Can Lawyers Get Away With Anything? Court Declares the Dragonetti Act Unconstitutional

December 26, 2015

Generally, Pennsylvania attorneys’ actions are governed by the Pennsylvania Rules of Professional Conduct. However, if an attorney abuses process by filing and maintaining a lawsuit that was either grossly negligent or without probable cause, the attorney can also be held liable in a civil court under what’s known as the Dragonetti Act, 42 Pa. C.S.A. § 8351.

The standard to hold an attorney liable is high. Not only does one have to file and maintain a lawsuit that was either grossly negligent or without probable cause, but it also has to terminate favorably on the merits. This means you can go through years of frivolous litigation with little to no recourse. More often than not, litigants get burned out from incurring legal fees, and simply settle the case rather than take a chance on recovering their fees in a Dragonetti Action.

Nevertheless, and despite it’s high burdens, the Dragonetti Act is particularly important because Pennsylvania does not have an anti-SLAPP statute.

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Bad Things Happen When Lawyers Stop Representing Clients, and Start Representing Causes – John Blaha Ordered to Pay Rightscorp Attorney’s Fees

May 10, 2015

An interesting development in the world of copyright litigation, as rights holders secured a major victory in California on Friday. A court has ordered Morgan Pietz’s client in John Blaha v. Rightscorp to pay attorney’s fees due to a successful anti-SLAPP motion filed by the defendants. It raises ethical issues about using clients to try and further an anti-copyright law agenda, and drum up business.

A little bit of background…

Rightscorp is an anti-piracy corporation. It monitors BitTorrent usage, and then sends out notices to pirates who are stealing and distributing copyrighted content. From there, the company requests that pirates stop stealing the content, and pay the rights holder a reasonable fee of about $20. In this instance, Rightscorp was contacting people who stole and distributed films like The Shawshank Redemption and The Lord of The Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, two of my favorite movies. Notably, Lord of the Rings is available on Amazon.com for $9.99, and Shawshank Redemption is available for the same price. If you’re that hard up for cash but really want to watch the movies, you can even rent them for a whopping $2.99.

Surprisingly, people routinely steal movies using BitTorrent, even though they are available for immediate purchase on Amazon and iTunes. People on the internet say it’s unfair when they get caught and sent a notice from Rightscorp, or sued. Of course, if you were caught stealing the same movie in Target, you would be arrested, prosecuted, forced to spend a lot of money on lawyer fees and restitution, and then at the end of the day you would have a criminal record for the rest of your life. So in the grand scheme of things, Rightscorp’s approach seems pretty reasonable.

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Jordan Rushie joins Randazza Legal Group

September 1, 2014

When I was in law school, I used to read The Legal Satyricon. I remember thinking “This blog is awesome! But I could never do anything like that.” Marco has always been known for his high flyin’, foul mouthed, unique breed of legal representation. Something I always wanted to do but couldn’t. Because I was a nameless, faceless associate at a law firm billing hours and serving corporate clients.

One fateful day in April of 2011, I was checking my email before going to Whole Foods. Little did I know how much my life would change that fateful morning. As I was checking Solosez (a lawyer listserve where stupid people go to ask other stupid people stupid questions to get stupid answers), I learned that I had been named as a defendant in Rakofsky v. The Internet (hysterically and appropriately named by Scott Greenfield). Not sure what to do, I called Brian Tannebaum, a lawyer who used to write a good blog (two, actually), that I read regularly. When Brian got done yelling at me for interrupting his day, he put me in touch with Marc Randazza, who became my lawyer and proceeded to decimate the lawsuit.

Since then, I have started my own firm, wrote an ABA 100 Law Blog, and have had a career that I never could have imagined in my wildest dreams. Much of which involves protecting the First Amendment, intellectual property rights, and zoning. I went from working in a law job to having a practice that I feel excited and energized about every single day. Life is good. [Editor’s Note: Scott Greenfield nominated Philly Law Blog to the ABA 100. I love him forever.]

I blame Marc for most of it. 

Over the last few years, we’ve done a lot of work together, a lot of which was in the press. Just one of many examples, Me and Marc handled The Bellwether Trial, which was the first bittorrent case ever to see the inside of a courtroom. We are currently working on other interesting cases throughout the country, most of which I can’t blog about just yet. (stay tuned).

