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From Attorney to Troll -- Lawyers' Civility in Cyber Civil Rights

carrie goldberg

Lawyers can be nasty.  Aggressive, mean, attacking.  And then we leave the courtroom and shake hands and compliment each other’s shoes and ask where there’s a good salad in the neighborhood.

On a few occasions things in court have been ugly for me. “Titless freak” I was once called on the record by an adversary, a named partner of a large law firm that defended fraudulent mortgage backers, against whom I’d had a major success.  I wasn’t there when he said that, but a colleague was.  Another time, during a conference when I’d twice corrected my gesticulating opponent to stop putting his hands in my face, finally raising my voice demanding that he “get out of my space,” he said “it wouldn’t be a problem if you didn’t take up so much of it.”  I was about 105 lbs.   I’ve been called “huffy” and told that I have “an attitude.”  A judge, a woman, interrupted a tense hearing about an end-of-life decision for a terminal patient, gestured for me to follow her into the hallway so she could say, “I don’t like you.” 

And the compliments are more galling.  I won’t go into it. 

These stories were always something amusing to tell my sister and friends, rather than deeply offending things.  The stuff for cocktail parties. That’s because they are the exceptions.  I’ve had hundreds of court appearances without incident where I was treated respectfully by judges and opposing counsel.

It’s a different beast I've found when it comes to lawyer-on-lawyer debate about the issue of cyber civil rights, most of which takes place online. Outside the court pillars and inside our blogs, the civility devolves from carefully scripted decorum to unruliness.  The neckties come off, the coiffed hair goes into a ponytail.  For everybody the internet is that place where we can be looser, bolder, less inhibited.  For lawyers, or at least for those of us who engage in the courtroom song and dance, the liberation online is extra pronounced given how straightjacked our behavior is while under the chaperoning eye of judge and client, the perpetual ear of the stenographer.

It’s here online that some lawyers become trolls.  Take the New York lawyer, Scott H. Greenfield who blogs passionately against legislation criminalizing revenge porn. [Note:  upcoming blog post about the common profile of the lawyers in private practice most outspoken against criminalizing revenge porn, many of whom survive on income from civil cases.]  Mr. Greenfield not only disses the proposed laws, although his rants lead me to believe he’s not a big reader, but he also attacks the lawyers who drafted the laws, Prof. Danielle Citron and Prof. Mary Anne Franks.  His vendetta/obsession is most pronounced against Professor Franks with his sporatically updated post that in its title asks readers for revenge porn selfies of Franks and weaves that misogynistic lechery into much of his commentary on the blog as well as the tweets speculating about her sex life, once his infatuation expands to Twitter.  He compares her law to an ugly baby.  His readers love it, joining the attack via blog comments in that barely intelligible way so characteristic of cyberbullies and suspiciously similiar in  lowbrow-ness to viewers’ comments on revenge porn sites themselves.  The most notable comment contributor is Marc J. Randazza, somebody with notoriety for his involvement in high profile revenge porn cases and who tells Frank (via Greenfield’s blog) that “I think your law is fucking idiotic.  Absolutely. Fucking. Idiotic,” and goes on to inform her that she is part of an “academic circle jerk” and should “leave the legal work to the big boys and girls.” 

I can only imagine how many potential clients they drive away.   For those who have the courage to not post anonymously, it’s a mitzvah that they are so transparent about their misogyny and cognitive limitations.  This is useful information for clients so they can seek representation elsewhere from attorneys who adhere to the codes of professional conduct that we take an oath to abide by.

Five months later Randazza returned to the blog as it celebrated last week’s $385,000.00 default judgment against YouGotPosted’s revenge porn operators, Eric Chanson and Kevin Bollaert, for two claims of child pornography and one for right to publicity. Randazza retracts his self-proclaimed “douchebag” statements aimed at Franks.  This drives Greenfield’s little hive into a frenzy defending Randazza’s original hostility.  And thus ignites a new onslaught of stupidity slung at Franks.  Meanwhile, Greenfield cautions Franks and the “feminist cabal that rubs her tummy” against celebrating Randazza’s victory.  It’s their victory and they aren’t sharing.  Let us know when the check from Bollaert clears, guys.  Until then I’d rather rub Professor Frank’s krav maga-chiseled tummy and fight for criminalization than lay a finger on some troll’s gut.