January 28th, 2016

Doctor Tries To Take Down Lawyer’s Blog Post By Filing Grievance – updated x2

Michigan attorney Steven Gursten

Michigan attorney Steven Gursten

Wow. Defense-medical exams and a defamation claim against a law blogger! Two of my favorite topics wrapped up in one ugly Michigan incident now ongoing.

Now you folks know I have a thing or two to say about doctors that do a lot of defense medical-legal exams. And you know I have a thing or two to say about BS claims of defamation, having been on the receiving end of a couple of moronic lawsuits.

Now comes before us today one Dr. Rosalind Griffin, a Michigan psychiatrist, with a different tactic: Filing a grievance against lawyer Steven Gursten for blogging about a medical-legal exam that she did on one of his clients.

Gursten was so ticked off at Dr. Griffin, that he wrote about her. Like me, he thinks that many of the doctors that make these exams a staple of their practices are doing hatchet jobs on the injured plaintiffs in order to benefit the insurance companies.

(For a comic view of how one lawyer sees it, you can view this cartoon.)

The short version of today’s story is that Gursten’s client was hit by two trucks, and he asserts that the client suffered a traumatic brain injury, broken back, and other significant injuries. Dr. Griffen then did the defense medical exam (DME) — sometimes improperly called an independent medical exam (IME) — and issued a report.

Gursten then presented evidence and asked readers to draw their own conclusions as to whether Dr. Griffen committed perjury. In fact, by the title of his posting, you can see that this invitation to readers was his explicit intention:

Heading: IME abuse? Read the transcript of Dr. Rosalind Griffin in a terrible truck accident case and decide for yourself

Subheading: How many thousands of innocent and seriously hurt people lose everything because of so-called “independent medical exams,” such as this example by Michigan psychiatrist Dr. Rosalind Griffin?

Dr. Rosalind Griffen, as seen during her video testimony in this matter.

Dr. Rosalind Griffen

He presented evidence that Dr. Griffen — who he said is “a rather notorious IME doctor here in Michigan” — was less than candid in her assessment.

Gursten asserts that this evidence disproves the doctor’s claim that the client said during the exam that his condition was improving, that the client had minor medical conditions, and despite “a closed-head injury, traumatic brain injury, abnormal memory and concentration, PTSD and a badly fractured and collapsed T12 vertebral body, as well as fractures to his mouth, shoulder and knee” that the client’s chronic pain actually came from a 30-year-old whiplash that had been asymptomatic.

This presentation of evidence, and request that readers make their own determination as to whether Dr. Griffen committed perjury, occurred Nov. 13, 2014.

Thirteen months later, Dr. Griffen filed a grievance, claiming defamation, and asking that the Committee require the lawyer to:

  • “delete his outrageous posting”; and
  • “[R]emove the link to Google results for my name.” [I didn’t make that up, I swear. — ET]
  • Punish and sanction him for putting her testimony and her conduct under oath on the internet for people to read.

Gursten wasn’t cowed by the complaint and proceeded to put it up online this week in a new posting with this heading and subheading:

Heading:  Sticks and stones and…attorney disbarment? Will the First Amendment lose out when IME doctor files grievance to conceal her testimony in injury case from the public?

Subheading:  IME doctor files grievance to suppress blog post and punish attorney for disclosing her conduct

Over the course of a very extensive follow-up posting this week, he provided many examples of differences between what the doctor claimed, and what he said actually happened. This is a sample, with much more at the original posting:

What Dr. Griffin claims James Fairley said. What James Fairley actually said.
“[A]ccording to his own statement he feels less depressed and is making progress.” (IME Report, Page 8)  “Q. What’s a good day for you? A. I don’t know. I haven’t had one lately. … I just have a profound sadness … Q. Do you think you’re depressed, sir? A. I do. … Q. Have you been tearful? A. Oh, yeah. I cry at the drop of a hat sometimes.”  (Fairley Dep., Page 58 (lines 1-2, 7), Page 61 (lines 13-14), Page 62 (lines 4-5))

In the text of the grievance, Dr. Griffen complains thusly about the original blog post:

Notably, it is the first item returned when someone uses the Google search engine on my name, thereby ensuring that it will be noted and read by individuals researching me or selecting a psychiatrist who will best meet the needs of the patient.

