Above the Law has been sued by University of Miami law professor Donald Jones. Others are opining on the details of how the suit arose, but I’m here to tell you how I think it will (or should) end.
First, the back story: Prof. Jones was arrested on a misdemeanor charge of soliciting a prostitute. Above the Law picked up the story and, in its legal tabloid fashion, ran with it making him their “Lawyer of the Day” and publishing the police report. They did an update on the not guilty plea, and then followed up again with a post entitled “The Nutty Professor: A Commemorative Graphic.” He has alleged the graphic is racist.
He sued ATL for $22M for portraying him in a false light, invading his privacy and violating the university’s copyright on his faculty photo. (His claims are set forth in this Complaint.)
Others are opining on the merits of the suit and the First Amendment issues. The links to those posts are below. But I’m going to zoom right past all that and try to hit the crux of the case, why it was brought, and how I think it should be resolved without further litigation.
Prof. Jones, you see, has had the charges dismissed. Yet when you Google “University of Miami law professor Donald Jones,” up pops those ATL posts on the first page, since ATL has some pretty impressive Google juice. And nowhere are there any posts from ATL about the charges being dismissed, because that post hadn’t been written. So it’s pretty safe to say that Prof. Jones is steamed. Big time.
Jones has had his Google reputation pretty seriously impaired. If repairing that reputation was his true motive, then by bringing suit, he has taken one step toward fixing it. Blogs all over are covering the story and now everyone knows the criminal case was tossed. That solves one problem.
But it creates another problem, that of a law professor starting a lawsuit that might have some pretty dubious merit (see below). And that isn’t so hot if you’re working the law professor circuit.
Working under the assumption that what Jones truly wants is his name back, and not $22 million, then the resolution of this dispute would seem to be pretty straightforward.
First, ATL publishes an “oops” (assuming they knew about the dismissal). Not for posting the initial stuff, all of which is likely protected under the First Amendment. Rather, I’m going to guess that someplace in the pit of his stomach, ATL founder and editor David Lat probably feels that if he is going to skewer a law prof that was arrested in this manner, that he probably ought to update his readers with news that the charges were dismissed. That doesn’t go to any legal duty, but to human nature. It’s just the right thing to do. So it may be that a mea culpa is in order for not updating the story in a more timely fashion.
(Of course, if they didn’t know, that wouldn’t apply.)
Prof. Jones, it should be noted, also wants the old posts taken down. I don’t see ATL and Lat caving in to that demand. But, if they elect to write a new post updating the status of the criminal charges, then those old posts should probably have an updated link at the bottom referencing the new post. Bloggers run these types of updates all the time.
So I’m going out on a limb here to suggest that if ATL runs an update on the charges being dismissed with a mea culpa (if that part applies) on not telling its readers earlier, that would probably suffice. Since that is the type of update should probably be done anyway now, and there is no downside to ATL and Jones has his reputation updated.
On the flip side, if ATL makes a motion to dismiss (and I presume this is already being worked on) and Jones loses, he doesn’t look so hot as a law prof. So Jones has a pretty good motive to accept those terms.
And if the two of them want to talk this over in a local tavern, I’ll buy the beer.
Others opining on the subject:
- Law Professor Sues Above the Law Blog, Alleging ‘Viciously Racist Series of Rants’ (National Law Journal)
- Law Professor Sues “Above the Law” (Michael Krauss @ Point of Law)
- Law Professor Sues “Above the Law” blog; Time to go back to complaint-drafting school (Copyrights & Campaigns)
- Blog Sued: Above the law.com not above the law (Law and More)
- Lawsuit of the Day: Jones v. Minkin (Above the Law)
- Prof. Donald Jones’ Lawsuit Against Above The Law (Eugene Volokh @ Volokh Conspiracy)
Update (11/4/09) Prof Jones has wisely dropped the lawsuit
Links to this post:
Marc Randazza, My Weird, Scary Hero
We’d have covered the lawsuit filed by University of Miami law professor Donald Jones against the legal gossip site Above the Law yesterday, except that we were busy. And everyone else got to it first. Suffice it to say that the lawsuit …posted by Patrick @ November 04, 2009 5:04 PM
LAW PROFESSOR SUES ABOVE THE LAW BLOG FOR “NUTTY PROFESSOR” POST
Parody image reference–with apologies to Jerry Lewis and Eddie Murphy. University of Miami law professor D. Marvin Jones —who made the pages of this blog when he was arraigned on charges that he allegedly solicited a hooker—is back in …posted by Blogonaut @ November 03, 2009 12:07 PM