What Do They Say About The Lawyer Who Represents Himself?
from the crash-landing dept
Not quite sure where to start on this one, but I will just say that while the embedded (below) legal filing clocks in at 100 pages, it’s worth taking the time to read it, just to get a sense of the legal filing stylings of one Arthur Alan Wolk, a lawyer who apparently has made quite a name for himself over the years as a trial lawyer specializing in aviation accidents. In April of 2007, the blog Overlawyered published a post with some speculation about some of Wolk’s activities in a particular case — speculation that Wolk insists is false.
In April of 2009, Wolk came across that blog post, and sued for defamation in state court on May 12th. It was quickly kicked up to federal court, and last summer the case was dismissed (pdf), with the court noting that the statute of limitations on defamation is one year, and more than that had passed by the time Wolk filed his suit. Wolk apparently tried to argue that he only discovered the blog posts in April of 2009, and thus he could still file. The judge disagreed. The blogger who was sued, and some other blogs, posted about the dismissal, properly noting that the court had dismissed Wolk’s lawsuit, with some claiming it was a “victory” for free speech.
Wolk is apparently not one to give up easily. First, he has asked the judge to set aside the dismissal order, claiming that because Overlawyered changed blogging platforms in 2008, and it changed the URLs for stories, this counts as “republishing” the original story, and the statute of limitations shot clock was restarted. He also argued that because Overlawyered engaged in search engine optimization via the new platform and that SEO helped “thrust [the story] to the forefront of all internet search engine results and infiltrated every search performed of Plaintiff by anyone…,” his original lawsuit was within the statute of limitations. It seems that this would be a rather unique interpretation of the single publication rule, which most states use to set the statute of limitations on defamation claims at the time of first publishing.
However, even more ridiculous is that he has now filed a new lawsuit against the same defendants and a lot more people, including the lawyers of the original defendants. In this filing, Wolk is representing himself. On what basis is he suing again for a case already dismissed? Well… sit right back and take the time to read. There are a number of interesting theories, starting, of course, with again claiming that the original post was defamatory, based on what he now believes is the relevant date. Though, um, that date is in 2008, so even if he gets the court to buy that as the date of publication, I don’t see how it passes the statute of limitations test (again).
Next up… he puts forth a series of conspiracy claims. Apparently, Wolk believes that everyone on the long list of people he sued is against what he stands for, and all of the articles published about him were part of a conspiracy to discredit Wolk because people disagree with his views on tort law. Earlier in the filing, there are many attempts to paint some of the defendants with very broad brushes — claiming certain sites are “partners” and also labeling certain websites and institutions (such as Reason and the CATO Institute) as being “ultra right wing,” which is funny if you know much about Reason or Cato.
The series of conspiracy claims get stranger and stranger as you read each one, but it seems that they can be summed up as… a lot of people online have been making fun of Wolk, and that continues because the original post remains online, and these new posts have continued to draw attention to the original post. Absent all of these claims is the recognition from Wolk that (a) his initial lawsuit made the original story — defamatory or not — newsworthy again, long after it had gone into the archives (b) the judge did, in fact, dismiss his original lawsuit, whether rightly or wrongly and (c) bloggers and other journalists highlighting this fact are highlighting this fact, not engaging in some conspiracy.
But Wolk seems to be insisting that because he believes the dismissal was incorrect, it’s defamation to report on it. He also alleges that even though the statute of limitations has passed, everyone is required to remove the original post. Separately, he claims that some of the blog posts reporting on the dismissal are themselves defamatory. For example, he’s suing Reason for reporting that he “missed the deadline” to file his original lawsuit — even though that’s exactly what the court said. That Wolk believes that ruling was in error doesn’t change the fact that Reason accurately reported the ruling. Furthermore, he claims that these other blogs posts served to “encourage and incite” readers to “further defame” Wolk, though I don’t see any specific points where readers are specifically encouraged to defame Wolk.
Not surprisingly, he also sues a bunch of pseudonymous commenters on these blog posts, who made statements about Wolk, but also claims that the comments on these blogs shows that the Trustees of the Reason Foundation need “to cease and desist their abdication of their legal responsibilities to manage and supervise Manhattan and Reason for solely charitable or educational purposes…” He also claims that this is a violation of their non-profit (501(c)(3)) status. Huh? Really? Having commenters mock you is a violation of their non-profit status? How?
It gets better.
Next up, Wolk notes that he, himself, hired someone to go on Wikipedia and “place truthful, favorable information about the plaintiff.” But… you see, everyone else got in the way:
The defendants, hell bent on torpedoing the Wikipedia attempt to minimize their conduct’s impact on the plaintiff’s reputation, by themselves or some of their incited adherents or their own employees, including but not limited to Frank and Olson, edited the site with their false and defamatory logs so plaintiff could not effectively restore in some small way his reputation.
This, apparently, means they’re guilty of “Internet Stalking and Bullying.”
Next up… he claims that they’re guilty of extortion. Extortion?!? Yes, extortion:
The defendants are attempting to extort something of value from the plaintiff, his reputation to enhance the visibility and credibility of their websites and to use that destruction as a means to obtain more illegal tax deductible contributions.
