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Resuscitating the Joseph Rakofsky Fiasco

Jamison KoehlerCriminal Law Bloggers, Current Events

Last month, in what has to be one of Daniel Snyder’s stupidest moves ever, the Washington Redskins’ owner filed suit against the City Paper for an article that was critical of Snyder and his stewardship of the team.  The filing prompted an avalanche of other new reports and articles rehashing the criticisms contained in the City Paper and questioning Snyder’s judgment in deciding to bring the suit.

My favorite was a humor piece addressing Daniel Snyder directly by New York Giants fan Gene Weingarten.  “I understand why you were upset by this article,” Weingarten wrote.  “By unkindly focusing only on the negative aspect of your ownership, the author, Dave McKenna, is suggesting that you are an avaricious, imperious, conscienceless plutocrat with callous contempt for the fans; a man whose Napoleonic, pouter-pigeon swagger conceals a doofus-like understanding of the game and whose pernicious, autocratic meddling has consigned the team to perpetual mediocrity and its players and coaches to a perennial state of harrowing anxiety, all of this starting virtually from the moment you arrived and continuing to his very moment.”

In other words, if you weren’t aware of the criticisms of Snyder contained in a City Paper article no one had ever read, you knew all about them after the filing of the lawsuit.  It was a public relations nightmare that led people to question the advice Snyder was receiving from his highly paid media people and lawyers.  Was Snyder not getting the advice he needed, which would have been to leave the City Paper article in the dustbin of obscurity?  Or was he getting the advice he needed and just ignoring it?

Enter Joseph Rakofsky, who clearly could have learned a lot from Snyder’s experience.

A month or so ago, the Washington Post reported on a botched trial in D.C. in which the defendant was represented by a lawyer fresh out of law school who had never before done any trial at all, much less a murder trial.  I picked up on the story.  So did the ABA Journal and many other bloggers.  All of us are now included as defendants in a defamation lawsuit filed yesterday in New York by Rakofsky.

Here is where the miscalculation comes in.

First, without getting into the allegations themselves, the complaint itself is laughable.  As one wag put it on Twitter:  “Seems like Joseph Rakofsky knows as much about defamation law as about defending homicide.”

Second, Rakofsky has declared war on some pretty heavy-hitters.  I am not talking about the Washington Post or the ABA Journal.  I am talking about Greenfield, Tannebaum, Turkewitz, Bennett, Gamso, and others.  Believe me, speaking from personal experience, you don’t want to rile these guys. They are good lawyers. And they don’t pull punches or mess around.

Third, the suit has created a firestorm of attention on the Internet.   On Twitter, for example, there are already separate hashtags for both Rakofsky and his lawyer. As of this writing, the suit has prompted blog entries at Simple Justice, MyShingle, An Associate’s Mind, and The Criminal Lawyer.  More entries are sure to follow.

Finally, it has become a badge of honor to be included among what is now being called the “Rakofsky 74” (or R-74).  One blogger who posted about the original story has complained about being omitted from the suit.  Others are now scrambling to be brought on board.  Who knew that the criminal defense blogging community could be so united?

In other words, just as Daniel Snyder learned through his experience with the City Paper, Rakofsky has drawn more attention to a misstep in his legal career that, however significant, could have been forgotten within a couple of months.  As someone put it, people are pretty forgiving, and the story was already yesterday’s news.  Why bring it back to life through a frivolous lawsuit?

Somebody, anybody, should have talked Rakofsky out of filing this suit.