Update (January 24, 2014): Under Eighth Circuit law, it would appear that someone outside of Minnesota can knowingly and intentionally publish a defamatory website specifically and intentionally identifying and defaming a Minnesota lawyer and, absent any other contacts with the state by the wrong-doer, the Minnesota lawyer would not be able to invoke the Minnesota federal court’s jurisdiction over the wrong-doer. (Sr. U.S. District Court Judge David S. Doty (D. Minn.) seems to have been bound by the 8th Circuit’s Johnson decision in reaching his decision in the Wood v. Kapustin case, described below.)
Update (August 5, 2013) (More On Surviving in The Era of Data Darwinism: Knock Wood (And You Might Pay for the Consequences): Do I have to go register “minnesota_litigator.net,” “i_hate_minnesota-litigator.com” or “leventhalsucks.com” and every variant I can think of to protect myself from a bizarre form of on-line reputational attack?
No, I do not. For at least two reasons. First, because I am universally revered and adored. Don’t take my word for it. Ask my mother. Second, it seems that the law is on top of this pernicious technological dysvelopment.
Nadezhda V. Wood is a St. Paul, Minnesota lawyer who, representing others, went toe to toe with Global Auto, Mikhail Goloverya, and G Auto Sales, Inc., of which Mr. Goloverya is President, Sergey Kapustin and others. Apparently money passed hands but not a motor vehicle for which the money had allegedly been paid.
Then Wood set up KapustinCars.com “in order to collect information from individuals claiming to be victimized by defendants.” In response, Global Auto acquired NadiaWoodBlackmailer.com AND NadiaWoodLaw.com, each site redirecting to NadiaWood.net. That site, in turn, included attacks on Ms. Wood, her business, and her integrity.
See the linked order by Sr. U.S. District Court Judge David S. Doty (D. Minn.) to read how one can invoke the law to recover from this kind of digital attack.
Original post (July 10, 2013): Minnesota Litigator has previously and repeatedly addressed the challenge in the digital age of reputation and, in particular, in a field like legal services where “the product” is so complicated and reputation so susceptible to error both by manipulation and/or by mistake.
So, for example, a client’s misconduct in litigation can taint a lawyer or a law firm’s reputation. Publicity about a few “bad actors” at a single law firm might jeopardize the entire firm’s reputation. Sometimes judges call out lawyers for perceived wrong-doing when the condemnation is unwarranted.
What makes today different from bygone days is not only the persistence of data on the internet but also its extremely low cost of dissemination.
While the internet might be an unfair and potentially horrible reputational taint, it can also broaden the reach of well-deserved reputations, of course. And also, on the internet, a single person can issue a statement in response to something that poses a risk of reputational damage. Without any actual out-of-pocket cost, one can post a response to some negative information on-line to an audience of infinite size.
A concrete example is Cloquet, Minnesota attorney Thomas Michael Skare who was recently publicly reprimanded by the Minnesota Supreme Court and who, in response, issued his own press release addressing the Court’s disciplinary action.
Still, even though lawyers can and will have a forum for response or elaboration to some reputationally damaging information on the internet, the problem of the internet and the unfair risk to reputation that it can pose will be with lawyers for a long time to come. Sometimes lawyers cannot fully respond to bad news due to client confidences or other considerations. Under those circumstances, unfortunately some lawyers’ careers will be tarnished undeservedly, without recourse, for the indeterminate future.