from the it's-just-a-little-prior-restraint dept
Over the past year or so, we’ve seen reputation management efforts slide into even shadier territory. Apparently frustrated by Google’s unwillingness to humor bogus DMCA notices, rep management con artists began fraudulently obtaining court orders to get content delisted. The process involved fake defendants, fake plaintiffs, and, occasionally, fake lawyers. In one particular case, it involved forged judges signatures.
Paul Alan Levy of Public Citizen, along with Eugene Volokh (of The Conspiracy), have performed some masterful detective work to uncover at least one of the people behind this new wave of fraudulent delistings. Richart Ruddie, who has already been hit with a $70,000 settlement in one of his bogus libel lawsuits, appears to be reluctant to live up to the terms of the deal he struck with Levy. According to that, Ruddie — who is under investigation by the US Attorney’s office — was to start withdrawing his bogus lawsuits.
As Levy points out in a recent blog post, Ruddie still has open cases in the Baltimore court system. A libel lawsuit featuring irked dentist Mitul Patel and supposed defamer Matthew Chan has yet to be dumped by Ruddie. Unfortunately, the presiding judge — despite being provided with considerable evidence of fraudulent behavior — doesn’t appear to be interested in correcting his rubber-stamping of Patel’s bogus injunction request.
In Patel v. Chan, the very first case in which Ruddie’s involvement in phony consent litigation was discovered, Matthew Chan moved pro se to lift the consent order entered to try to suppress his reviews. That motion was filed on September 1, 2016, and as of the time last month when I began work on our amicus brief, Judge Philip Senan Jackson, who had been hoodwinked into signing the phony consent order, had not yet ruled on the motion — a patently invalid prior restraint was left sitting on the books for nearly eight months after the judge who issued it was informed that there was no basis for his order.
Hey, it’s only a Constitutional violation. I guess it can wait. But it gets worse than simply ignoring the problem. Levy and Chan produced plenty of evidence of fraudulent behavior by Ruddie in this bogus lawsuit — including the use of a bogus defendant, a bogus affidavit signed by the bogus defendant, and a nonexistent physical address (which I guess makes sense, what with the defendant being nonexistent). The other side has produced nothing because it has nothing.
Rather than undo his unconstitutional oversight, the judge has denied Chan’s motion to vacate the judgment, apparently over some filing technicality that appears to be also nonexistent. (Here’s a link to the rule cited by the judge in his denial of the motion.)
Late last week, that situation took a turn for the worse: a one-page order from Judge Jackson denied the motion to vacate on the ground that the affidavit supporting Chan’s motion was not attested in the manner required by the Maryland rules. This ruling is inexplicable – the affidavit was sworn before a notary (see the last page here). I contacted several Maryland lawyers who practice in state court and asked them about this attestation; each told me told me that, as far as they could tell, this was a proper verification of the affidavit. And even if the judge found some defect in the order, there were plenty of exhibits attached to the motion, not to speak of a separate filing by an attorney for Mitul Patel, agreeing that the complaint filed in his name had been submitted to the court without his authorization, and bore a forged signature. Several Maryland lawyers to whom I provided the affidavit shared my reaction – what could Judge Jackson possibly be thinking?
Lots of things come to mind, none of which make Judge Jackson appear qualified to hold this position of power. Maybe the judge doesn’t like hearing he made mistakes. Maybe he’s hoping this will all blow over and he can continue to make the same mistakes in the future. One thing is clear: Jackson’s refusal to address fraud on his own court will ensure his court will be the venue of choice for like-minded fraudsters.