Disgraced Former NASCAR Boss, Brian France, Uses SLAPP Suit To Silence Parody Twitter Account

from the well,-that'll-solve-your-problems dept

Brian Z. France ran NASCAR for many years, though as a pretty obvious nepotism hire. His grandfather and father ran NASCAR before him. In 2018, France was arrest for driving while intoxicated and criminal possession of a controlled substance, causing him to take an "indefinite leave of absence," that became more permanent once he pleaded guilty to the DWI, and has an agreement that if he completes 100 hours of community service and doesn't get into any more legal trouble, the misdemeanor charges will be reduced to a "non-criminal infraction" later this year. France's time at the head of NASCAR came with some controversy regarding his leadership style -- so it was not that surprising that someone set up a parody Twitter account for him @DrunkBrianF.

France apparently didn't take kindly to being parodied, and hired some muckety muck lawyers -- Daniel Cohen, Kiran Mehta, and William Farley, from Troutman Sanders -- to file a blatantly obvious SLAPP suit in Connecticut Superior Court at the end of February, against John L. Steele, who apparently ran the account, going back to February of 2014. The lawsuit is, to put it mildly, ridiculous. It acts as if the concept of parody does not exist. Indeed, it insists that the intent of the @DrunkFBrianF account was to trick people into thinking it was really Brian France tweeting:

Since establishing the account in February 2014, the pattern of Steele’s conduct through @drunkbrianf makes clear the purpose and intent of maintaining the Twitter account: to harass, demean, abuse, belittle, and disparage Plaintiff while impersonating Plaintiff in a manner that is intended – and in fact does – mislead, confuse, and deceive others to believe that Plaintiff is responsible for the content and activity of @drunkbrianf.

Who the hell is going to look at an account that is literally called "Drunken Brian France" and assume that it's actually Brian France, and not a parody? The argument the lawsuit makes is that because the obviously parody account refers to Brian France in the first person it means he's trying to confuse people into believing it's really Brian France behind the posts, even though the multiple examples in the lawsuit are so blatantly parody, in that each one of them is designed to mock Brian France. Just a few examples directly from the filing:



The lawsuit acts all pearl-clutchy about the use of the 1st person. But that's how parody works, guys. You do an exaggerated and obviously buffoonish version. No one is thinking that the real Brian France would post this stuff. But, nope, France's lawyers insist:

These tweets and photographs, among others, reflect Steele’s ongoing efforts to deceive others to believe Plaintiff is responsible for the Twitter account and the account’s content.

Have these three lawyers literally never encountered parody in their entire lives? The complaint tries to argue that people are actually fooled by this, but they really only point to one single person, who seems generally confused, saying that if this is the real Brian France, they should stop tweeting like this. The second "example" Tweet is a DM exchange of someone just asking if he's really an alcoholic, and doesn't indicate one way or another if the person actually thinks it's Brian France. The third example is literally someone who is just against alcoholism in general, and asks the parody account to "drop the Drunken before your given name" because "alcoholism is a disease." That exchange doesn't even seem to know who Brian France is in the first place.

Either way, if parody fools some very, very foolish and gullible people -- such as the apparently ridiculously naive lawyers at Troutman Sanders -- it's still protected speech. But a lawsuit is a lawsuit, and this one claimed that the parody Twitter account engaged in "invasion of privacy" and "intentional infliction of emotional distress."

Even tough Connecticut has a decent anti-SLAPP law, a lawsuit is still an expensive and time consuming endeavor -- especially in the midst of a pandemic. The most recent filing in the case noted that the parties were "engaged in settlement discussions, and soon after the parody account tweeted and pinned a "statement" that certainly appears to be associated with the settlement:

Brian France was not and never has been associated, affiliated or in any way involved with this Twitter account or any of the content generated and/or posted by it. I will be permanently deactivating and deleting this account. I understand this account harmed Brian France and his family in ways never intended, and for that I am sorry.

And, to be clear: that's a bullshit resolution, but it shows how rich, powerful people abuse the courts with SLAPP suits to silence people, and they get help from law firms like Troutman Sanders in doing so.