The problem, of course, is that Gursten merely provided the documents and video testimony, and pointed to various sections of them, while offering his opinions. He did what lawyers do: He presented evidence and asked the jury (his readers) to decide.

The doctor’s complaints that calling her “notorious,” or her exam a “hatchet job,” would be merely opinion. And opinion is not actionable under the First Amendment. It isn’t even a close call.

She also tries to make the complaint, unconvincingly I might add, that writing about her exam and testimony violates Rule 8.4 of Michigan’s rules of professional conduct which state that it is attorney misconduct to:

(c) engage in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation;

(d) engage in conduct that is prejudicial to the administration of justice;

Since there is nothing dishonest or fraudulent about providing evidence and asking a series of questions about where that evidence leads, I don’t see how she can possibly prevail. Nor is a public discussion of a very serious issue prejudicial to the administration of justice. In fact, a public discussion is beneficial to the administration of justice. I do it here all the time.

Why would Dr. Griffen — who happens to be a member of the very grievance committee to which she is complaining — file this?

Leaving aside the obvious possibility that she may have friends on the committee, the other possibility is that she tried mightily to find an attorney to bring a lawsuit, and that everyone told her “Are you shittin’ me?” though they may have been a tad more blunt. Then a year went by, the statute of limitations expired in Michigan, and she made this complaint feeling she had to do something.

And so she did. And now people out of state, who had never heard of her, are writing about her. Well played, doctor, well played.

(Pro tip: If you need to file a dopey defamation case, you might try Jonathan Sullivan at Ruskin Moscou Faltischek in New York. He’s the guy that brought Dr. Michael Katz’s pointless and doltish suit against me regarding an “IME” and testimony that Katz did. Who knows, maybe he wants to do it again?)

Addendum: More at Public Citizen, a small excerpt below. At the link are also case citations,  and a thorough exposition on the chilling effect that permitting such grievances has on free speech.

Griffin’s complaint amounts to a lightweight defamation claim (lightweight because most of the quoted words are either not actually about Griffin or are opinion rather than facts, because Griffin does not spell out any other allegedly defamatory words as Michigan law would require, and because she says nothing about knowledge of falsity or reckless disregard of probable falsity).  It is therefore not surprising that Griffin did not file a defamation claim within the one-year statute of limitations.  Instead, six days after the statute expired, she chose to file this bare-bones grievance complaint, hoping that paid grievance staff will conduct an investigation for her, and force Gursten to spend his time and money responding to questions from public officials about his opinions about whether and how justice is afforded to accident victims and specifically how Griffin has or has not testified unfairly or unjustly.

In discussing the Michigan’s Grievance Commission, in highly critical terms for allowing this to go forward and requiring a response from Gursten, Public Citizen’s Paul Alan Levy writes:

The Commission staff might well be hoping to exact an apology as Gursten’s price for peace, but at least so far, Gursten is not only not caving in to Griffin’s pressure, but he has called Griffin’s bluff and raised the ante.

Addendum #2: Scott Greenfield weighs in on Rosalind Griffin using a disciplinary complaint because an actual defamation case would fail, and the completely expected reaction (from anyone in the least bit savvy about the internets):

But if the lawyer disciplinary process seems like easy pickin’s to silence blawgers, the flip side is that we’re not particularly inclined to run scared, and we have this tendency not to take kindly to being extorted through the use of the grievance procedure to shut us up.

Has Dr. Rosalind Griffin ever heard of Barbra Streisand?  If she thought she had something to twist her face into a frown before, she’s really gonna hate what happens when her effort to use the disciplinary procedure to silence Gursten not only fails, but backfires big time.

