It looks as if shady lawyers are at it again - this time manufacturing 'court orders' that don't hold up to scrutiny.
There are about 25 court cases throughout the country that have a suspicious profile:
- All involve allegedly self-represented plaintiffs, yet they have similar snippets of legalese that suggest a common organization behind them. (A few others, having a slightly different profile, involve actual lawyers.)
- All the ostensible defendants ostensibly agreed to injunctions being issued against them, which often leads to a very quick court order (in some cases, less than a week).
Now, you might ask, what’s the point of suing a fake defendant (to the extent that some of these defendants are indeed fake)? How can anyone get any real money from a fake defendant? How can anyone order a fake defendant to obey a real injunction?
- Of these 25-odd cases, 15 give the addresses of the defendants — but a private investigator (Giles Miller of Lynx Insights & Investigations) couldn’t find a single one of the ostensible defendants at the ostensible address.
The answer is that Google and various other Internet platforms have a policy: They won’t take down material (or, in Google’s case, remove it from Google indexes) just because someone says it’s defamatory. Understandable — why would these companies want to adjudicate such factual disputes? But if they see a court order that declares that some material is defamatory, they tend to take down or deindex the material, relying on the court’s decision.
Yet the trouble is that these Internet platforms can’t really know if the injunction was issued against the actual author of the supposed defamation — or against a real person at all. That’s why we have incidents like this:
- Matthew Chan, a Georgia resident, posts a negative review of Mitul Patel, a Georgia dentist, on Yelp and a few other sites. (Readers may remember this story, which we blogged about in August; that’s the incident that got us investigating this issue.) Several months after Chan puts up his post, Yelp emails him, saying that it’s about to take his comment down because it received a court order that was issued against him, and the court concluded that his comment was defamatory.But wait!, says Chan — he’s never been sued. And sure enough, the order is against a supposed Mathew Chan of Baltimore. As best we can tell, no such Mathew Chan exists in Baltimore, but in any event no Baltimorean is the author of the post. Yet the order is supposedly based on that Mathew Chan agreeing with Mitul Patel that the review was defamatory, and should be removed. (As we’ll see below, Mitul Patel and some of the other plaintiffs state that they did not authorize the lawsuit or sign the pleadings, though they did hire a “reputation management company” to do something.)
There's more at the link.
It looks like so-called 'relationship management' or 'relationship repair' self-advertised specialists have come up with this tactic. Lodge a lawsuit against a possibly imaginary 'defendant' alleging that an article or other reference is defamatory; have the defendant (or someone claiming to be the defendant) immediately acknowledge that it is defamatory, and agree to accept a court order for its withdrawal; have the court order issued; then use it to persuade the host to take down the article, and Google and other authoritative search engines to de-index the offending reference, so that no-one else can find it. Crafty bastards, aren't they?
Congratulations to Messrs. Volokh and Levy for publishing details of this scheme, so that the rest of us can be on our guard against it. Now, how can we make the shady lawyers concerned answer for their misuse (probably better termed abuse) of the court system?