ALL RISE (REPRISED)
Twitter wasn't around in 2005, but I gladly would have taken any advice the Dalai Lama (and certainly God!) might have had to offer concerning two significant events that occurred in March and May of that seemingly endless year.
As the case had progressed, and Clark's lawyers had fought us every step of the way, the tide began to turn for some unknown reason. On March 7, 2005, Clark was sworn under oath and testified on her own behalf in Louisiana. David flew there to conduct the deposition in person and proved himself to be a skilled examiner. Under his questioning Clark admitted that although she had acquired legal counsel upon being served, she had never paid a cent to her lawyers. When asked who had been paying her attorney fees for well over a year, she denied knowing. Further questioning, however, revealed that the law firm litigating her case had direct ties (drum roll, please) to the same law firm she had sold -- sorry, "loaned" -- her computer to in exchange for $12,500 as compensation for the inconvenience of its brief absence.
This, of course, was the same firm that represented the large and powerful corporation that tried to silence my criticism of treatment facilities they owned by suing me unsuccessfully. Now it looked to me as if they were providing "protection" to Clark in the hopes, I believed, that she would continue to get away with disparaging my name and reputation. It's interesting that what you cannot sometimes achieve in court you can get done on the Internet.
Although Clark was receiving legal representation at no cost to herself, such was not the case with me. By May 2005, I was not only being financially drained from the cost of litigation, I was so emotionally and mentally exhausted that I felt I could not go on. But whenever settlement discussions arose, it seemed like her lawyers were never willing to get serious about them. In retrospect, I wonder now if the drawing out of this litigation was a strategy in and of itself so Clark could continue, and escalate, her attacks on me.
And so, with no other choice, I soldiered on -- while the legal bills continued to mount. A rather large expense, and worth every penny, were multiple depositions taken of witnesses for me. I feel certain that these various individuals from different walks of life, whose personal and professional paths had crossed mine, played a very significant role in the fast-approaching trial -- that turned out to be unexpectedly delayed.
David had spent the better part of the past year doing depositions with witnesses around the country and preparing our case in an immaculate way. We were scheduled to go to trial on July 6, 2006, as everyone returned from the Independence Day holiday. The irony was not lost on me. But then suddenly two months before trial, Clark's attorneys terminated their representation of her and the judge gave her a continuance of the trial date! As long as I had waited for justice, mine would have to wait. Whatever happened to the concept that justice delayed is justice denied? That was hard to take.
From that point forward, Clark refused to participate in the case. "Do whatever you want, I don't care," was her statement to my lawyer, before she hung up on him. She did not appear at the mediation after being ordered to do so. David continued to mail copies of all pleadings and correspondence to the address in Texas that Clark had provided to the court. The address in question was located in a gated community. Two resort pools, a putting green, fitness studio, clubhouse, business center, and more. Not exactly the Superdome.
It still bothers me that people, including lawyers who don't know about the facts of my case, claim I won because Clark had been a Hurricane Katrina victim and could not go forward with her defense. That's just total hogwash.
She would later claim to the appellate courts and in public that as a victim of Hurricane Katrina she was emotionally incapacitated, but one of her own witnesses had inadvertently revealed in depositions that Clark had sold her house about three weeks before Katrina hit. And after her lawyers fired her, she was so depressed that she moved from Texas back to Louisiana, then vacationed in Las Vegas and got married.
So it wasn't surprising to me that as I gazed around the courtroom on Monday, September 18, M. Clark was a no-show. The day I had awaited for so long, of facing her in court and making her account for herself personally to a jury, was not going to happen. But the trial would go on.
The first thing we did was pick a jury. After what seemed like forever, the judge looked at David and nodded to him to proceed with an opening statement. I was so anxious all I wanted was for the testimony to begin, but he was meticulous in carefully laying out a road map built on the details of the evidence the jury would hear. His presentation was very straightforward and matter-of-fact. But it took way too long in my mind given my almost hyperanxiety about clearing my name. It had been three long years and I was ready for it all to end so I could move on with my life. I wanted to see the jurors' reactions to my evidence, and I wanted to look them in the eyes and tell them my story. I guess I couldn't wait for someone to stand up in a position of authority and tell me that I was okay. Their word, through their verdict, is what I wanted. These were my thoughts as the opening argument consumed much of the morning.