 

February 4th, 2015

New York Needs More Robust Anti-SLAPP Legislation (Op-Ed)

SLAPPThis piece I wrote appears in today’s New York Law Journal. [Brackets] refer to endnotes in the original, and I’ve added some links:

—————————-

I’ve now been sued twice for defamation over postings I’ve made on my law blog. And you know what? It sucks.

On both occasions, I was reporting on what happened in a courtroom, on cases I was not involved with either as counsel or litigant. And on both occasions judges tossed the lawsuits in the pleadings stage as the suits assaulted my right to fairly report and comment on judicial proceedings.[1] You can’t (successfully) sue people for reporting on what transpired in court, or for their opinions on what happened.

But, you know what else also happened twice? Despite both cases being utterly without merit, and both cases aggressively acting to discourage free and robust newsgathering and discussion, both plaintiffs were able to walk away while I was forced to spend enormous time on my defense including preparing documents, hiring counsel and wrestling with my insurer.

When empty lawsuits are used to retard free speech, all writers suffer.

This problem affects institutions above me in the pecking order of journalistic influence (traditional media) as well as those below (anonymous or pseudonymous commenters in countless Internet forums).

For example, in Rakofsky v. Washington Post, et al., I was part of the massive “et al.” [2] that included about 80 other lawyers, law firms, media companies, and John Doe/pseudonymous defendants. It seems that one Joseph Rakofsky, a neophyte New Jersey lawyer, went down to Washington D.C. to lead a murder defense. Except that he had never tried a case before. Of any kind.

The trial didn’t work out so well for Rakofsky or the client. The judge declared a mistrial partway through, and said (among other things), that it was “readily apparent” that Rakofsky’s performance was “not up to par under any reasonable standard of competence under the Sixth Amendment,” and “below what any reasonable person could expect in a murder trial.”

After The Washington Post wrote the story up, so too did many law bloggers, of which I was one, as well as the ABA Journal, Reuters and others, giving a variety of perspectives and adding depth to the already-reported story. Rakofsky sued so many people and companies that discussed what happened that the suit was instantly dubbed Rakofsky v. Internet. [3] Ultimately it was dismissed, since writers were relying on what transpired in court, or how Rakofsky presented his skills and qualifications on his websites. But there were no sanctions for his efforts to try to quash free speech.

The second suit, reported on the front page of this newspaper on Jan. 2, 2015, involved orthopedist Michael Katz. Dr. Katz had conducted a defense medical exam in a personal injury case (not one of mine). I found out that Queens Supreme Court Justice Duane Hart had repeatedly called Dr. Katz a liar in open court regarding his testimony. I then had the audacity to use my blog for original reporting on the subject, as well as offering my opinions on its significance.

Dr. Katz sued me. Once again the case was tossed at its initial stage, and once again there was no sanction for a litigant trying to suppress free speech by means of a lawsuit. [4]

But make no mistake about this, bringing hollow lawsuits that can’t even state a claim, and that clearly violate the robust freedoms ensconced in the First Amendment and fair reporting laws, have a chilling effect on others. While I continue to write about issues that I find important, there is no doubt that others hold back, fearful that they will be sued in order to intimidate them from writing, if that writing is critical.

Did I say that this affects writers? Well it also affects readers, who are deprived of the news and opinions that have been fearfully withheld.

Lawsuits to silence critics, such as these two against me, are called Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation, or “SLAPP suits.” They have become so common, with clearly significant free speech repercussions, that many states now have powerful anti-SLAPP legislation that stop the suits cold and award costs and attorneys fees to the victims.

According to Harvard University’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society, 28 states have anti-SLAPP statutes. [5] Unfortunately, the one for New York is exceptionally limited, and applies only to permits and applications in the real estate context. [6] It does not protect free speech in the abstract.

But legislation is pending in both the Assembly and Senate that would ameliorate that unnecessary limitation, and hold litigants and lawyers accountable for attempting to restrict the rights of others to speak and write freely. [7]

While some suits would nevertheless continue with pro se litigants, lawyers would be on notice that attempting to use litigation as a cudgel upon which to exert free speech concessions would backfire. Both litigants against me, it’s important to note, were represented by counsel. And both lawyers must have known that the suits were doomed from the outset.

