Oren Etzioni, Leading UW Computer Scientist and Entrepreneur, Comments on “Cyber Stalking” Suit

Oren Etzioni, the Internet search expert at the University of Washington and founder of Farecast, has been sued by a Seattle attorney who accuses him of cyber stalking in connection with a divorce case, according to a report by The Seattle Times.

Etzioni sent a series of anonymous e-mails to attorney Mabry DeBuys, who represented his ex-wife during the couple’s divorce proceedings in 2009, the Times said. The e-mails were “highly intimidating, outrageous, depraved and vicious,” according to a complaint filed in King County Superior Court by DeBuys and her firm, K&L Gates.

The Times story doesn’t say exactly what was in the messages, although Etzioni told the newspaper in a statement that he regrets “the bad judgment I displayed … at the peak of my anguish over the recent divorce and its toll on my family. From that point on, I have made every attempt to make amends.” He said he hopes to resolve the matter in an amicable way.

The suit represents a low point for Etzioni, one of the more prominent Internet entrepreneurs in Seattle. Etzioni has founded three spinoffs from UW—Netbot, a comparison shopping agent acquired by Excite in 1997, Clearforest, bought by Reuters in 2007, and Farecast, an airline fare prediction tool acquired by Microsoft for $115 million in 2008. Besides his work on the UW faculty, Etzioni serves as a venture partner for Seattle-based Madrona Venture Group.

I spoke briefly with Etzioni this morning to seek further comment on the Times story and the allegations. He said the story is “filled with numerous assertions that aren’t accurate,” because it relies heavily on the complaint filed by the other side. The case, he says, is a matter of “lawyers attempting to distort things for maximum advantage.” While he said he takes responsibility for what he said in the e-mails, “they made it sound worse than it was.”

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