Since the witnesses we had deposed in this case were spread out all over the country, we were able to rely on their deposition transcripts as evidence, with their testimony presented to the jury in written and oral form by David.
If you would, imagine that you're in the courtroom with me. And if you would, imagine that the testimony David is reading aloud is accompanied by the presence of each witness taking the stand under oath -- an oath they all, indeed, took to swear that each word they spoke was the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. And so help me God, the last thing I would ever do is subject these good people to the very horrors I've endured by exposing their actual names in this book.
I don't know if you've already drawn a picture of David in your mind, but this is what he looks like: he's about five feet eight inches tall, not Shaquille O'Neal tall but his presence fills up any room he walks into. He's a smart dresser, and although I've never checked the labels, he probably goes for Brooks Brothers suits when he wants to dress for success, such as this trial. Since I'm in my forties, he still seems young in his midthirties.
David is incredibly intelligent. He could be intimidating with his razor-sharp mind and quick wit if he wanted to be, but I just can't imagine him speaking down to another person -- especially a jury panel that he has a way of immediately connecting with. I'm not sure if it's his pleasant voice, his animated gestures, his eye contact, his sincerity, his passion. Probably all that, and then some. I can't put my finger on what exactly it is about him that commands respect and attention almost on sight, but I'm really, really glad to have this guy in my corner.
The first witness David calls is a middle-aged woman, naturally attractive but showing the signs of stress-induced age. Adults who opt not to have children, or happen to have "perfect" children, don't wear their marching years like this. At least that's been my observation, and I've had more than my share of meetings with parents of troubled teens to draw such observations from.
"Ms. Jones," he says, "could you please tell us, how did you meet Sue Scheff?"
"At a conference in Florida on child abuse in facilities."
"And do you know what PURE is?"
''It's a little company that Sue Scheff set up to try to give parents an alternative and put their children in good programs that she has already investigated to make sure the children are safe."
''Thank you. And do you know an individual by the name of M. Clark?
"I do. Ms. Clark contacted Sue Scheff regarding two sons who had been placed in a troubled-teen facility in Costa Rica. Ms. Scheff tried to assist Ms. Clark by giving her what information she could. And for awhile, Ms. Clark was on our listserv."
"Okay. I'm going to show you what I've marked as Composite Exhibit One, and I want you to describe to the jury what this is."
"Well, they're documents showing how we tried to help Ms. Clark and, at the ending, how angry she got when we didn't do what she asked us to do."
"And who is 'Lisa'?"
"She is the girl who was allegedly raped and beaten at the place in Costa Rica where Ms. Clark's boys were. Ms. Clark had the media there when she went to get her boys back. Then she told me through an e-mail, not through the listserv, that she had a documentary in the works on her story of getting her children from the facility they were in. She needed Lisa to come forward in order to sign a contract for this documentary."
'Was it your understanding that if she was able to get that contract for the documentary, that she would be paid money?"
"Yes, sir, that was my understanding. And she said it would be a sure deal if the victim would come forward. 'I need her to talk to the media in order to get this contract'"
"Do you know what happened when she approached Sue Scheff to ask her to get the victim to go to the media?"
"Sue Scheff repeatedly told her the child was too traumatized and an e-mail went back and forth, and Ms. Clark's e-mails got madder and madder and said that Sue Scheff could do it. She's not helping her. Everyone on the listserve individually wrote Ms. Clark, I believe, and said it is not appropriate, the child is traumatized. She did not get angry with everyone else because she felt like Sue Scheff was the one that could get it done. Sue Scheff was holding it up. She did not feel like any of us had the authority to do it. But as you can see in this e-mail she says that she's going to do what she has to do to expose the truth."
"Did you ever have occasion to read some postings on another website besides your listserv?"
"Yes, after Ms. Clark was removed from the Trekkers, she started posting on another website, and most of her posts were directed at Ms. Scheff and PURE. The tone she used was very ugly, vengeful. She was a very bitter woman."