This is, thankfully, one of those issues about which there is no partisan divide. Vexatious litigants trying to silence others are not part of any political party. The chilling effect such suits have on free speech effects us all equally, from the most prominent newspapers to the most casual individual looking to discuss the issues of the day.

In 2008, both the New York Senate and Assembly took a big step forward when they unanimously passed the Libel Terrorism Protection Act, which protects us from lawsuits in foreign jurisdictions that don’t have the same free speech protections as the First Amendment. [8]

The Legislature should be able to rally around this anti-SLAPP bill in the same manner, and protect the First Amendment rights of all New Yorkers.

Endnotes:

1. New York Civil Rights Law §74.

2. 2013 NY Slip Op 50739 (2013).

3. Scott Greenfield, Simple Justice, http://blog.simplejustice.us/2011/05/13/rakofsky-v-internet/, May 11, 2011.

4. Katz v. Lester Schwab, Dwyer & Katz, et al., 153581/2014.

5. http://www.dmlp.org/legal-guide/state-law-slapps.

6. Civil Rights Law §70-a and §76-a.

7. S1638-2015 and A258-2015; also, S1539-2015.

8. Matthew Pollack, New York Strikes Back Against Libel Tourism, http://www.rcfp.org/browse-media-law-resources/news/new-york-strikes-back-against-libel-tourism, Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, April 1, 2008, last viewed January 25, 2015.

 

 

January 8th, 2015

Je Suis Charlie

It'sHardToBeLovedByIdiots

Translation: Mohammed overwhelmed by fundamentalists
Bubble: It’s hard to be loved by idiots

Two of the cartoons on this page are caricatures of the prophet Mohammed. Before yesterday, I couldn’t imagine circumstances where I would publish them, both because this blog doesn’t deal with religious issues and because such caricatures are offensive to Muslims.

I just don’t run around looking to insult the religious beliefs of others. To each their own, so long as it doesn’t impact others.

But I also write and publish and enjoy the magnificent freedom of speech. I’ve been discussing that subject a lot recently, though that was due to attempts to silence by force of law, not guns.

There’s no doubt that the horrific assault yesterday on the sharply satiric French political magazine Charlie Hebdo is not just an assault on all writers, but an assault on all that believe in free speech.

It doesn’t matter if we approve or not of the content of the magazine’s speech. That has nothing to do with the right to publish it.

What if we allowed ourselves to be intimidated into silence by force of guns on the subject of religion? What other subjects would be next? And who gets to make those decisions?

If we do not stand up to people now that wish to take away the fundamental right to express opinions, then when will it happen? And if not us, who then?

The answer to speech with which we disagree is more speech, not less.

I-Am-The_prohpet

Translation: “I am the prophet, asshole!” “Shut up, infidel!”

I think that the vast majority of Muslims are appalled by what has been done in their name. And now, because a small group of people have bastardized their religion, they see these depictions getting widespread dissemination.

We must, however, choose between the lesser of two evils. Do we remain silent in the face of violent attempts to censure, or do we speak out and insult perfectly innocent people in the process?

But there seems to me to be little alternative other than to stand up to evil, and the sooner the better. I suspect that those innocent Muslims know this all too well, as the militants within their religion may have killed thousands of Jews, Christians and Hindus around the world, but mostly they have killed their fellow Muslims. And done so by the millions.

The slaughter yesterday, and the need to respond, reminds me of a poem:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

Let’s hope that the pen is indeed mightier than the sword. You can see a wide selection of cartoon responses compiled here and here. But this is the one that I will close with, from Philadelphian Rob Tornoe:

RobTornoe

 

January 5th, 2015

Things Get Worse for Dr. Michael Katz…(Updated x2)

Samson Freundlich with New York Law Journal front page story: Criticism of Doctor was Protected Speech, Judge Finds

Samson Freundlich with New York Law Journal front page story: Criticism of Doctor was Protected Speech, Judge Finds

So there’s the story, as the feature on the front page of Friday’s New York Law Journal: Justice Cynthia Kern‘s decision throwing out the defamation case Dr. Michael J. Katz  stupidly started against me and my co-blogger Samson Freundlich.

