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Kelly v. Doe

A lawyer in Santa Rosa, California, filed a libel suit against an anonymous critic who complained on Yelp about alleged inadequacies in the legal service that the lawyer had provided to her.  Noting that the user’s screen name was “Michael L” and that the Yelp profile indicated that she was in San Francisco, the lawyer alleged that he had never represented anyone named Michael L and had never handled any cases in San Francisco. The lawyer served a subpoena on Yelp seeking information to identify the reviewer and then moved to enforce the subpoena. The superior court granted the motion, allowing the lawyer to rely on an affidavit that said only that he “cannot find any case, client, or legal matter that I ever handled that meets the specific facts set forth in the comments.”  Public Citizen represents Yelp in the court of appeal, asking for reversal of the order enforcing the subpoena. The brief argues that the lawyer’s showing was far too general to overcome the reviewer’s First Amendment right to speak anonymously.