"To your knowledge are any of the allegations made by Ms. Clark against Ms. Scheff true?"
"Absolutely not. Mr. Pollack, I read those posts for about three to four weeks, and truthfully, they made me sick to my stomach. I quit reading them. I understand it went on for a considerable amount of time, and Sue would call me crying. She felt that it was going to hurt the kids that she's trying to help get placed because she was put in such a bad light all over the Internet. The personal attacks on her, plus the professional attacks, devastated her. She was constantly crying and went into an extreme depression. She was never like that before this happened."
"Based on your knowledge, was PURE and helping kids something that was important to Ms. Scheff?"
"It was very important to her. She lived this twenty-four hours a day. She would take calls at midnight if a parent needed something. Ms. Scheff is very dedicated to PURE and helping other parents. That's her heart."
"Now are you aware of anything that Ms. Scheff did to Ms. Clark that would have caused all of those negative postings?"
"Not what she did, what Ms. Clark assumed she did by not getting Lisa to come forward with the media or do a story. Ms. Clark lost out on any deal she was going to make, and she blamed Sue Scheff for that."
"Do you consider yourself a close personal friend of Ms. Scheff's?" "Not a friend-that-I've-grown-up-with type of friendship, but I respect Ms. Scheff very much."
The sound of David's pause is noticeable in the courtroom. Everyone's so quiet. I have to wonder what the jury members are thinking. I still can hardly believe this all got started because of a documentary that, in Clark's mind at least, I had torpedoed -- a deal that I didn't even know was in the works! Not that knowing would have changed anything. There's still no way I would have tried to push a young victim into the media spotlight for ... what? Money? Fifteen minutes of fame? Okay, I finally have my answer -- and I still can't wrap my brain around a motivation like that.
I keep looking at the jury, wondering what they're thinking, wondering if this day will ever end now that it's at long last here. It's been three years, three years, since this entire ordeal started with the threat, "Sue, you are going down, I bet you are scared to death! You know you are going down because what you have done and are doing is wrong!" And now that I'm having my day in court, I'm desperate for some closure, even more for vindication by a jury of my peers, as witness after witness takes the stand and the pile of documents keeps growing. Reliving all this in a room filled with strangers is painful and makes the old wounds feel so fresh. Especially when David calls Judy Davis to testify.
"Good afternoon, Ms. Davis. You've been sworn in, so you are under oath as you testify in this court. Ms. Davis, how long have you known Sue Scheff?"
"Probably three and a half years."
"And how did you meet Sue Scheff?"
"1 went online after we had put our son in a program. I was doing research and I found her website. I contacted her and was basically asking her questions regarding the facilities that my son was in."
'Was she helpful in her attempt to share information?"
"Yes, she was. She was well-informed and knowledgeable about it all."
"Now, have you ever met M. Clark?"
"I've never met her but I know who she is. Ms. Clark contacted Ms. Scheff because she was needing information and looking for assistance to get her sons out of a Costa Rica facility that her ex-husband had placed them in."
"Was Ms. Clark concerned about the fact that the school was in Costa Rica and she was unfamiliar with the area?"
"Yes. And I know she was taking media with her, and some other man that had been there before."
"When she decided to take these people, do you know whether that was a decision that she made on her own or that somebody forced her to do?"
"Oh, no. That was a decision she made on her own. And I sure wouldn't have gone there myself without taking someone with me. It is a foreign country, and I wouldn't know anything about it or what to expect."
"Thank you. Now Ms. Davis, what I've given you is called "Composite Exhibit One" and on page three you'll see a string of e-mails from the Trekker's listserv. Were the people who were involved with the listserv supportive of Ms. Clark in trying to get her sons out of the Costa Rica facility?"
"Yes. Everyone was trying to help Ms. Clark, not hurt her. But there was a girl that had supposedly been raped at one of the facilities, and I think it was where Ms. Clark's sons were at. And she was trying to get the girl to come forward with the rape, and she was resorting to calling and making threats to both the child and the mother. And she was doing this out of her own agenda to get this girl to go public."
"And did Ms. Clark appear to be very insistent about that?"