I previously blogged about this dismissal, but now it’s front page news. (NYLJ: Criticism of Doctor Was Protected Speech, Judge Finds)

And if the whole legal community didn’t already know that Justice Duane Hart had eviscerated Katz by repeatedly calling him a liar, they surely know now.

The story also introduces a new term to the legal lexicon, boneheaded, as in, this was a boneheaded suit to bring. That was the quote the paper elected to use:

Turkewitz said he was disappointed of the deep reluctance of judges to find cases frivolous and impose sanctions. “This was a really bone-headed lawsuit to bring, and all it did was make Dr. Katz look even worse,” he said.

Now I think that boneheaded should be one word, and not hyphenated, but lexicography isn’t my long suit, and I suppose that is a digression for another day.

While I was disappointed that Katz and his lawyers weren’t sanctioned, it’s clear to me that rebroadcasting in this suit the lacerating remarks Justice Hart made about Katz was one of the dumber moves I’ve seen in my 28 years practicing law.

And now, due to the prominence of the story, the legal community also knows that it was the Nassau County firm of  Ruskin Moscou Faltishek that led to this debacle. Well played, gentlemen, well played.

Readers are left to guess for themselves why a firm would elect to start a case it must inevitably lose that also embarrasses the client.

Update (1/5/15):  Forbes now has the story also: Personal Injury Lawyer Gets Personal About Lawyers that Sue Him

Updated #2 (1/6/15 @ 12:15 pm): From Techdirt’s Tim Cushing:   Hilariously Stupid Defamation Suit Against A Blogging Lawyer Tossed By New York Judge

 

December 29th, 2014

The WSJ Rips Me Off — Now What? (An Open Letter)

Turkewitz - Wall Street JournalTo the editor:

This past weekend in the Notable and Quotable area of your editorial section, you copied a long excerpt from a recent posting I made here.  It was about Google Cars eviscerating the personal injury bar due to my expectations of improved safety.

I was struck with several different reactions:

1.  It was nice of you to notice the piece. I’m both Notable and Quotable in the WSJ. I wish my family felt that way. Aww shucks, and all that.

2.  My, oh my, you certainly copied a big chunk of my piece, didn’t you?  A word count shows you took 44% of my post. That sure is a lot given our copyright laws, isn’t it?

3.  Didn’t you think it might be worthwhile in the online version to supply a link so that readers would understand that my posting was a celebration of the diminution of my business, and not a complaint?

4.  Most importantly, don’t folks rip off your content all the time? And don’t you complain? What kind of example are you setting for others?

It’s this last point that I want to dwell on — though I think your selective editing on #3 is pretty important —  because it seems that such wanton copying only encourages others to do the same. This is part of that whole moronic “content wants to be free” claptrap that is prattled by those who’ve never created anything.

Now you might think, hey, we can just take your words under the “fair use” doctrine! But 1st Amendment guru Marc Randazza seems to say otherwise, and he isn’t particularly kind to you in doing so. Randazza writes,

As someone who blogs, it bugs me when other people steal my work and re-post it on their own blogs. It bothers me even if they provide a link back. Why? Because fuck you. This is my work. If you want to quote part of it, you’re most welcome. You feel like you need to do a large block quote? Go ahead. You hate it and want to ridicule it? Go ahead. You think I’m awesome? You must be sick.

What I’m getting at is fair use is fine, but just ripping off my shit is douchetastic.

Yeah, he’s colorful. But that lede is also followed by him understanding the gist of the piece, as opposed to your selective edits to take it out of context:

The theme of Eric’s article is that self-driving cars may cut down on accidents, insurance rates, deaths, etc., and he actually states that he cheers the thought that he might be put out of business.

