Cheerleader Fraudulently Obtains Court Order To Scrub Web Of Her Boyfriend-Beating Past

from the stupid-web-tricks dept

Paul Levy has tracked down yet another abuse of the court system to illegitimately erase factual news articles from the internet. The person behind the bogusly-obtained court order is Megan Welter, who achieved national fame and national infamy within the space of a few days back in 2013.

The case that we just entered involves Megan Welter, a young woman who achieved a degree of publicity success in the summer of 2013 with the story of how an Iraq war veteran had become a cheerleader for the Arizona Cardinals football team. A few days later, she learned how fickle the media can be: it got its hands on a less flattering situation: in a fit of jealous rage at her boyfriend’s communication with one of his exes, Welter called the police claiming that he was abusing her physically. But when the police arrived, the boyfriend persuaded them, through cellphone video as well as Welter’s own on-the-scene admissions, that it was Welter herself who was the assailant. The upshot was that Welter was arrested and charged, and that story, based in part on the boyfriend’s statements to the police, received national coverage in the print and broadcast media, as well as on various sports-related blogs and web sites. Many of these sites carried bodycam video from the responding police, plus the cell phone video that the boyfriend provided to the police; a few even linked to a detailed police report describing Welter’s own self-incriminating statements.

Despite it being almost two years past the statute of limitations, Welter engaged the services of Kelly/Warner LLC to file a defamation lawsuit. The complaint [PDF] contains nothing but conclusory claims about the supposed libel. (Basically, "false statements were made and were false.") The complaint was accompanied by a proposed injunction, which included a list [PDF] of 107 URLs --including YouTube videos and a variety of other websites -- Welter wanted delisted. But Welter still needed somebody to trigger this judicially-abusive chain of events. She, along with her lawyer, leaned on the ex-boyfriend.

The proposed stipulation included a signature line for Ryan McMahon, Welter’s boyfriend on the day of the controversial incident, and a paragraph in which McMahon purported to “admit” that the statements about Welter attributed to him in the various news stories were false.

McMahon signed the form, possibly after being misled by Welter's lawyer. (Levy notes her legal rep said he had an email chain showing McMahon's voluntary and knowing participation in the lawsuit, but refused to turn it over to Levy.) Welter's lawyer used this single signature to attempt to nuke 107 pieces of content not created by McMahon. Obviously, as Levy points out, the lawsuit wasn't filed to get her ex-boyfriend to shut up. It was filed to whitewash the unpleasant parts of her recent history.

The way to accomplish this was through a tricky manipulation of the well-established principle that injunctive relief extends to the “agents” of an enjoined defendant and, indeed, to others who connive with the defendant to propagate his wrongdoing. The stipulated injunction included several prohibitions of publication by “defendant’s” agents — in context, the “defendant” was plainly McMahon – but it defined the term “agents” as including anybody whose publication was “enabling” the publication of the 98 online articles based in part on McMahon's contemporaneous statements, as well as nine YouTube videos (most of which were copies of TV stories) identified in the complaint. Moreover, McMahon’s admission included the proposition that “all or substantially all of the statements made in URL’s are false and defamatory.” And on that basis, all of the defendants responsible for those online articles, as well as the “agents” as broadly defined, were commanded to take them down. [...] And, just in case they did not comply with these orders, the order called for Google and other search engines to take the URL’s identified in the order out of its database so that the content would not be searchable (here, again, the basic element of the fraudulent Richart Ruddie orders).

Even though numerous websites (including ABC News, CBS News, Sports Illustrated, and USA Today) were claimed to have published defamatory material, not a single one was listed directly as a defendant. The filing insisted all of these well-known sites -- most of them carrying writer bylines -- are only referred to as "unidentifiable" Does.

This internet-nuking order [PDF] should never have made it past a judge. But it did. Now Levy has filed a motion to vacate [PDF] on behalf of Avvo, one of the 98 sites listed in the attachment to the proposed order. It points out several flaws in the complaint and injunction, the first of which is the obvious statute of limitations violation. Beyond that, the complaint has numerous fatal flaws, including its failure to show how statements made by her ex-boyfriend to the police are somehow false now that she wants them scrubbed from the internet.