"She was more than insistent, yes. She was calling the mother and giving fictitious names in order to try to get them to talk to her. You know, she just wasn't honest in the beginning. Had she been honest with them, it may have been a different story."
"Do you know whether Ms. Clark at the time that she was doing this had received any offers or inquiries about participating in a documentary concerning her children?"
"Yes. It was my understanding that she was trying to use this girl's story ... Ms. Clark was trying very hard to get this story out into the public because it would help her with that."
"Is it your understanding then, that Ms. Clark was going to be paid money to participate in the documentary?"
"Okay, if you'll turn to the last page, would you please summarize what these e-mails are about?"
"They're posts from the website Ms. Clark went to after we removed her from our listserv. In the different posts she's accusing PURE and Ms. Scheff of being crooks ... being a con artist, a fraud, operating a scam ... exploiting families and placing children in risky and possibly abusive programs."
'To the best of your knowledge, are any of those statements true statements?"
"No. Absolutely not. Sue Scheff did nothing to Ms. Clark to cause this. All Sue Scheff ever did was try to support Ms. Clark."
"Do you know whether Ms. Clark ever threatened on this website to post Ms. Scheff's deposition from another trial?"
"Do you have any doubt that Ms. Clark would have posted that deposition if Ms. Scheff had not gone to court to stop her?"
"I have no doubt whatsoever."
"Can you tell the jury how these negative posts affected Ms. Scheff?"
"Emotionally she was a wreck. I mean, here you have someone spreading this malicious stuff via the Internet, and she couldn't go on there and fight for herself. And then financially I'm sure that there had to be repercussions because of that."
"Do you know what kind of financial effect it had on her?"
"I shouldn't have said financially. I mean, Sue never really made a lot of money at PURE anyway. But what it did was -- is put a hamper (sic) for parents to call Sue and get information, so it basically stopped Sue from being able to help, you know, children."
"Do you know whether she might have been able to help lots more children if this hadn't occurred?"
"Yes, I believe that."
"Do you know if people stopped calling her or referring people to her as a result of what these posts said?"
"Do you feel that Sue Scheff is different today as a result of what Ms. Clark did, in terms of Ms. Scheff's work with helping parents and kids?"
"Yes. She's extremely cautious now about who she speaks to and what she says. She would refer parents to speak to somebody else other than speak to them herself because of all this mess."
"I have no further questions, Ms. Davis. Thank you very much for your time."
And with that, Judge Luzzo declared court adjourned for the day.
I remember being beyond worn out. I remember my stomach was in knots and I hadn't eaten since breakfast, but I still couldn't take a bite out of a five-star meal if I had to. I was so drained and anxious that sleep that night was an exercise in exhaustion itself. But come morning, knowing this nightmare would be drawing to an end one way or the other in hours, adrenaline kicked in and I managed to end up at the courthouse in one piece. It was a miracle I made it since I couldn't recall a single light, turn, or other car on the road en route. But somehow there I was, along with the jury, the judge, and the bailiff, while David called the next-to-last witness.
"Good morning. Can you state your name for the record?"
"And where do you live, Mr. Lewis?"
"What do you do professionally?"
"I'm retired, but professionally I was an educational psychologist with a part-time private practice and also a school psychologist."
"And in that capacity you referred parents who were looking to get information about placing their children in boarding-type schools to Ms. Scheff and to PURE?"
"And did you believe that Ms. Scheff did a good job in assisting those parents?"
"Based on your experience with Ms. Scheff during the eight years that you have known her, is there any factual evidence you're aware of to support that she's a crook, a con artist, or a fraud?"
"No. But let me say that after I'd referred a number of clients to her that were very pleased with her services, and in many cases they did place their children in boarding schools that Ms. Scheff and PURE referred them to, I did have a client that I referred to Ms. Scheff for consideration of placing her niece that she was the guardian of in a program. And within a few days the client came back to me very upset and asked if I was aware of all the negative things on the Internet that she read about Ms. Scheff. At the time I wasn't. And she said that she couldn't possibly call her because of all of those negative things that she read, and it turned out that the negative things were about fraud and bilking people or overcharging people and conning people."
