Law Practice Management
Law Firm and Ex-Associate Battle in Court and on Net Over Badmouth Blog
Posted Jan 12, 2010 12:31 PM CST
By Martha Neil
A federal judge says she plans to order unspecified "limited" restrictions of an ex-associate's badmouth blog criticizing the New Jersey law firm that formerly employed him.
But it appears that some of the most telling blows in the battle between Levinson Axelrod and attorney Edward Heyburn over his Levinson Axelrod Really Sucks blog are being struck outside of court, according to the New Jersey Law Journal.
Prior to a federal court hearing in Trenton yesterday concerning its unfair competition suit against Heyburn, the Edison-based law firm hired an "online reputation management" consultant, The Search Engine Guys, to minimize the damage being done by the blog. The Austin, Texas, consultant bought up a number of web addresses including the law firm's name, to keep Heyburn from using them, and has worked to maximize hits on Levinson Axelrod's own website in order to lower the Internet profile of Heyburn's blog, the legal publication recounts.
Meanwhile, Heyburn, who anticipates that U.S. District Judge Anne Thompson may order him to stop using one or both of his current Web addresses for the blog, which incorporate the law firm's name, is urging his followers to switch to an alternate form of communication.
In a Levinson Axelrod Really Sucks post published soon the court hearing Monday, he urged readers to sign up to receive LASucks tweets on Twitter, the New Jersey Law Journal notes.
In addition to unfair competition, the law firm's suit asserts claims for violations of the Lanham Act and Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act and breach of the duty of loyalty. It also alleges that the Robbinsville, N.J., solo practitioner violated attorney ethics rules, according to the Star-Ledger.
Heyburn openly acknowledges to the newspaper that his website is intended to make life difficult for those at Levinson Axelrod, which reportedly fired him after some six years of employment when it found out that he was planning to open his own law firm. "I thought I could do something to torment these people," he says.
However, if the court determines that Heyburn's website is a vehicle for expressing his opinions rather than intended to drive business away from Levinson Axelrod for his own financial benefit, the firm may find it difficult to get the relief it is seeking, adjunct professor Jonathan Bick of Rutgers School of Law in Newark tells the Star-Ledger.
"The decision to pursue a legal remedy is based on the unlawful hijacking of the name Levinson Axelrod," says attorney Thomas Cafferty, who is representing the firm in its battle over what it describes as a toxic conflagration threatening its reputation. "This site attempts to damage the firm’s reputation for his financial gain."
ABAJournal.com: "Law Firm & Ex-Associate Litigate Badmouth Blog Battle in State & Federal Court"