Paul Levy Hoping To Wake Up Maryland Courts To The Numerous Fraudulent Libel Lawsuits Filed There
from the so-far,-very-little-interest-in-performing-actual-judge-work dept
Something’s rotten in Maryland. Not conspiracy-level rotten, but rotten nonetheless. As we’ve discussed recently, Paul Alan Levy (along with Eugene Volokh) have done a ton of legwork to flush out the perpetrator of several bogus libel lawsuits filed in Baltimore courts, designed for the purpose of “reputation management” (i.e., convincing Google to stop linking to posts someone doesn’t like). The man behind many of these appears to be Richart Ruddie, who runs a reputation management company called Profile Defenders.
As we discussed earlier this week, one of the judges in Baltimore handling one of those cases has refused to fix things and overturn his rubber-stamped order. But there are other, similar cases in front of other judges there as well, and they seem equally unwilling to make proactive efforts to deter this sort of abuse. Because of this, Levy has worked with Myvesta (a company indirectly affected by a bogus libel lawsuit, thanks to bogus delisting orders targeting one of its websites) to file an amicus brief detailing Ruddie’s fraudulent reputation management efforts.
We had several reasons for filing an amicus brief in support of the plaintiffs’ motion to vacate. First, it seemed to us that the motion to vacate understated the extent of the fraud that had been perpetrated on the court — it did not frankly admit that Bryan Levin was an invented name created for the purpose of justifying the consent order, and it did not admit that the consent order sought the plaintiffs’ objective — suppression of critical articles — by the device of suing over allegedly defamatory comments. The motion did not admit that in additional to victimizing the court by the fraud, the person who arranged for the case to be filed was actually victimizing a speaker whose rights are protected by the First Amendment, and the motion did not call the consent order by its proper name — a prior restraint of protected speech.
But the problem goes much deeper than the case Myvesta’s involved in. Ruddie had a lot of extremely sketchy irons in the court’s fire. Levy wants to ensure this case isn’t seen as a one-and-done.
A second reason for submitting the amicus brief was to ensure that the judge not hear this motion to vacate judgment in isolation – we know of a raft of other cases like Smith v. Levin that were filed in the Maryland courts and, in particular, in the Circuit Court for Baltimore City. Some of these other cases also sought relief suppressing other articles on the Get Out of Debt Guy blog, in the apparent interest of other debt relief companies that the blog had criticized. Our brief identifies several other such cases, and Professor Volokh’s research has identified several more.
The filing [PDF] reveals many more details about Ruddie’s scamtastic lawsuits, as well as lawyer Bennett Wills’ apparent participation in the fraudulent filings. (Wills, who works for Ruddie client Rescue One, has claimed he never knowingly engaged in fraudulent behavior.)
[I]t has come to Myvesta’s attention that Bennett Wills has filed two additional “fake lawsuits” in Maryland circuit courts that are comparable to this case. Visionstar, Inc. v. Perez, No. 24C15005743 (Cir. Ct. Balt. City); Cohen v. Wilkerson, No. 06C15070022 (Cir. Ct. Carroll Cy). (Copies of these two complaints are attached). The papers use very similar language, and an investigation conducted by a private detective retained by UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh to assist in his investigation of the phenomenon of fake litigation established that, as in this case, neither of the two individuals who were named as defendants and whose signatures appear on the consent orders live at the addresses shown for them. See attached Declaration of Giles Miller. Moreover, both cases show obvious signs of being fake: the signatures of defendants “Mark Wilkerson” and “Daniel Perez” appear to have been written by the same hand; and the very carefully handwritten signature of “Mark Wilkerson” spells his name as “Wilerkson.”
And in the Visionstar case, the allegation in paragraph 13 about the IP address from which the supposedly defamatory reviews were posted to the Ripoff Report website is a highly implausible. Generally speaking, a subpoena can be issued in connection with a case seeking to identify the poster of an anonymous comment, but that is something that happens after the complaint is filed, not something that can be listed in the complaint. Undersigned counsel has contacted inside counsel for Xcentric Ventures, the company that operates Ripoff Report, and ascertained that his client has never received any subpoena to identify the anonymous author of the reports cited in the Visionstar complaint; that attorney also represented that he checked the IP addresses for the reports cited in the complaint, and that none of them was associated with the address 22.214.171.124 as the complaint alleges.
Levy points out Ruddie’s preferred legal venue is likely due to the fact that his business (what’s left of it) is located in that area. It would be very unlikely for so many defendants to be located in the Baltimore area, given the worldwide nature of the internet, but somehow these plaintiffs keep finding anonymous commenters right in Ruddie’s backyard. (And with record speed, too. In Ruddie’s faux lawsuits, commenters are usually unmasked within a few days of a lawsuit’s filing, all without subpoenas or court orders demanding the identifying info behind IP addresses and pseudonyms.)
Ruddie’s probably not filing any more bogus lawsuits — at least not while he’s under investigation by the US Attorney’s office. But there are likely more fraudulently-obtained court orders out there still needing to be vacated. And, as long as the court appears inattentive, there’s an open invitation for similarly-minded reputation managers to see if they can sneak a few bogus injunction requests past Baltimore judges.