist platform Patreon. And she said the suicide story was something “he created in order to market himself.”

But Kau said Gallagher never coerced anyone. And it was wrong to accuse Gallagher of being a “pimp” and a “predator” who groomed vulnerable women to produce and distribute pornography.

“They can say he was creepy. They can say he lies. But they crossed a line,” Kau told Civil Beat.

Eric Seitz, the attorney representing the majority of the doulas, declined to comment.

While the case hinges on a basic question – did the doulas go too far when warning each other about Gallagher? – it also involves details unique to the age of social media.

Much of the communication took place on Facebook, on professional pages and in Facebook groups. There are discussions on how to use Patreon to sell erotic photos and videos. In one case, Gallagher created a false profile to catfish a doula and elicit negative comments from her about himself.

Were Doulas Negligent When Repeating Stories?

The general rule regarding defamation is that it’s unlawful to knowingly or recklessly make false and damaging statements about someone to a third party. An essential question is whether the statement is an objective one that can be proven true or false, rather than merely an opinion. A defamatory statement made in writing is known as libel.

As Kobayashi explained in an order denying summary judgment for the defendants, “With respect to the statements based on first-hand knowledge, ‘the question presented is whether the defendants here acted reasonably with regard to the grounds they had for believing’ Gallagher did the things they accused him of in their Facebook posts and direct messages.”

For those without direct knowledge, the judge said, the question was whether the doulas were negligent or unreasonable in repeating things they had heard from others.

“If people are simply repeating what someone else said, you can’t do it blindly,” said Jeff Portnoy, a partner who practices media law with the Cades Schutte law firm.

But simply because a statement was not true does not mean the person committed libel when making the statement, he said.

“It’s a question of fact for the jury whether you were negligent in that,” Portnoy said.

Normally, publishers of libelous statements also might be liable for publishing them, but platforms like Facebook are generally shielded by the federal Communications Decency Act, he said. Individuals making such statements, however, can still be held accountable.

One thing that’s not in dispute is that Gallagher advised women on how to make and post erotic photos for money – and to avoid letting the pictures get out to friends and relatives. One series of messages posted on a Facebook group shows Gallagher boasting about how he “helped two of my doula friends do this (five mamas total) and it’s pretty much under wraps.”

“There are kinks and fetishes for everything under the sun,” he says in another post. “If you play your cards right, Patreon is the way to live the life of your dreams.”

Danny the Doula
In a Facebook post that’s part of the court record in his defamation suit against doulas who spoke out against him, Danny Gallagher wrote about how he has worked with doulas to get women to share erotic photos on line. U.S. District Court

Also part of the record is a conversation Gallagher had with a defendant named Kate Pavlovsky. In a series of Facebook messages, Gallagher tells Pavlovsky: “One mama I helped makes $6,000 a month by doing photo and video (sic) of herself lactating. … Another mama I’ve helped, just takes erotic photos of herself in public places, and has a membership portal.”

While the thread shows Pavlovsky went along with the conversation and appeared interested in doing erotic pictures, she says she later changed her mind.

“I never let on to Danny that I was uncomfortable that is true,” Pavlovsky says in documents now part of the court record.

But she says she eventually quit talking to Gallagher when he sent her a link to a pornography site.

Later, posting on Facebook under a profile bearing the pseudonym Opal Essence, Pavlovsky wrote of Gallagher, “This man is a sexual predator. He should never be allowed in a birth room as it has been made clear he is very aroused by birth, pregnancy, and breastfeeding. We are not trying to tear him down. He is not a victim. We are trying to protect the true victims in this situation – the women who he will prey upon.”

This became the story about Gallagher shared on Facebook: that he was a predator who would groom vulnerable, pregnant women into taking and publishing nude photos. The defendants in the suit shared variations on this theme in messages and posts. The named defendants are Pavlovsky, Anne Croudace, Emille Saldaya, Jenna Chidester, Bathany Kirillov, Jane Hopaki, Stephanie Byers and Vivian Chau Best.

Kau acknowledges that Gallagher helped pregnant women publish nude photographs. But she said he did so at their request. She points to Samantha Baldwin, also known as Sam Ross, who has submitted testimony supporting Gallagher.

According to a statement Baldwin submitted to the court, she got in touch with Gallagher and asked him how to help her market sexy photos and videos of herself. Baldwin says she sent some to him as samples to share with people contemplating doing the same thing.

“Danny never once said anything to me that appeared to be, or made me feel like, I was being coerced into sending him photos or videos of myself or that he was manipulating me,” Baldwin says in her declaration.

According to Baldwin, she learned Pavlovsky and Saldaya “were sharing boudoir photos of me in Facebook groups without my consent in order to prove that Danny was a sexual predator and was sharing the photos without my consent.”

Baldwin says she asked both women to stop sharing the photos and defended Gallagher.

“Danny has been nothing but a gentleman to me and never asked me to do something or give him something that was anything close to being considered in the world of ‘sexual predator,’ ‘creepy,’ ‘a porn broker’ and ‘a pimp,’” she said in her declaration.

While these conflicting portraits of Gallagher will be presented to the jury starting Monday, there’s one story the jury will likely never hear: his lie about being present when his partner killed herself and their unborn twins, which he used to help gain entrée into the doula community.

In an order issued Oct. 17, Kobayashi said the jury could not hear how Gallagher has used a tall tale to market himself. The risk that evidence would prejudice the jury against Gallagher outweighed any value it might have proving that the doulas had not defamed Gallagher, the judge explained.

Asked whether the doulas’ attorneys might somehow get the story out anyway, Kau was adamant.

“Judge Kobayashi excluded it,” she said. “Judge Kobayashi was very clear in her order.”

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