It appears Judge Patricia Starr isn't bothered by the plaintiff's questionable legal tactics. The only thing she finds irritating is this case's potential to add to her workload.

Since we filed the papers late yesterday, I received a recording of the telephonic hearing. That recording makes Judge Starr look even worse. The only reason she called the hearing, she said, was that she was worried that the terms of the stipulation could keep the case on her docket longer than it had to be; she wanted to know whether that problem could be fixed. And she wanted assurance that entry of the order would be the end of the case. She evinced no concern about the free speech rights of the absent defendants.

Worse, this free speech-ignoring injunction-granting came after hearing from the single named defendant, who contradicted the claims made in the lawsuit.

McMahon was on the telephone, and he said, toward the end of the very short hearing, “Even though she did these things, I really believe that everybody deserves a fresh start. And if it ever happened to me, I would want someone to do this for myself. So I am okay with that. I guess that I hope she learns her lesson, and she takes care of it and doesn't do it again.” So this state court judge had no compunction about issuing a sweeping injunction against nearly a hundred absent defendants even though the individual defendant, appearing without counsel before her, contradicted the “admission” in the stipulation that the URL’s were entirely or mostly false by saying, “she did these things.”

The court system can be abused by disingenuous plaintiffs seeking to erase their web pasts, but it shouldn't be encouraged by judges who suspect something is off, but are more interested in clearing their dockets.


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  • icon
    Vidiot (profile), 29 Jun 2017 @ 11:52am

    Live, love, cheer!

    TWO
    FOUR
    SIX
    EIGHT
    Who can I
    E-MAS-CU-LATE?

    BOYFRIEND!
    BOYFRIEND!

    DEF-a-ma-tion
    DEF-a-ma-tion

    YAY!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 29 Jun 2017 @ 1:41pm

    Oh look another lawyer using the all to willing Judiciary as a cog in their business model.

    If the docket is to hard, perhaps you're in the wrong job.

    And once again nothing is going to happen to the legal cogs in this drama, despite the epic failings and abuse of the system... and they don't get why they aren't beloved.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Jordan Chandler, 29 Jun 2017 @ 1:45pm

    America

    You Americans and your elected Judges...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Cdaragorn (profile), 29 Jun 2017 @ 2:22pm

      Re: America

      ...So the fact that we have the power to fire our Judges is the reason we have some bad ones? I'm trying really really hard but I just can't figure out how to make point A connect to point B in that sentence.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 29 Jun 2017 @ 2:46pm

        Re: Re: America

        If a judge is relying on being re-elected then they will make decisions that are popular with the electorate. If they are in the job for life, they can follow the law, and need not worry about being re-elected.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          That One Guy (profile), 29 Jun 2017 @ 2:59pm

          Re: Re: Re: America

          ... or make rulings that they want to see, as opposed to what the public wants or even what a more strict interpretation of the law might call for, safe in the knowledge that unless they really screw up they will keep their job.

          It's not quite as simple as 'elected judges = bad judges', as both elected and non hold the possibility of abuse of position.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          Cdaragorn (profile), 29 Jun 2017 @ 3:09pm

          Re: Re: Re: America

          If they are in the job for life, they can do whatever the heck they want with no care whatsoever to what the law says.
          Neither system is perfect, but at least one has a way built into it to get rid of those who choose not to follow the law.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • identicon
            Bruce C., 29 Jun 2017 @ 4:43pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re: America

            Something in the middle would be an improvement: say appointed for life but subject to a recall petition and election. That way they're pretty much independent of the popular clamor - at least until they do something that pisses someone off so much they're willing to go through the recall process.

            Of course, in the current political environment, everyone seems to be pissed off about everything, so maybe it wouldn't be an improvement after all... At least judges are still subject to the same disbarment rules that lawyers are, so if they really, really screw things up, that's another route.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • icon
              garthpool (profile), 30 Jun 2017 @ 7:04pm

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: America

              Here is one consequence of allowing lawyers to regulate themselves:

              “Study after study has shown that the current rules for professional conduct are not enforced. Misconduct is rarely perceived. If perceived, it is not reported. If reported, it is not investigated. If investigated, violations are not found. If found, they are excused. If they are not excused, penalties are light. And if significant penalties are imposed, the lawyer soon returns to practice, in that state or another. Lawyers constantly condemn the failure of the criminal justice system to deter crime for precisely these reasons – because of its alleged indifference, procedural niceties, or excessive lenience. Indeed, we know that the efficacy of social control varies even more strongly with the likelihood of punishment than it does with the severity of the sanction. Yet on both counts, especially the former, the professional disciplinary system falls far below the wholly inadequate standards of the criminal law. Lawyers can hardly present their travesty of a penal system as an effective deterrent.”