They are continuing to libel him so they can cause him to sue them, and thus make them appear as victims on the internet and thus enhance and encourage others to contribute to their tort reform causes.
The defendants want to publish the sorrow of their plight being sued repeatedly for their libel so their membership can blog more and more hate against the plaintiff.
Separately, Wolk hasn’t just sued the original defendants and some others who wrote about the case, but has also sued the original defendants’ lawyers, claiming that their own blog posts about the original ruling were defamatory. Paul Alan Levy (whose writeup on this case we linked to above) explains why he finds this part to be problematic:
But to my mind, the most obnoxious aspect of the new lawsuit is the transparent attempt to interfere with the defense of the libel suit by joining the defense lawyers as defendants in the case. Not only does this create a potential conflict of interest between the defendants and their lawyers, but it also poses the possibility of making the lawyers witnesses in the case. Yet it appears that the lawyers were doing no more than providing zealous representation to their clients by making reasonable legal arguments in defense of their clients? free speech. The date of the blog post was set forth in the complaint; defendants were entitled to argue for dismissal based on that date. Nor is such litigation necessary: if Wolk believes the lawyers engaged in litigation misconduct, he is free to seek sanctions against them from the judge before whom the alleged misconduct took place.
There’s a lot more in the filing itself. As I said, it’s well worth the read. Whether or not the original blog post was defamatory, it seems that Wolk’s response to it has not done himself or his reputation any favors. Furthermore, it seems to me that throughout the lawsuit filing itself, Wolk makes statements about the various defendants that could be deemed as defamatory as well, regularly referring to defendants as “Internet bullies,” and making direct statements of fact like saying that Overlawyered.com has a “sole purpose to misrepresent, lie and present a warped view of lawyers, judges and the law to undermine the civil justice system of the United States.” There’s also this amazing paragraph about Reason:
Defendant Reason.com is another Internet bullying site organized under the laws of the State of California, with its principal place of business in Los Angeles, California. It is one of the mouthpieces for Overlawyered.com and its mentors, Manhattan, Cato and Enterprise, which are co-conspirators, and is the attack dog for inter alia, The Reason Foundation, a euphemism for the policies and goals of the Libertarian Party, a right wing fringe element that espouses what amounts to an abandonment of the institutions of our Republic and its substitution with a Govermnent by putative journalists, self appointed intellectuals and right wing pundits but whose real goal is to work with Overlawyered.com and Olson, Frank, Manhattan, Cato and Enterprise, and their respective trustees to assassinate the character of individuals chosen for that purpose because they are a threat to the America without laws Reason Foundation wants. Reason Foundation raises funds for their anti-consumer, anti-Government, anti-court, anti-judge and often anti-Semitic, anarchistic views by proving to their donors how vicious they can be on their various media sites including Reason television, Reason.com and Reason magazine Reason.com attempts to accomplish these ends by re-publishing with new commentary publications of Overlawyered, Frank and Olson for the purpose undermining the civil justice system in the United States, by forming an Internet tag team so if one of them is silenced for their falsity, the other simply republishes with more false and defamatory comment to keep the libel alive. The idea is to whip up a frenzy to prove their dedication to the causes of the Libertarian party, much like the Nazi’s of the early 1930s, which will cull more donations from their very rich donors and blind them to the dangers to American institutions of their radicalism. It is believed and therefore averred that employees or agents of Reason. com are the anonymous bloggers.
Um. Yeah. Later, he claims that the “Trustees” of these various organizations “continue to suck the blood of the American people,” which is quite a statement. He later says of the defendants: “These leaches on our society who take the tax money of the poor, impoverished, less fortunate, those struggling just to make it and use it to achieve their goals to ensure they retain their billions have selected the plaintiff Arthur Alan Wolk as their next victim, a big mistake.”
For someone who appears to be so sensitive about the mere suggestion that, as was stated by a judge, he filed a lawsuit too late, it seems slightly odd that he engages in such vitriol against them in the lawsuit filing in response. From my vantage point, it appears that he goes significantly further in his statements than did the folks he accuses of various things in statements against him.
On top of that, as Paul Alan Levy also points out in his post, Wolk appears to undermine his own case in this filing, by claiming that the defendants did not check the facts before publishing the original blog post. As Levy notes: “Wolk is unquestionably a public figure, and a failure to investigate is negligence, not the actual malice that is needed to sustain a libel suit by a public figure.” Oops.
Honestly, there’s much more in this lawsuit than I’ve covered here, so have fun reading it. And, to be quite explicit, given Wolk’s actions here, I am not in any way affiliated with Overlawyered or Reason, though I’m sure we’ve linked to them in the past on stories. Furthermore, because Wolk appears to claim that a blog post like this could be seen as inducement to post defamatory information, I would like to be very explicit in saying that if you are going to post a comment about Wolk, certainly consider the libel implications of what you say. Or else, it is entirely possible that you could wind up subject to a lawsuit, whether or not you believe it’s legit.