from the more-water-on-the-grease-fire-that-is-the-reputation-management-business dept
The reputation management tactic of filing bogus defamation lawsuits may be slowly coming to an end, but there will be a whole lot of reputational damage to be spread among those involved by the time all is said and done.
Richart Ruddie, proprietor of Profile Defenders, filed several lawsuits in multiple states fraudulently seeking court orders for URL delistings. The lawsuits featured fake plaintiffs, fake defendants, and fake admissions of guilt from the fake defendants. Some judges issued judgments without a second thought. Others had second thoughts but they were identical to their first one. And some found enough evidence of fraud to pass everything on to the US Attorney’s office.
But Ruddie couldn’t do all of this himself. He needed lawyers. And now those lawyers are facing a bar complaint for assisting Ruddie (and possibly others) in fraudulent behavior. Eugene Volokh has more details at the relocated (and paywall-free!) Volokh Conspiracy.
The Arizona lawsuits… were filed by lawyers Aaron Kelly and Daniel Warner of Kelly / Warner Law, a prominent Internet libel law firm (though some were also linked to Richart Ruddie, Profile Defenders, and a company connected to Profile Defenders).
These two attorneys are now facing a bar complaint because of their actions in the Chinnock v. Ivanski case, another lawsuit with fraudulent legal documents. These were delivered to the court by Kelly and Warner, with their apparent approval of the fraudulent contents. The bar complaint [PDF] details the many falsifications in the lawsuit documents, including the faking of notary public signatures.
[40.] The complaint states Ivanski resides in Turkey and Chinnock resides in Colorado. The complaint states, “[t]he parties purposefully availed themselves of the benefits of Arizona law,” but does not explain how the state courts in Arizona have jurisdiction to hear the matter….
[42.] Respondent Warner knew that Krista Ivanski is not a real person. Krista Ivanski was fabricated to serve as defendant in the matter.
[43.] Respondent Warner knew that Krista Ivanski did not post the 38 allegedly defamatory statements.
[44.] Respondent Warner knew that the 38 allegedly defamatory statements were not posted by the same person.
[45.] Respondent Warner knew that legal action regarding many of the allegedly defamatory statements was barred by the [Arizona one-year] statute of limitations ….
[46.] Alternatively, if Respondent Warner did not know the information in paragraphs 42-45, Respondent Warner failed to investigate the matter prior to filing the complaint.
[50.] The proposed order is signed by Ivanski and notarized by Amanda Sparks, a notary from Fulton County, Georgia. The Plaintiff’s Verification attached to the original complaint and signed by Chinnock was also notarized in Fulton County, Georgia. According to the complaint, neither Ivanski nor Chinnock reside in Georgia.
[51.] There is no notary in Fulton County named Amanda Sparks. A search performed via the Georgia Superior Court Clerk’s Cooperative Authority notary search shows no notary in Fulton County named Amanda Sparks. The notarization by Amanda Sparks is a forgery.
[52.] Respondent Warner knew that the notarization by “Amanda Sparks” from Fulton County, Georgia, was a forgery or failed to investigate the matter prior to filing the document.
And that’s just the first of two forgeries included in documents in this case. The second forgery also pertains to a fake notary public in yet another state.
54.] The proposed Amended Order For Permanent Injunction is signed by Ivanski and notarized by “Samantha Pierce,” a notary from Colorado. According to the complaint, Chinnock resides in Colorado while Ivanski resides in Turkey.
[55.] There is no notary in Colorado named Samantha Pierce. A notary search performed via the Colorado Secretary of State’s website returns “no records found” for notary Samantha Pierce. The notarization by Samantha Pierce is a forgery.
[56.] The notary ID used by Samantha Pierce is 20121234567. The sample notary seal displayed on the Colorado Secretary of State’s general notary information page uses notary ID 20121234567.
This is not the end of the complaint’s allegations. It also alleges Aaron Kelly’s case (Lynd v. Hood) involved fake notarization and fake defendants. The same goes for Gottuso v. Marks, which was handled by Aaron Kelly and involved a fictitious defendant. And so it continues for several more cases handled by Kelly and Warner. It also details a case handled by this law firm involving Richart Ruddie directly. The connection between Ruddie and the law firm goes beyond falsified documents. In this case, Ruddie was targeting posts critical of the Kelly / Warner law firm hosted at Ripoff Report but pretended the posts targeted Ruddie himself.
The lawsuit filed by Ruddie was fraudulent. Jake Kirschner did not post the allegedly defamatory statements. At least one of the statements was posted by an individual named Charles Roderick.
The allegedly defamatory statements are about Respondent Warner, not about Ruddie as alleged in the complaint.
Ruddie filed a fraudulent lawsuit to remove online criticism of his business associate Respondent Daniel Warner.
Respondent Warner knew that Ruddie filed the fraudulent lawsuit to achieve Respondent Warner’s goal of removing the online criticism without having to prove the elements of defamation.
Multiple violations of attorney rules of conduct are alleged. So far, it’s nothing more than a complaint and is still in need of review by a disciplinary judge. Questions will be raised about Kelly and Warner’s complicity in these fraudulent lawsuit schemes. Kelly / Warner have already released a statement claiming the named lawyers knew nothing about the fraudulent claims contained in the documents they served to the court, nor are they required to. (Emphasis in the original.)
Internet defamation attorneys cannot and will not be held to a higher standard of care than normal attorneys. After a quick reading of the ethical rules, the comments thereto, and a case filed by the Texas Attorney General against a reputation management company, it should be evident to any reasonable person that the old saying, “where there is smoke, there is fire” is not necessarily true in the digital age today.
“An advocate is responsible for pleadings and other documents prepared for litigation, but is usually not required to have personal knowledge of matters asserted therein, for litigation documents ordinarily present assertions by the client, or by someone on the client’s behalf, and not assertions by the lawyer.” ER 3.3 cmt 3 (emphasis added).
“The prohibition against offering false evidence only applies if the lawyer knows that the evidence is false. [And] [a] lawyer’s reasonable belief that evidence is false does not preclude its presentation to the trier of fact.” See ER 3.3 cmt 8. “[A] lawyer should resolve doubts about the veracity of testimony or other evidence in favor of the client . . . .” Id. Although the firm practices far within and from “the line,” the comments to the ethical rules indicate that “the line” extends rather far.
So, the law firm is claiming to be another victim of a shady reputation management firm engaged in fraudulent lawsuits for the purposes of removing critical posts from the internet. This defensive statement may let readers know just how far attorneys can wander from due diligence without being slapped with sanctions, but doesn’t do much to assure readers the law firm won’t turn a blind eye to sketchy legal paperwork if the price is right. The post also throws some shade at Eugene Volokh and Paul Alan Levy with its final sentence, asking clients to let the law firm know if they are contacted by “alleged ‘reporters.'”
While this plays out, we can expect the flow of bogus lawsuits to continue to slow. These tactics flew under the radar for a few years, but there are multiple private entities actively engaged in tracking down perpetrators. In addition, the issue has gone federal thanks to a Connecticut judge’s decision to forward allegations to the US Attorney’s office. I get that people are often disappointed Section 230 immunity doesn’t allow them to demand delisting of content they personally find objectionable. The problem isn’t with disappointed people, but rather the sketchy reputation management firms that promise (and bill for) stuff they can’t legally deliver.