              [“Why Does the ABA Promulgate Ethical Rules?” by Richard L. Abel, Connell Professor of Law, University of California at Los Angeles School of Law, 59 Texas Law Review 639, 1981]

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    stderric (profile), 29 Jun 2017 @ 2:53pm

    Look on the bright side: this didn't happen in Canada.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Jeff Watterson, 29 Jun 2017 @ 3:04pm

    RE Kelly Warner Law Firm

    Great article Tim. We've covered this law firm on a number of articles and have reason to believe that Megan Welter is the victim of their legal malpractice.

    Please note these articles that outline some of the other issues that the lawfirm is facing:

    http://usaherald.com/judge-colleen-french-maricopa-county-defrauded-attorney-aaron-kelly/

    http://usaherald.com/arizona-attorney-daniel-warner-investigation-alleged-legal-fraud/

    http://usahera ld.com/aaron-kelly-law-firm-resorts-attacking-former-client-kellywarnerlaw-com-pattern-recognized/

    We 've created a petition to stop this law firm from committing any future legal fraud on the courts, please sign and share: https://www.change.org/p/arizona-bar-association-disbar-attorney-aaron-kelly-and-attorney-daniel-war ner

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 29 Jun 2017 @ 3:06pm

    Just quit

    That recording makes Judge Starr look even worse. The only reason she called the hearing, she said, was that she was worried that the terms of the stipulation could keep the case on her docket longer than it had to be; she wanted to know whether that problem could be fixed. And she wanted assurance that entry of the order would be the end of the case. She evinced no concern about the free speech rights of the absent defendants.

    I get that judges can be swamped with cases and might want to get through them quickly, but when they reach the point where their only concern is to clear cases off the dockets as quickly as possible, ignoring what those cases actually are or the damage they stand to cause, I think it's time for them to look for another job.

    Judges hold important positions in the legal system, with matching power that can easily cause harm. When one of them reaches the point where they don't seem to care what harm might be caused by their actions they are no longer fit for the job, and need to step down and let someone else do it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 Jun 2017 @ 9:43pm

    a word of appreciation to the lady.

    i missed this the first time around and am pleased and thankful that she brought it to our attention again.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    David, 29 Jun 2017 @ 10:43pm

    Everybody deserves a fresh start?

    Even though she did these things, I really believe that everybody deserves a fresh start. And if it ever happened to me, I would want someone to do this for myself.

    Uh, what? I think this judge deserves a fresh start on studying law. She seems to have forgotten that her job is to rule according to law, not according to her beliefs and wants. And "I would want someone to do this for myself": does she consider herself a judge or a hitman? She is not supposed to be doing things for people she sympathises with. That may, at times, align with her job. But it's not her job.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 29 Jun 2017 @ 11:48pm

      Re: Everybody deserves a fresh start?

      The lines you're quoting didn't come from the judge, they came from the ex who apparently had a change of heart, such that he apparently feels that brushing history under the rug is the 'nice' thing to do.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Machin Shin, 30 Jun 2017 @ 6:04am

        Re: Re: Everybody deserves a fresh start?

        The big problem is that he said that in front of the judge and the judge just pretended not to hear. I mean come on, this guy is the one and only bit of evidence and he said "Even though she did these things"

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 30 Jun 2017 @ 2:55pm

    I seem to recall the story of a marine who complained to his superiors about spousal abuse, only to be laughed at. He later killed his wife, and no one is laughing now. Then again some guys and girls get turned on by such abuse, until it goes to far. If violence committed by this female causes her maiming or death, or that of another, the judge should need counsel.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 5 Jul 2017 @ 7:44am

    HE got beat up by his girlfriend and now she wants that info removed from the Web?

    I would of thought he would be the one that would want it removed.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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