"And that client got her information about Ms Scheff off the Internet?" "Yes. She basically typed in either 'PURE' or 'Sue Scheff' in a search engine and that information somehow came back to her, and she was very upset at me because I was unaware of that information, or, if I was aware, I didn't inform her about it."
"Did the information that your client got off the Internet affect your decision about referring other parents to Ms. Scheff?"
"Yes. I immediately stopped referring people to Ms. Scheff and PURE, and I also removed her name from the Northern California school psychologist referral directory because I felt that it was affecting my credibility if I referred any client to anyone that had so many assailable remarks about their services that were public information."
"So those remarks affected your decision not to refer parents to PURE and to Ms. Scheff."
"Well, not only mine, but also all of my colleagues that were making referrals to PURE. There were between thirty and sixty, something like that, at the time."
"Okay, how would you describe the posts that you read in terms of their tone?"
''They were hostile, disparaging, and very negative."
"Is it fair to say that the postings caused Ms. Scheff emotional distress?"
"Yeah, absolutely. Because when she talked to me, I told her that she sounded really upset and depressed. And she said she was so depressed and embarrassed and frustrated and angry that she was really unable to continue working with families and placing their children in programs because she was so devastated by all of the lies that were being put out about her, PURE, and her daughter on the Internet; that she knew other people were reading it, and it was very traumatizing for her."
"You have had extensive experience, have you not, in your profession in dealing with parents who have troubled teens, and with people who have gone through those schools and are survivors of them?"
"And based on all the information that you've seen on these bulletin boards and the Internet, is it fair to say that there are a lot of parents and survivors who are very strident in their opinions about these programs?"
"Yes. And I think it's also fair to say that strident feeling sometimes is expressed in a very hostile way at other people within the community trying to help children, and Ms. Scheff was a victim of that."
"The people that you heard about those postings from, did they say that they had spoken to Ms. Scheff about them?"
"No. They basically said they knew about it and that she had lost a lot of her supporters because of those things, and that they wanted no further contact from her."
"Do you know prior to these postings about Ms. Scheff? Were people attacking her?"
"No. As a matter of fact, she was a leader, a sort of an impresario for people who needed support and consultation. Sue Scheff was always there for them. They could call her or e-mail her at any time, and in my experience, she would always provide them with very supportive, positive advice. She was a leader, someone they looked up to, someone that they wanted to help in return."
"So these posts had an effect on her reputation in the community of people involved in helping families with troubled teens?"
"They were absolutely devastating to her, to her reputation. Given the controversy and all of the consternation and negativity around PURE and around Ms. Scheff, there's absolutely no way that I could conscientiously refer a client to her."
"So even if the information wasn't really true, you still wouldn't be able to comfortably refer clients to her because it would have an impact on your reputation, correct?"
''That's a very good statement, yes."
"Okay, do you know whether any professionals outside of California, outside of your circle, were also referring parents to Ms. Scheff?"
"1 know that Ms. Scheff was getting a lot of referrals from around the country because a few times I called her for consultation, and I would describe a situation or a need, and she would say, 'Well, I did refer some clients to this program that I think would match your needs.' And I heard back from, you know, an educational therapist in New York or Ohio or Minnesota who said that they were very appreciative of the referral, and everything was working out well. So I know Ms. Scheff was getting referrals from professionals like me nationally."
"And had the postings on the Internet not occurred, prior to that time you were getting positive feedback about Ms. Scheff and PURE?"
"I always got positive feedback about her until that one client of mine got really upset that I didn't tell her about the things or didn't know about the controversy on the Internet regarding Ms. Scheff. The clients that I had previously referred to her were very happy with Ms. Scheff and repeatedly told me that she went over and beyond for them, that she was very helpful. And even the clients of mine that didn't place their children in schools that she recommended, she provided them a lot of consultation and a lot of referral information at no cost, and the clients were very surprised and very pleased with Ms. Scheff."
"I have no further questions, Mr. Lewis. I appreciate your time."