Of course, if Brian France and his lawyers think they have a "victory" on their hands, they may find it to be a short-lived one.

Filed Under: 1st amendment, brian france, connecticut, drunk brian france, free speech, parody, slapp
Companies: nascar


Reader Comments

Subscribe: RSS

View by: Time | Thread


  • icon
    Stephen T. Stone (profile), 21 Apr 2020 @ 10:01am

    Brian Zachary France, the former CEO and chairman of NASCAR who was arrested on and pleaded guilty to charges of driving under the influence, is an asshole who used the courts to silence someone’s speech because it wasn’t nice to him. Daniel Cohen, Kiran Mehta, and William Farley — lawyers from the firm Troutman Sanders — are assholes who have either never heard of parody or intentionally ignored its existence, and in either case they helped silence someone’s legally protected speech.

    France, Cohen, Mehta, and Farley are all censors now. And I’ll be happy to accept whatever lawsuit they want to file against me for expressing my legally protected (and factually supported) negative opinion of them. Fuck ’em.

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

  • icon
    wshuff (profile), 21 Apr 2020 @ 10:29am

    It is at least nice to finally see John Steele on the right side of a lawsuit.

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

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 21 Apr 2020 @ 10:32am

    'Why wouldn't they, everyone knows our client is awful.'

    As bad as lawsuits like this are when it comes to free speech you can't help but chuckle at the side-effects from the tactic, as in an attempt to make their case seem reasonable they basically have to argue that blatant parody isn't because obviously their client is such a terrible person that someone seeing a parody account would see it as entirely within character for them and therefore accurately represent them.

    As arguments against parody go 'our client is such a terrible person that it's impossible to parody them' is certainly an entertaining one.

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

  • icon
    scotts13 (profile), 21 Apr 2020 @ 10:41am

    Babs, is that you?

    And of course I had no idea who ANY of these people were until they started slinging lawsuits around.

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

  • icon
    timlash (profile), 21 Apr 2020 @ 10:43am

    So close

    This almost makes me want to sign up for twitter so can follow @Not_BrianFrance. Almost.

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

  • icon
    Norahc (profile), 21 Apr 2020 @ 11:26am

    Ahhh....the Nunes Effect. The effect that is almost as virulent as COVID-19.

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

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 21 Apr 2020 @ 2:28pm

    https://www.calbar.ca.gov/Public/Free-Legal-Information/Unauthorized-Practice-of-Law

    In California, only attorneys can practice law. When someone who is not licensed to practice law provides services that can only be performed by attorneys, that is called the unauthorized practice of law (UPL). UPL is a crime.

    It's well past time to file a formal complaint with the California Bar about whether or not this extensive "analysis" of lawsuits and litigants goes beyond simple opinion and into UPL. They would also have the power to investigate if an attorney is using someone to backchannel something that would get them in hot water by putting a nonattorney's name on the writing.

    What's that they say in law about when to ask questions?

    Stay tuned....

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

    • icon
      Stephen T. Stone (profile), 21 Apr 2020 @ 4:44pm

      Sounds like you want to use the courts as a means of silencing the speech of others. How does that make you any less of a censor that France and his lawyers, again? 🤔

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

      • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
        identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 21 Apr 2020 @ 5:13pm

        Re:

        UPL is not free speech.

        This website needs a full audit of its ties to the legal profession and hacker community. This IS forthcoming.

        You have no fucking clue the legal hell that's about to rain down on this site, but you will, "Stephen."

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

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 23 Apr 2020 @ 6:06pm

          Re: Re:

          Ah, good old John Smith. Well... not so much good. The old part certainly still applies, along with the part about being an impotent fuckwit. Still raging over Paul Hansmeier I see. This shit has been "forthcoming" since Otis Wright caught your bois trying to pull a fast one and you've never given up since have you? Bless your heart and your mailing list too.

          Now run along or you shall be mocked a second time!

