Suit claims lawyers used 'stooge defendants' to get courts to order scrubbing of bad online reviews
A federal lawsuit filed on behalf of pissedconsumer.com claims two California lawyers filed lawsuits that used “stooge defendants” to pose as authors of bad reviews to obtain court orders removing the pages from search engine results.
The Oct. 21 complaint (PDF) filed in federal court in Northern California claims the “censorship scam” perpetrated by reputation management companies, at first blush, “appears rather brilliant but incredibly unethical,” the Recorder (sub. req.) reports.
The suit claims the companies hired California lawyers Mark Lapham and Owen Mascott to file sham lawsuits against “a defendant who most certainly was not the party that published the allegedly defamatory statements.” The defendant would quickly stipulate to injunctive relief, and the order would be provided to Google and other search engines to de-index all web pages with negative reviews about a company.
The suit claims violation of California law prohibiting fraudulent business practices, abuse of process and civil conspiracy.
Mascott told the Recorder over the weekend that he hadn’t seen the suit and couldn’t comment. He told the ABA Journal on Monday that he didn’t want to comment. Lapham didn’t immediately respond to a message left by the Recorder and by the ABA Journal.
First Amendment lawyer Marc Randazza filed the suit for Consumer Opinion, the company that runs PissedConsumer.com. He told the Recorder that he has filed a separate suit alleging reputation management companies used fake online newspapers in a different scheme to obtain the removal of negative reviews.
One of the defendants in the latest suit, a lawyer who had been said to benefit from a fake takedown lawsuit, has since been dismissed from the action. The notice of voluntary dismissal says he appeared to be “an innocent victim of the scheme.”
ABAJournal.com: “Are lawsuits using fake defendants to get material removed from websites?”