And now, the last witness was being called:
I honestly cannot tell you what David asked me or a word of what I said in return. Minds have a way of blocking out events we'd rather not relive. What I do remember is sitting in that witness box, unable to face my accuser of fraud and worse, so much worse, and finding some solace in the next best thing: the jury. Being able to look straight into the eyes of each one and speak directly to them in such a way I hoped they fully grasped what this moment meant for me: I had been residing in a living hell for three years, this trial period was my purgatory, and their decision was my Judgment Day.
David's closing argument was no less than brilliant. He took the vast amount of information that had accumulated over the years and made it simple for the jury to understand -- the defendant was driven by greed, hatred, dishonesty, and a malicious intent. And I knew, no matter how the case came out, after hearing his closing argument I felt I was vindicated. I had prayed so long for someone, someplace, sometime to truly understand what I had endured. That someone was David Pollack. That someplace was before a jury of my peers. And that sometime was now.
The day was September 19, 2006, a Tuesday. It was a little before 2:30 in the afternoon and the weather was sunny in beautiful Fort Lauderdale, Florida. The surf was up just down the street, and my stomach was riding a wild wave as the jury of six somberly filed into the nearly empty courtroom.
I had no idea what to expect. David leaned a little closer and whispered, "Well, this is it .... "I wished for something I could hold onto besides his words since my legs weren't feeling very steady as the bailiff, a very kindly looking older man, intoned, "All rise."
The Honorable Judge John Luzzo, in flowing black robe and wearing his duties with appropriate dignity, took his elevated seat on the bench and asked the foreman, "Has the jury reached a verdict?"
"We have, Your Honor." She handed their verdict to the bailiff, who gave it to the judge -- he nodded in seeming approval -- then back it went from the judge to the bailiff to the foreman. The air was trapped in my lungs and the pound of pulsing blood was in my ears as she began to read, line by line, the jury's unanimous decision.
Suddenly I was crying and I couldn't stop the tears that were streaming down my face as David scribbled the numbers while the foreman kept reading aloud, the jury verdict form clasped in her hands. I had to see it myself, touch this paper that declared the jury's outrage over the abuse of our freedom of speech and the message they wanted to declare loudly enough to be heard around the world. Just listen:
The Limestone Theory
CASE NO. 03-022837 (18)
IN THE SEVENTEENTH CIRCUIT
IN AND FOR. BROWARD COUNTY, FLORIDA
CASE NO. 03-022837 (18)
SUSAN SCHEFF, individually and as parent, guardian, and next friend of S.S., a minor child, and PARENTS UNIVERSAL RESOURCE EXPERTS, INC. a/k/a PURE, a Florida corporation,
WE, THE JURY IN THE ABOVE STYLED CAUSE, FIND AS FOLLOWS:
1. What is the amount of any loss, injury or damages sustained by Sue Scheff in the past as a result of Defendant's actions?
2. What is the amount of any loss, injury or damages to be sustained by Sue Scheff in the future as a result of Defendant's actions?
3. What is the amount of any loss, injury, or damages sustained by PURE in the past as a result of Defendant's actions?
4. What is the amount of any loss, injury or damages to be sustained by PURE in the future as a result of Defendant's actions?
5. What is the total amount of punitive damages, if any, which you find by the greater weight of the evidence, should be assessed against
$2,000,000.00 (for PURE)
$3,000,000.00 (for Sue Scheff)
If you elect not to assess punitive damage against [DELETE] you should enter a zero (0) as the amount of damages, and sign and date the Verdict Form.
TOTAL DAMAGES OF SUE SCHEFF: $6,425,000.00
TOTAL DAMAGES OF PURE: $4,925,000.00
SO SAY WE ALL, this 19 day of September, 2006.
Amber L., Foreperson
What a Court Judgment Really Means
"You can't get water from a rock" is often a self-serving declaration offered by crooks and scofflaws when caught. Obviously they never took a geology class or watched Survivorman get water from the most interesting places, including limestone formations through which water is filtered over hundreds of years.
It's an unfortunate misperception that exists even today. In my former life, prior to venturing off into the e-commerce world in 1994 and starting what would become a venture-backed, e-commerce solutions company recognized as the top new technology company in my region, I was a collections lawyer. Having handled hundreds of thousands of claims, and filing well over 1,000 legal actions each month, trust me when I tell you that there are many ways to collect a judgment. Because a monetary judgment carries with it consequences today that simply didn't exist before. Just as the web and Google are used to attack, they are also used to inform.
