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I see defamation cases everywhere……

I’m still going with the perceptual vigilance theory. The latest is that Thomas M. Cooley Law School of Lansing, Michigan is suing a New York law firm and four anonymous bloggers for…..

wait for it……

…..defamation, for saying mean things about the school online (and, in the case of the law firm, for posting Craigslist ads re: a potential class action lawsuit against the school similar to the one filed against Thomas Jefferson School of Law earlier this year).

In one lawsuit, Thomas M. Cooley Law School, located in Lansing, Michigan, claims that it has been the victim of ads on Craigslist and Facebook – posted by attorneys at Kurzon Strauss LLP – seeking former Cooley law students to join in on a potential class action suit against the school. (Click here for an example.)

One of Cooley’s concerns with Kurzon Strauss’ online postings regard the school’s student loan default rate, James Thelen, the school’s general counsel, told the Law Blog.

For instance, the law firm allegedly claimed that there were reports of Cooley law grads “defaulting on loans at an astounding 41 percent” in various online posts, according to the papers filed by the school. Thelen claims the actual rate is 2.2 percent.

In the second lawsuit, also filed Thursday, the school claims that four “John Doe” defendants have been blogging and perpetuating online comments damaging to the school’s reputation, Thelen said to the Law Blog.

Cute squirrel, photo by Dawn Huczek, http://www.flickr.com/photos/31064702@N05/

No matter what, I hope campuses will always have cute squirrels

Golly.

First off, I cannot think of a better way for a law school to take a relatively minor and obscure series of comments and complaints (in the form of the bloggers) and make it into something that could be known nationwide (cf. Streisand Effect). The scambloggers are going to have a field day with this. Let the battle begin…..

Second, in a lawsuit claiming damage to a law school’s reputation as a premier educational institution, the law school’s choices so far have been interesting, as Elie Mystal reports:

So far, the most damning statement about Cooley’s education has come from Cooley itself. Cooley president Don LeDuc said that the school filed these suits: “to protect Cooley’s reputation and stand up for our students and more than 15,000 graduates.”

And yet, of those 15,000 graduates, when it came time to defend Cooley’s reputation, the school went with lawyers who were not educated at Cooley.

Not only did the school not use its own graduates for this work, one of the anonymous commenters the school is suing appears to be a recent Cooley graduate. I mean, with friends like these, right?

Third, and I’m just brainstorming here, but isn’t it inevitable that a law firm, in seeking members for a class action, would say things about the potential defendant that would be construed as less than nice? Here’s an example of a firm seeking class members. And here’s what Kurzon Strauss posted to Craigslist re: Cooley:

My firm is currently conducting a broad, wide-ranging investigation of a number of law schools for purportedly manipulating their post-graduate employment data and salary information. Among the many schools we are investigating is the Thomas M. Cooley Law School which claims that 76 percent of its graduates have allegedly secured employment within nine months of graduation.

Finally, let me note the irony (if that is even the correct word) of a law school suing a law firm for defamation because the law firm is seeking plaintiffs for a class action fraud suit against the school. Cooley has to prove that the allegedly defamatory statements made by the law firm are not true, which is similar to the position Cooley would be in if the fraud case were to go forward (although the burden of proof would be on the other side there). Depending on procedural rules in Michigan, Cooley may have just opened itself up to discovery into all of its various claims regarding, say, employment statistics for its graduates.

The law school issued its own statement the day the suit was filed:

The Thomas M. Cooley Law School filed two lawsuits today to protect the reputation of the school and its students and alumni from defamatory Internet attacks. In the two actions, the law school asserts defamation and other legal claims against a New York City law firm, two lawyers in that firm, and four anonymous Internet bloggers.

“With ethics and professionalism at the core of our law school’s values, we cannot – and will not – sit back and let anyone circulate defamatory statements about Cooley or the choices our students and alumni made to seek their law degree here,” said Brent Danielson, Chair of Cooley’s Board of Directors and a retired District Court Judge.

[snip]

“Cooley has consistently and truthfully reported job placement and salary figures in the manner required by the American Bar Association (ABA), our accrediting agency, and by the National Association for Law Placement (NALP), a national jobs-reporting clearinghouse,” said Charles Toy, associate dean of Career and Professional Development at Cooley and the immediate past president of the State Bar of Michigan.

Consistent with all 201 ABA accredited law schools, Cooley’s job placement rates are reported annually to the ABA and NALP nine months after graduation based upon the results of graduate surveys in full compliance with the reporting methodology required by those agencies. Cooley’s reported job placement rates have ranged from the current 76 percent up to 82 percent in 2006, with a similar range reported back to 2000.

“Everyone has the right to state an opinion about Cooley, online or elsewhere,” said James B. Thelen, Esq., Cooley’s associate dean for legal affairs and general counsel. “But our lawsuits contend that these defendants have crossed the line both legally and ethically, -
smearing our reputation with blatantly false and often vulgar statements that they attempt to spread as broadly as possible.”

[more at the above link]

The complaints against the law firm and the anonymous bloggers are posted on Cooley’s website, where they will apparently be posting updates on the case. Between this and the Thomas Jefferson class action, it will be interesting to see how each side of this whole kerfuffle presents its case. Time for everyone to put up or shut up. Grab some popcorn (if you can afford some after making this month’s student loan payment, of course.)

Of course, these are all just the opinions of one guy with an interest in defamation law. Please, Cooley, don’t sue me.

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