Those of you who are regular readers of this blog know that we maintain a database of legal threats (lawsuits, subpoenas, C&D letters, etc.) directed at online and citizen media (BTW, if you know of a threat that we've missed, please add it). One of the things we try to collect for every entry is whether a party is represented by a lawyer. Not surprising, we've come across quite a few lawsuits where the defendant had to make due without the benefit of legal counsel (what lawyers call pro se).
It's a much rarer situation where the plaintiff is pro se, but it's not unheard of, especially when the plaintiff is a lawyer. Rarer still are cases where both parties are lawyers representing themselves. Well, one of these cases has recently come our way, and as Eric Goldman points out, the case seems to prove the old adage that "a lawyer who represents himself has a fool for a client."
The case involves Stephen Graham Hogge, operator of the blog, Hog on Ice, who was sued in California by former Miami School of Law classmate Fatima dos Santos Fahmy over statements he made about her on his blog, which he describes as a humorist's view of "Guns, God, Food, Beer, Tools, Politics, and Whining."
According to Fahmy's complaint, which raises claims for defamation, intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress, and false light invasion of privacy, Hogge and three unknown defendants "published numerous false, defamatory and grossly injurious statements about her" on Hogge's blog, including calling her a deadbeat, maligning her work ethic, and falsely claiming that she was Hogge's former girlfriend (is that libel per se?).
The plaintiff represented herself in the case, which, as Lyle Lovett has so eloquently intoned, "that's when she knew she had made her first mistake." Shortly after Fahmy filed the case, Hogge, a resident of Florida, served her with a motion to dismiss based on lack of personal jurisdiction and insufficient service of process. The California court initially denied the motion, but on Hogge's motion for reconsideration dismissed the case on October 14, 2008, finding that it lacked both general and specific jurisdiction over him.
I'll let Professor Goldman, who reported on this case yesterday, deliver the coup de grâce:
I've mentioned before that typically no one looks good in defamation lawsuits like this. This case is no exception, especially given that both lawyers are representing themselves pro se, thus inviting the observation that "a lawyer who represents himself has a fool for a client." For example, the plaintiff's case is tossed because she failed to provide sufficient admissible evidence (such as an affidavit) for her factual allegations. Meanwhile, the court spanks the defendant for making filings that exceeded the permitted length, saying that "[a]lthough Defendant is not a member of the California Bar and claims to be "rusty," the Court finds that ignorance is no excuse in this case." Worse, in response to the defendant's factual rebuttals, the court said that it "is not convinced of Defendant's credibility." Ugh.
Unless the parties work out their anger at each other, expect to see the case refiled in Florida. It will be interesting to note whether they learn from their past mistakes and hire lawyers of their own.