Today, a story. A story of how a lawyer, bitten with critical commentary about him on blogs, made his situation horribly worse by hiring a “reputation management” company. Who proceeded to threaten the bloggers. Who were lawyers. Who are well educated in the First Amendment.
It didn’t work out so well for the criticized lawyer, or the person he thought would be his knight in shining armor. Pull up a chair, this is kinda good and more importantly there’s a good lesson in it, I think.
It starts back in January 2013 when Houston criminal defense lawyer Mark Bennett saw an odd December 2012 press release from Florida criminal defense lawyer Gary Ostrow (Narcissists Who Need Narcissists…), who wrote that he
has firmly stated that he will take on any celebrity criminal case, regardless of the severity of the accusation
Really. I did not make that up. He actually put out a press release saying he wanted to represent celebrities.
New York criminal defense lawyer Scott Greenfield followed (Gary Ostrow’s Important Announcement), starting with Ostrow’s own Onionworthy headline:
Criminal Defense Attorney Gary Ostrow has recently announced his intention to take on all celebrity criminal cases in the state of Florida, effective immediately.
Yes, yes, yes, he really put out a press release like that. It’s not the Onion and not April 1st.
But in the process, Ostrow obviously didn’t appreciate that just because you write something self-serving on the web doesn’t mean that others won’t mock you for it.
Just as I have an interest in calling on the carpet plaintiffs’ lawyers who do dumb stuff, so too do they do it on the criminal defense side. We all believe that more professionalism in the bar, and less stupidity, is a good thing.
Almost three years pass. Then out of the blue comes Patrick Zarrelli, who gives himself the Twitter handle @KidChronic32. (Were 1-31 already taken?). Zarelli, it seems, has been hired by Ostrow to clean up the reputational mess he made for himself years ago by putting out that dumb press release.
And boy did Zarrelli screw the pooch.
Seeing this unfold was like watching some guy race his car head-on toward a brick wall with a blindfold on, thinking, believing, that some magical power will save him. While everyone outside that car knows what’s coming.
In order to get the old posts taken down, he actually threatened Greenfield, and he threatened Bennett, and then went on to threaten Florida criminal defense lawyer Brian Tannebaum who, I think was mocking him on Twitter for having stupidly threatened Greenfield and Bennett. There are a couple of priceless voicemail message that Zarrelli left, at those links.
If, dear reader, those lawyer names don’t sound familiar, let me remind you: All three were my co-defendants and clients in Rakofsky v. Internet (I was local counsel, Marc Randazza did the heavy lifting). And all three were quite firm in telling Rakofsky in response to the suit that he should go shit in a hat and pull it down over his ears. OK, maybe those words were mine, but the sentiment was the same. (Greenfield prefers a more subtle response to the stupid threats he’s received over the years: “Bite me, asshole.”)
Gee, what do you think those guys did when Zarrelli threatened? Yep, not only did they put those idiotic threatening voicemails up on the web, but they also detailed the troubled pasts and dubious business practices of these people in the process. (Greenfield: Did Gary Ostrow Hit Bottom? Enter Patrick Zarrelli @Kidchronic32; Bennett: Reputation Management Expert Patrick Zarrelli Weighs In)
For instance, it was pointed out that Zarrelli, on his website pitching reputation management, writes that he will “fight back against poor reviews by flooding the internet with positive reviews of your company.” I think I was being kind by my use of the word “dubious” in the prior paragraph.
And now Techdirt has the story, and by the time I am done typing this up, it might be elsewhere. Oy vey.
OK, story part done, let’s move on to the lesson part. Here is my advice for those that might find themselves in a similar situation.
First, no matter what, don’t threaten. If the stories are true, or even just substantially true, or merely opinion, you will lose. And the courts have a very broad standard for what is substantially true and what is opinion. In poker terms, the law bloggers are holding a royal flush and you don’t even have a measly pair of twos. Not even a high card. You got nothin’.
The risks of having your bluff called are, shall we say, pretty damn high. And going all-in is going to be catastrophic.
So don’t make stupid and empty threats about filing law suits and bar complaints. Unless you want them to write about you, of course.
Threats are out, out, out. Don’t make them and don’t even hint at them.
Instead, ask to talk to them privately. Pick up the phone. Acknowledge that they have every right under the First Amendment to write what they did.
Almost three years had passed in this story and it’s likely that the bloggers hadn’t even thought of those stories in ages.
Your only hope is to catch a sympathetic ear as you concede you screwed up. It’s the only pitch you have.
And here’s the thing, criminal defense lawyers are accustomed to seeing people screw up. Folks have troubles in life and do something stupid and find themselves at their doors. Not everyone is a serial felon from the age of 3.
Be polite, ask graciously if they will consider quietly removing or editing the old post. Maybe they will, maybe not, but sometimes a pitch for mercy is the only shot you really have.
Update: From The Lawyerist (Lawyer Hires Internet Tough Guy to Silence Internet-Tough-Guy Lawyers):
Trying to get websites to take down pages that make you look bad is inherently problematic, but it’s even harder when your approach is to go around threatening lawyers who are well-known for not backing down in the face of threats….
In order to try to clean up his Internet reputation, Ostrow hired an Internet tough guy named Patrick Zarrelli, who spent yesterday threatening…
From The Beanstalk:
…Seriously think that through for a moment. Patrick, much like a lot of other professional marketers, markets himself as an expert. In this case, an expert at online reputation management. In fact, he is so good at it, that he can’t even manage his own, falling prey to three attorneys who up until only a few days ago, didn’t know him at all, and largely, had forgotten about Patricks client, Gary Ostrow….