It’s been a wild ride.

So, in the interest of keeping things simple, I have decided to join Randazza Legal Group as Of Counsel. This actually happened awhile ago, but I was too busy to write about it.

It’s a great honor to be working with someone who I have idolized for many years, who defended me in my first lawsuit, and helped me get my own career off the ground.

And don’t worry. Fishtown Law won’t be changing one bit. Me and Leo continue to be your neighborhood Fishtown Lawyers, drinking all the craft beers and hanging around town. I will still be working out of 2424 Studios here in Fishtown and harassing Leo on an everyday basis (although I will be in Vegas from time to time, mostly to skirt open container laws).

 


Pennsylvania To Introduce Anti-SLAPP Laws

September 14, 2013

I have good news – Senator Larry Farnese has introduced a bill to protect civic associations and other individuals discussing issues of public importance, who are then named in a frivolous lawsuit (“strategic lawsuit against public participation” or “SLAPP”).

Anti-SLAPP laws are vitally important here in Philadelphia, as public participation is written into the Philadelphia Code. Under the law, anyone seeking a zoning variance or Special Assembly Occupancy License must first meet with the local civic association.

However, a chilling trend is emerging. When an applicant doesn’t like what the community has to say, they will file a frivolous lawsuit against the neighbors, bloggers, and the civic association. Defending these lawsuits are expensive for anyone on the wrong end of one, even if they are completely frivolous. SLAPP suits have gotten so out of control that the Old City Civic Association disbanded because it could not procure insurance for its directors and officers due to defending frivolous SLAPP suits. Under current Pennsylvania law, the victim of a SLAPP suit has little recourse against a vexatious plaintiff. Anti-SLAPP laws will punish those who choose to file frivolous lawsuits to curb free speech and public participation.

If you are a resident of Pennsylvania, I urge you to sign this petition and let the legislature know this is an important issue.


Attorney Christopher J. McCann Teaches Everyone How Not To Build An Online Reputation

June 15, 2013
bush_doing_it_wrong

“Christopher J. McCann speaking!”

Last year, Brian Tannebaum wrote about attorney Christopher J. McCann. Apparently McCann was trying to build his online reputation the wrong way. Long story short, McCann’s marketeer, Nader, asked Brian if he could write a guest post on Brian’s blog, My Law License.

Brian wondered why McCann, who advertised “personal service” on his website, couldn’t just pick up and the phone and ask him to write a guest post instead of having his webmaster do it:

I just wonder why Chris has hired someone to go find lawyers and try to sell himself on their blogs. Can’t he send his own email, or “call directly?” Where’s the “personal service” Chris. Chris?

A few days after Tannebaum posted his article, Matt Brown, a young lawyer in Arizona, wrote a blog post about availability which mentioned McCann in passing. In doing so, Brown described McCann’s marketing techniques as “scummy.”

Ok, fair enough. We call that First Amendment protected opinion. For instance, you may think my blog is stupid, crummy, and boring. While that opinion might hurt my feelings, you’re also entitled to express it.

So… fast forward to June of 2013…

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Why Pennsylvania Desperately Needs an Anti-SLAPP Statute To Protect Civic Engagement – The Dragonetti Act Is Not Enough

May 19, 2013

When most people think of the First Amendment, they think of the right to free speech. However, the First Amendment does not just protect free speech, it protects all civic engagement. The purpose of the First Amendment is to ensure that citizens have an active voice in our government. The First Amendment is not just a right to free speech, but a right to public participation. 

That right in Pennsylvania is currently in jeopardy thanks to SLAPP suits (strategic lawsuits against public participation). 

Ideally, Congress would pass uniform anti-SLAPP legislation so citizens in all 50 states enjoy the right to public participation. But until that happens, Pennsylvania desperately needs an anti-SLAPP statute because what we have on the books currently is not enough. Every citizen should be able to participate in our government, perhaps through blogging or civic activism, without having to worry about being served with a frivolous lawsuit.

Below are my thoughts on why we need it, and what it would look like…

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