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

      • icon
        That One Guy (profile), 21 Apr 2020 @ 6:23pm

        Re:

        Ah, but you see they have wild and laughably pathetic conspiracy theories to go along with their attempted censorship, totally different.

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

      • icon
        Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 22 Apr 2020 @ 6:15am

        Re:

        "How does that make you any less of a censor that France and his lawyers, again? 🤔"

        It doesn't, but bear in mind Baghdad Bob has often been whining about how any accurate debunking of his frequent forays into how law (mainly copyright law) ought to work according to him, MUST be the work of a cabal of google-backed legal eagles lurking behind the techdirt poster nicknames.

        By now it's pretty much given that trying to shut people up is right up his alley. Just be happy he didn't threaten to swat people again, or call us all "aspies".

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

      • icon
        Toom1275 (profile), 23 Apr 2020 @ 9:52am

        Re:

        Openly admitting an intent to knowingly file a lawsuit with a fraudulent premise like that seems like a bad strategy, but that's par for the course for Jhon.

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

    • identicon
      Dan, 21 Apr 2020 @ 5:38pm

      Re:

      It's well past time to file a formal complaint with the California Bar about whether or not this extensive "analysis" of lawsuits and litigants goes beyond simple opinion and into UPL.

      Well, no, it isn't, because that would be a simply idiotic position to take. Not that anything's stopping you--if you seriously believe this is the case, file the complaint, don't blather nonsensically here about how someone else should.

      Discussing a case is not practicing law. Commenting on a case is not practicing law. Giving legal advice to particular parties (which, though I am an attorney, I'm not doing here) is practicing law. Nothing I've seen here (and I've been following the posts since the days of Rakofsky v. The Internet, so I've seen a lot) is even in the same county with practicing law.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 22 Apr 2020 @ 2:41am

      Re: don't drink and tweet

      "When someone who is not licensed to practice law provides services that can only be performed by attorneys, that is called the unauthorized practice of law (UPL). UPL is a crime."

      Where I come from, driving drunk is also a crime...

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

    • identicon
      Rocky, 22 Apr 2020 @ 3:53am

      Re:

      Put up or shut up - what will it be?

      My bet is on neither...

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

    • icon
      Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 22 Apr 2020 @ 6:10am

      Re:

      "It's well past time to file a formal complaint with the California Bar about whether or not this extensive "analysis" of lawsuits and litigants goes beyond simple opinion and into UPL."

      In other words, Baghdad Bob, we're right back to that pet hobbyhorse of yours where only the avowed clergy gets to discuss bible interpretation?

      "They would also have the power to investigate if an attorney is using someone to backchannel something that would get them in hot water by putting a nonattorney's name on the writing."

      You've kept pushing the idea for a while now that somehow, anytime a Techdirt poster displays proof of reading comprehension it must be because of the google-backed cabal of lawyers and lobbyists all focused on undermining you, personally.

      I'm just surprised you didn't lever a "but pirates!", "glory to eternal copyright", or "All hail paul hansmeyer and prenda law!" into the argument the way you usually do.

      Did you fail to pull off a fraud lately and in a fit of pique just fired from the hip like that?

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 22 Apr 2020 @ 9:48am

      Re:

      Didn't you just perform "analysis" of the law?

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

  • icon
    bhull242 (profile), 21 Apr 2020 @ 3:11pm

    Even tough Connecticut has a decent anti-SLAPP law

    Wait, so it’s unusual for tough states to have anti-SLAPP laws? I always tought it was a show of toughness to protect free speech.

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


Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here



Subscribe to the Techdirt Daily newsletter




Comment Options:

  • Use markdown. Use plain text.
  • Remember name/email/url (set a cookie)

Close

Add A Reply

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here



Subscribe to the Techdirt Daily newsletter




Comment Options:

  • Use markdown. Use plain text.
  • Remember name/email/url (set a cookie)

Follow Techdirt
Insider Shop - Show Your Support!

Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Essential Reading
Techdirt Deals
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Techdirt Insider Chat
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Recent Stories
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads

This site, like most other sites on the web, uses cookies. For more information, see our privacy policy. Got it
Close

Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.