Interestingly enough, the Wall Street Journal cuts off its plagiarism right before Eric makes that point. Instead, the WSJ dishonestly makes it look like Eric is whining that he won’t have as much work.

Ok, being quoted out of context? That’s all part of speaking in public. Some douchebag will always do that.

Like me, Randazza — who was my counsel in Rakofsky v. Internet — understands that quoting out of context isn’t the real problem.  We both write in public and when we do so we put on our big-boy pants and deal with it.

No, the real problem is theft. You weren’t commenting on what I wrote, the way Jacob Gershman did in his WSJ Law Blog post.  You simply cut and pasted my work onto your editorial page without asking.

Randazza goes on to the far more important fair use (or lack thereof) argument, one that should be second nature to you and your lawyers at the WSJ:

But what really bothered me about this is how the WSJ simply stole Eric’s work, and couldn’t be bothered to actually do any of its own — except putting the plagiarized portion next to some ads. They put it in the print version too.

And that is not fair use. It is even more ironic and douchey when you know that Eric’s work is on the WSJ [website], but behind a paywall.

I know that the WSJ must have lawyers on staff. I can’t imagine why they never learned anything about fair use. Because this is not fair use.

If you want the details, and the law of how you screwed this up, because your lawyers may be on vacation this time of year, go read Randazza’s full piece. He’s even kind enough to cite case law for you.  I’ll give you a hint though — and this comes from a guy who defends this stuff all the time –he’s pretty clear you fouled up:

Ultimately, the WSJ blew it here because they didn’t add anything to the original — they just lifted it and reposted it.

So now what do you do?

WSJ-TurkewitzWSJ-TurkewitzWell, here’s my suggestion: You write me a nice note that says, “Oops! I can’t believe we just took so much of your property and reprinted it without asking! We really shouldn’t have done that.”

And you also say that you shouldn’t have made it look, on your index page, as if I submitted it to you in this fashion, as seen in the graphic to the left, since I played no part in its appearance there. And that if you were going to edit my piece to imply something different, then a link should have been provided so that your readers could see full context.

Then you say, “What can we do to make this up to you!?”

And I say, because I’m a nice guy and willing to give you the answer in advance in case you are worried about lawsuits, “You owe me a beer and we’ll call it even.”

Why would I let you off the hook so easily? Because I have bigger concerns than the 12 rupees you might owe me for swiping my stuff without permission, that concern being your implicit endorsement of such practices.

Because that endorsement hurts all writers, both you and me together. (I know, it’s gotta suck for some at the WSJ to be in agreement with a personal injury attorney.)

And you say to me, “Wow, we’ve never received such a nice lawyer letter before! And your suggestion that we admit an error sounds perfectly reasonable, because if we don’t admit it was an error, others that copy our stuff might possibly throw this little theft back at us one day as a defense, ‘Hey, if youse guys at da Journal can steal 44% of that idiot-lawyer-blogger’s content, why can’t we just take 44% from youse, huh?’ ”

You’ve probably never been offered such a good deal, that being the actual, real-world benefits of saying “oops.”

Now I know that you probably get pitched a bazillion times a day from kings and queens, presidents and prime ministers and all manner of CEOs and genuflecting flacks trying to use your paper as a forum for their brilliant thoughts and ideas. You might simply have thought I’d be grateful to have my words appear in your august periodical in its widely read editorial area, even if  you didn’t ask me and you selectively neutered out the main point.

But what you did was wrong from a much broader and fundamental point than a simple copyright violation of my little blog. You violated the ancient Golden Rule: If you steal from others then you can’t complain when others steal from you.

I await your oops letter. And my cold beer. It’s for your own good.

Your new bestest, BFF and beer drinking buddy,

/s/ E.T.

Updated P.S. – I should have also noted, when writing this story, that you are in good company. Both the Daily News and the New York Times have likewise ripped me off, with the details at those links.