Michigan attorney Todd Levitt is again in court this month. Levitt recently lost a controversial libel lawsuit over a parody Twitter account by a Central Michigan University student that mocked his “badass” approach to legal marketing. The opinion (here) found that the site by was obviously a parody and that Levitt, who teaches at CMU as an adjunct, sued Zachary Felton without cause for his “badass parody.” Now, Levitt is suing his opposing counsel, who also teaches at CMU as an adjunct.
In the lawsuit against the student, the court found:
In this case, defendant’s Twitter account, when considered in context, cannot reasonably be interpreted as anything other than a parody account . . . It is unlikely that a reasonable person would interpret these Tweets to have been created by an attorney seeking to promote his business. It would be quite foolish for an attorney to outright state by way of self-promotion that he wants college students to drink and use illegal drugs so that he can increase his income by defending them in court. . . . Second, when defendant’s Twitter account is considered in context, particularly considering defendant’s multiple disclaimers, the Todd Levitt 2.0 account cannot reasonably be interpreted as anything other than a parody account . . . defendant included a disclaimer on the account’s main page, which stated, “A badass parody of our favorite lawyer most likely seen on Main Street.”
The parody did use Levitt’s name, photo and firm logo, but was ruled an exercise of free speech and clearly not something that would be confused with the real thing.
The latest lawsuit now names The Morning Sun, Digital First Media, two Central Michigan University professors and attorney Gordon Bloem as defendants. Bloem represented Zachary Felton. He said that the allegations hurt his practice and has filed claims of defamation, invasion of privacy, civil conspiracy, intentional interference with business expectancy and intentional infliction of emotional distress. He is seeking $1 million in damages.
The key articles stated that Levitt created an award called “College Lawyer of the Year” and then awarded it to himself, but later admitted that it was a fake. In the filing, Levitt says that this representation was false and the publication “despicable.”
The case presents an interesting study of how schools should respond when faculty sue students in cases of this kind.
However, the second lawsuit raises what could be a valid defamation claim if this award was not made up by Levitt and awarded to himself. Such an allegation would have damaging consequences in terms of both profession and practice of an attorney. What is clear is that this is not likely to end any time soon.