Oct. 2, 2008
‘Cyber’ Lawyer’s Threats, Intimidation Shut Down Web Site
Web Site Operator Has First Amendment Right to Run CyberTrialLawyer-Sucks.com
WASHINGTON, D.C. – A Virginia lawyer used intimidation and bullying tactics, including spurious trademark infringement and defamation claims, to shut down a Web site that criticized him, Public Citizen argued today in lawsuit filed against the lawyer and his firm.
The complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, seeks an order that would prevent John Dozier of Dozier Internet Law from pursuing defamation and trademark claims against Ronald Riley, who runs the Web site CyberTrialLawyer-Sucks.com. The suit also asks for attorneys’ fees, court costs and $1,000 in punitive damages.
In the past month, three successive Internet hosting companies have taken down Riley’s Web site after each company received a warning letter from Dozier. Among Dozier’s complaints was that Riley used his firm’s name to link to an unrelated Web site, which Dozier claimed was a trademark infringement. In at least two cases, companies were told that if they didn’t take down CyberTrialLawyer-Sucks.com, they would run the risk of having the Web sites of all their clients shut down.
Last month, Dozier sued Riley and several related companies in Virginia Circuit Court, alleging “statutory trademark infringement” and “common law trademark infringement.” However, Dozier has never served that lawsuit on Riley or the other defendants.
Dozier’s claims are baseless and intended to squelch Riley’s right to free speech, said Public Citizen attorney Paul Alan Levy, who is representing Riley, along with local counsel Thomas Wolf of the Richmond firm of LeClair Ryan.
“The courts repeatedly have struck down these types of bullying tactics and upheld the public’s right to criticize people and companies on the Internet – something which Mr. Dozier was well aware of when he began his intimidation campaign against our client,” Levy said. “Not liking what someone says about you is not enough reason to throw out the First Amendment.”
Levy argued that Dozier has no right under the trademark laws to force Riley to hyperlink the names “Dozier” and “Dozier Internet Law” to Dozier’s own Web site, and, in any event, his use of the terms was fair use and protected, non-commercial speech. Although Riley’s site admittedly “drips contempt for Dozier Internet Law,” the statements are not defamatory because most of them are opinions, and any statements of fact on the site are not false.
The suit asks the court to declare Riley’s Web site lawful and not in violation of Dozier’s legal rights.
READ documents related to the case.