In this episode of Legal Bits, we cover news of the weird in the world of litigation. There’s the environmental activist in Vermont accused of practicing law without a license, the Alabama lawyer who sued the company financing his practice for trying to collect their debt, the California man suing Facebook over nasty videos of himself, and Pokémon ruining a party with copyright infringement claims. Let’s dive in.
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Annette Smith, founder of Vermonters for a Clean Environment, is being investigated by the state’s attorney general for practicing law without a license. Her organization fights energy company policies that harm Vermont citizens and communities, and she often helps people present their complaints to the state’s utilities regulator, the Public Service Board.
Apparently she’s been too effective. Green Mountain Power, Vermont’s largest utility, feels her interventions have been “highly prejudicial,” but the company is not behind the criminal investigation. The fault may lie with David Blittersdorf, a wind power developer who has crossed paths with Smith several times and lost. For her part, Smith believes the investigation is a way to limit her free speech rights, and she’s not backing down. Good for her. A team of pro bono lawyers is backing her up. Good for them.
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In Alabama, Barry W. Walker decided he’d had enough of his finance company’s collection efforts. He’d used Minnesota-based Civil Action Group for several years to finance his law firm’s work on behalf of injured plaintiffs, but he’d fallen behind in repayment. Instead of working things out with the company, Walker sued for a declaratory judgment to get off the hook.
It didn’t work out well. Turns out Walker was also behind on his state bar dues when he filed the suit, and he’d been suspended from practicing law in Alabama. He somehow thought he could represent his law firm “pro se”. The judge wasn’t having it, ordering him to show cause why the case shouldn’t be dismissed. Walker quietly decided to work things out with the finance company after all.
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Franco Caraccioli of California likes to pleasure himself on video. Unfortunately for him, several of his videos found their way to Facebook under a fake account, “Franco CaraccioliJerkingman”. Caraccioli discovered the videos when the unknown holder of the account sent him — and many of his Facebook associates — a “Friend” request. When Facebook failed to remove the account and videos in a timely manner, Caraccioli sued Facebook in federal court.
At the time he filed suit, Caraccioli was a third-year student at San Diego’s Thomas Jefferson School of Law. So there’s really no excuse for the complaint he filed, filled as it was with irrelevant facts and the wrong law. Simply put, websites can’t be held liable for posts by third parties, and Facebook’s terms of service (to which Caraccioli had agreed) explicitly precluded Caraccioli’s claims. A judge dismissed the case a few weeks ago. Luckily, Facebook also changed its mind and removed the fake account.
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Japanese video game creator Pokémon broke the heart of an avid fan who wanted to celebrate the success of the game characters. Ramar Larkin Jones of Seattle had organized a popular annual celebration of Pokémon since 2012, but the company got word last year and forced him to cancel it. Jones used images of two Pokémons (short for “pocket monsters”), Pikachu and Snivy, on posters promoting his events. He also charged small amounts for VIP access to the parties.
Pokémon sued him and his entertainment company for copyright infringement. Pokémon maintained the suit even after Jones cancelled the event, eventually offering to settle for $4000. Jones worked in a cafe and didn’t have that kind of cash. Luckily, a GoFundMe campaign helped him raise it, and he’s finally off the hook. Boo Pokémon!
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That’s it for this episode of Legal Bits! Share your weird litigation stories in the comments below.