Recent Law School Grad Gets Berated By Judge, Then Sues Nearly Everyone Who Discussed The Case

from the rakofsky'd dept

Yikes. Here's a story that's been making the law blog rounds that I hadn't heard about until now. There's a lot of background here, so I'll see if I can catch you up. Apparently, the family of someone accused of murder hired a 2009 law school graduate named Joseph Rakofsky to be the accused man's lawyer. Rakofsky was admitted to the bar in New Jersey, but not in Washington DC where the case was heard. Apparently, Rakofsky did not do a very good job handling the case -- and the judge told him so in declaring a mistrial. The Washington Post covered the story, highlighting the judge's concern with Rakofsky:
A D.C. Superior Court judge declared a mistrial Friday in a 2008 murder case and allowed the defendant to fire his New York-based attorney, who exhibited what the judge said were numerous signs that he lacked knowledge of proper trial procedure, including telling the jury during his opening statements that he had never tried a case before.

Judge William Jackson told attorney Joseph Rakofsky during a hearing Friday that he was "astonished" at his performance and at his "not having a good grasp of legal procedures" before dismissing him.

What angered Jackson even more was a filing he received early Friday from an investigator hired by Rakofsky in which the attorney told the investigator via an attached e-mail to "trick" a government witness into testifying in court that she did not see his client at the murder scene.

According to the filing, Rakofsky had fired the investigator and refused to pay him after the investigator refused to carry out his orders with the witness. The filing included an e-mail that the investigator said was from Rakofsky, saying: "Thank you for your help. Please trick the old lady to say that she did not see the shooting or provide information to the lawyers about the shooting." The e-mail came from Rakofsky’s e-mail account, which is registered to Rakofsky Law Firm in Freehold, N.J.
Believe it or not, there's a lot more in the story. The story caught the attention of plenty of law blogs, who then wrote about it, and (not surprisingly) they were not kind to Rakofsky. One law blogger has been keeping a list of blog posts about Rakofsky -- including some questions about claims on Rakofsky's website that appear to overstate his experiences and qualifications.

There are, of course, all sorts of ways to respond to such criticism. You could, for example, admit that you were wrong. You could learn from the experience. You could, if you believed any of the reports were incorrect, reach out to those who wrote the stories and ask them to correct them. You could go into hiding. Rakofsky, on the other hand, chose to sue almost everyone who had discussed the story, creating a case that some legal bloggers quickly dubbed Rakofsky v. Internet. You can see a copy of his filing embedded below, but along with suing a ton of bloggers, Rakofsky sued the Washington Post, Washington City Paper, Allbritton Communications and (believe it or not) the American Bar Association.

If you read the filing itself, it appears to be an attempt by Rakofsky to retry the murder case, going through many of the details in the case, before then stating that the judge in the case "slandered" Rakofsky... and posits that the judge may have done so because he was upset with the quality of Rakofsky's work in that it might help the accused:
... his anger may have been prompted by the diligence and zeal with which RAKOFSKY conducted his defense in the interest of the client as much as anything else, rather than any shortcoming in RAKOFSKY's knowledge of court procedure...
He also tries to explain away his own email that asked the investigator to "trick" a witness by saying it meant something else:
... BEAN sought to exploit, for the purpose of receiving compensation that was not due him, an email, which had been hastily typed by RAKOFSKY on a mobile device, that used an unfortunate choice of the word "trick" -- which, as BEAN knew only too well, was a shorthand word that meant only that Bean should underplay the fact that he worked for the defense-- which memorialized an earlier conversation between BEAN and RAKOFSKY concerning a non-witness, referring only to RAKOFSKY's suggestion to BEAN to understate the fact that he was employed by the defense...
And, yes, he goes on to claim that Bean then tried to "blackmail" him -- which certainly could lead to defamation charges back, if the claim is untrue.

Of course, all of this then leads to claims that pretty much everyone who repeated what happened in the courtroom or what Rakofsky actually did type in the email is guilty of defamation. One of the lawyers who was sued, Eric Turkewitz, has posted a pretty thorough discussion of the case, which is getting tons of attention and is worth reading in full. Turkewitz goes through the history, explains why he believes nothing he said was defamatory, and then, for good measure, piles on a few more things in an attempt to make his point clear:
Having given the basic outline of the story, I now turn to the part where I give my opinions. So let me go on to say that: In addition to being incompetent, I also think, based on the comments of the presiding judge, his co-counsel and the juror that spoke up, that he is unskillful, incapable, inept, unqualified, untrained, unprofessional, and clumsy. This is in addition to being a bumbler, blockhead, dolt, dingbat and chucklehead for having brought this suit, guaranteed to rain much unhappiness unto his name. I’ve got a thesaurus and I’m not afraid to use it.
He also sums up the ridiculousness of the lawsuit perfectly:
What was Rakofsky thinking? That a bunch of lawyers that make their living in the well of the courtroom, accustomed to walking a high-wire without a net as we cross-examine hostile witnesses, would somehow cower in fear at an utterly frivolous lawsuit? Did he think that those of us that write blogs, for all to see, might not somehow have a basic grasp of the First Amendment? Didn’t he know, well before he even went to law school, that people have a right to set forth their opinions? How could he survive law school and pass a bar exam without knowing constitutional fundamentals? Perhaps the better question, why wasn’t he thinking of what would happen in response to such a suit? Was he a spoiled child that got everything he wanted simply by throwing a tantrum?

And those of us that are practicing lawyers are the small fries, compared with our co-defendants Washington Post, American Bar Association and Thompson Reuters. Like they are going to roll over and pull down their articles? Good grief.

Rakofsky’s choices at this point seem limited. But certainly, the first thing he ought to do is put away the damn shovel as he is burying himself with it.
This one seems like it will be fun to follow.
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Filed Under: defamation, joseph rakofsky

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  1. icon
    Him ThatIs (profile), 31 May 2011 @ 2:58pm

    Young Grasshopper

    Sorry to anyone who thinks Rakofsky is a failed lawyer, but he is in fact the finest and most open example of justice today. You're not seeing the larger picture here folks. This man is the quintessential archetype of American modern justice. This is a man who has learned from his forebearers how to achieve his goals. Rakofsky is a prime example of a modern lawyer, one who exemplifies the successes of today. You cannot read this forum and tell me that you have not seen the enduring examples that have paved this man's way.

    I pray that these lawsuits go to trial, as should we all. Then maybe, just maybe, the world can see what we are. /s
    Thank you and good night.

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