Another defamation lawsuit against a parody account has failed, brought on by a lawyer who should have known better but didn't. Todd Levitt -- self-proclaimed "Badass Lawyer" -- has a verifiable history of bad decisions that perhaps made this sort of bogus litigation a foregone conclusion, however.
Levitt tried to fire up his own reality show, which would have presumably covered such lawyeriffic behavior as singing karaoke with college students, inviting comparisons to TV's sleaziest lawyer (Saul Goodman of Breaking Bad), creating a Top College Lawyers website solely for the purpose of awarding himself the title of "Top College Lawyer," and somehow mistaking alleged defamation for a criminal offense.
Levitt sued the person behind the Todd Levitt 2.0 Twitter account, which parodied the original Levitt's more "badass" qualities, like partaking in excessive amounts of drinking/drug use, as well as the lawyer's Skill Crane-esque grasp on the nuances of the law. According to Levitt, the parody account, which clearly stated on more than one occasion that it was a parody account, was resulting in lost clients.
A Michigan court dismissed his lawsuit last February. Levitt appealed the decision only to find the Michigan Appeals Court no more sympathetic to his weak claims. (via The Volokh Conspiracy)
The court spends some time discussing Levitt's own behavior, as it's definitely relevant to the supposed "harassment" he "endured" at the hands of the short-lived, barely-followed parody account.
Todd Levitt is an attorney and a former adjunct professor at Central Michigan University (CMU). Allegedly, university students are a primary clientele of plaintiff law firm. Levitt was actively involved in marketing his law firm on various social media platforms, including Twitter. His since-deleted Twitter account represented that he was a “badass lawyer.” In addition to promoting his law practice on Twitter, Levitt admittedly made several posts which referenced marijuana and alcohol use. For instance, he posted a tweet about serving alcohol in a class he taught at CMU, and in another, stated that “Mr. Jimmy Beam just confirmed a guest appearance in class next week.” In other tweets, he reminisced about his days as a student at CMU, stating that he “tore it up” in the 1980s, and warning students not to “jump [while] drunk” in the elevators at a certain dormitory. He tweeted about being a guest bartender at a local bar and about throwing an end-of-semester party. He also referenced marijuana in several tweets; in one tweet he posted an ode to “mommy marijuana,” who “always put me at ease.” In addition, he tweeted that if marijuana were legal in Mount Pleasant, Michigan, the CMU “dorms would look like they were on fire.”
With this much ammo being provided by the plaintiff, it's hardly surprising that a less-than-impressed CMU IT employee (Zachary Felton) would issue tweets like these from the Todd Levitt 2.0 account.
1. “What’s the difference between the internet and my tweeted legal advice? A: none. They’re both 100% accurate!”
2. “Buying me a drink at Cabin Karaoke will get you extra [credit], but it’s not like that matters because you are guaranteed an A in syllabus.”
3. “Partying = Defense Clients[.] Defense Clients = Income[.] If I endorse partying, will my income grow? It’s like a Ponzi scheme for lawyers!”
4. “@twebbsays should either meet me at 4/20 in my satellite office or take a hiatus from the medical card” and “#inToddWeToke” and “4/20 = Pot smoking holiday[.] Possession of marijuana = Client[.] Client = Income[.] In the words of Snoop Dogg: smoke weed every day. #inToddWeToke[.]”
Why these tweets would "attack Levitt's credibility" more than anything Levitt himself had posted is something only Levitt comprehends. The Appeals Court, however, finds in favor the First Amendment and parody accounts -- especially those clearly defined as parody accounts.
When read in context, defendant’s tweets are a parody and cannot reasonably be interpreted as coming from Levitt, an attorney and college professor. The cited tweets ridicule and demean the legal profession, as well as Levitt’s status as an attorney and a college professor. In particular, some of the tweets encourage followers to commit alcohol and drug-related offenses in order to further Levitt’s business. As aptly stated by the trial court, “[i]t would be quite foolish for an attorney to outright state by way of self-promotion that he wants college students to drink and use illegal drugs so that he can increase his income by defending them in court.” Other tweets suggest that Levitt’s students can earn extra credit in his class by buying him a drink. Surely this statement cannot be interpreted as coming from a college professor. As noted by the trial court, when the challenged tweets are read in the context of Levitt’s own tweets, a reasonable person would see defendant’s tweets as attempting to ridicule and satirize Levitt’s tweets about alcohol and marijuana use.
Moreover, the idea that the tweets were a parody is soundly reinforced by several disclaimers posted to the imposter account stating that the account was indeed a parody. At the outset, the account itself was styled as “Todd Levitt 2.0,” which has come to be commonly accepted jargon for describing an upgrade of an original concept. Thus, “Todd Levitt 2.0” signals that the account was identifying itself as a superior or upgraded version of Levitt, which hints at the notion that it is a spoof. Further, defendant’s tweets expressly stated, on multiple occasions, that the account was intended as a parody. For instance, one tweet read that the account was “[a] badass parody of our favorite lawyer . . . .” Another gave a “gentle reminder to potential seekers of Todd Levitt: This is not him. This is a parody account. You can find the real Todd(ler) @levittlaw.” (Emphasis added). In light of these statements, a reasonable reader could not have interpreted the account as stating actual facts about Levitt.
Levitt's worst enemy isn't a parody Twitter account. It's himself. And it's been that way since long before a CMU student started mocking his outlandish behavior on social media. Levitt is still pursuing a defamation lawsuit against Digital First Media for its coverage of his Twitter lawsuit and, at one point, had Felton's lawyer listed as a defendant. That lawsuit is currently awaiting a decision from the Court of Appeals.