A young lawyer who gained some fame by having his first-ever case tossed out of court by an angry judge* has decided to fight back by suing not just the Washington Post, which first thrust his name into the spotlight, but some 80 other reporters, news outlets and legal writers. It's not going well, and today a judge will consider motions by the defense to dismiss his complaint.
The case, dubbed by law blogger and defendant Scott Greenfield as "Rakofsky v. Internet," hinges, strangely enough, on a sort of twisted victory for upstart litigator Joseph Rakofsky. The first trial that the freshly sworn-in attorney took on was a Washington D.C. murder case in March. The judge in the case declared a mistrial, according to the Post story that spurred the lawsuit:
Judge William Jackson told attorney Joseph Rakofsky during a hearing Friday that he was "astonished"at his performance and at his "not having a good grasp of legal procedures" before dismissing him.
What angered Jackson even more was a filing he received early Friday from an investigator hired by Rakofsky in which the attorney told the investigator via an attached e-mail to "trick" a government witness into testifying in court that she did not see his client at the murder scene.
Despite the judge's comments, Rakofsky considered the mistrial a victory of sorts and bragged about it on Facebook.
However, he later told the Washington City Paper that he felt "humiliated" by the decision. By that time, his case had gotten the attention of a phalanx of legal bloggers, who would show him he hadn't begun to understand the meaning of the word "humiliated." The blog posts, collected here by law blogger Mark Bennett, told the story of a recently minted lawyer who blanketed New Jersey, New York and Washington, D.C. with advertisements online and in cheap newspapers, playing up experience he didn't have. Blogger and defense counsel for the defendant-lawyers Eric Turkewitz notes that many of his touted achievements came while he was an intern. Bennett himself ran some screen shots of a Rakofsky ad showing what he called "fraudulent trustworthy grey-haired lawyer pictures."
Since his online skewering in April, Rakofsky has apparently scrubbed the Web of his presence. His law firm's site is down, his listing on lawsearch.net, which the Post quoted in its story, has been deactivated, and a New York cell phone number associated with his listing in Washington, D.C. has been disconnected. We did find a working phone number for his office, which we've called, but with no answer as of yet. We also put in two calls to his attorney, Richard Borzouye, who has also not replied. We'll update if we hear from them.
Eventually, Rakofsky had had enough of the online bashing. On May 16 he filed suit in the New York Supreme Court, alleging defamation by some 81 different parties, including the Post, a host of law bloggers, Thompson Reuters, and Post reporter Keith Alexander. Amid the 217 points within the 81-page complaint, is an account of a prickly exchange between Rakofsky and Alexander that seems to have gotten under the now-plaintiff's skin:
With the lawsuit underway in court and scores of attorney-defendants working simultaneously to have it thrown out, it seems unlikely we'll see a judgment in the case of Rakofsky v. Internet. But Greenfield, who runs the Simple Justice blog, said via telephone that the point of the debacle wasn't to protect the defendants from having to pay damages, but to send a message. "What he’s doing here is the kind of thing that really has to be made clear that neither some kid nor some newspaper nor somebody else can think that if you sue a long list of people who say mean things about you that a) it’s going to go away or b) they’re going to give you a dime... We’re taking a firm stance, and it needs to be understood that even though we’re just a bunch of dopey bloggers, we’re not inclined to be pushed around by anybody."
*Shortly after this story was published, Rakofsky wrote in to object to the original lead's use of the word "incompetence." His suit argues that the "mistrial was based solely upon Rakofsky's motion to withdraw as counsel because a conflict existed between him and his client."