A judgment is a public record. So it won't be long before the web becomes a very effective tool for judgment creditors to list judgments and have them automatically optimized like the "product review" and "scam reporting" websites of today. This will become a form of "shaming" judgment debtors into payment, even if they have no apparent ability to pay now or in the future. For the big-money judgment debtors (Sue's experience will become more common), they will become bound by injunctions and their ability to navigate the web, and participate actively and credibly online, may be lost forever. That is going to come as a shock to those who believe there are no repercussions to ignoring the law.
Sue understands that getting an $11 million monetary judgment against someone personally is often meaningless unless it can be collected. While many homeowners may have insurance coverage under their homeowner's insurance policy, Sue's attacker did not; however Sue has retained Louisiana lawyers who are aggressively pursuing collection of the judgment. Now I have a message for the scofflaws of the web, those who think the legal system has no teeth, those who have no present ability to voluntarily pay a judgment, those who believe they can hide behind a corporation (they can't), and those who have moved all their assets overseas. Interest on an $11 million judgment is over $1 million per year. And if you think bankruptcy is an option, you are about to be very disappointed, in most cases.
The law does have teeth. My experience tells me that the majority of those who elect to undertake an online attack believe they have absolutely nothing to lose. Their response to the problems they bring on is that you cannot get water from a rock, or blood from a turnip, so you can just stand in line like all the other people who have judgments. Here is the letter I would like to write in reply:
Dear Judgment Debtor:
As you know, the judge has entered a final judgment in the sum of $1 million against you personally. In addition, there is an injunction in place prohibiting a broad range of activities. If you violate this order you can rest assured that my client will consider bringing civil contempt charges against you and referring your misconduct over to the prosecutor for consideration of criminal contempt of court charges. Despite what you might have read online, there is a ''debtor's prison:' and if you continue to violate the injunction my client will consider offering you the opportunity to learn the finer points of prison life.
We are going into the post-judgment collection process, during which we have an extraordinary set of tools to use to chase you down, chase your money down, chase your property down, and delve into your personal life in ways you have probably never considered. If you work, we will garnish your wages. If you have a bank account, we will take it all. If someone owes you money, we will find out and take it. You must attend depositions from this date forward every six months, during which you will bring all of your financial information, including bank account statements, and we will track down your money flow. If you have a car, we will seize it. If you have a house, we will force a court-ordered sale of it and take the equity. If you have a washer and dryer, a bicycle, a TV, and other personal property, we will send the sheriff to seize it, and we will auction your property off as advertised in your local paper.
If you get a job, we will garnish your wages within weeks. If you apply for a job, or for credit, for the remainder of your natural life this judgment will be on the first page of Google results when you are searched. This judgment will be your online legacy for your children, and the children of your children, to view forever more.
We will require you to appear in court proceedings every six months. If you fail to appear after a show cause, we can have you arrested and held in your local jail until the next hearing date. But rest assured that we will decide on the time and place of your arrest.
If you have any type of retirement account, we will make every effort to seize it. If you own stocks, we will force the liquidation and get paid the proceeds. If you run an online business, we will garnish your customers, PayPal, Google AdSense, and everyone else we can find. They will be required to pay all the money in your account on an ongoing basis to us since we will serve the garnishments every ninety days. If you move, we will follow.
This judgment will be recorded on your land records and become a lien on real estate interests you may acquire in the future. We are reporting this judgment to the credit bureaus and your ability to ever get credit again will soon be gone.
We will follow you to wherever you move, and do the same thing over and over.
The next knock on your door could be from the sheriff, and it could be anytime. But rest assured it will be at a time of our careful choosing.
Obviously this letter is a relatively succinct list of tools and remedies that, together with applicable statutory exemptions, vary by state. But you work with the tools you have. Envision yourself in the judgment debtor's shoes ... never knowing when the sheriff will knock on his door to inventory his household effects, never knowing when the money he is owed by a business will disappear into your coffers, never knowing when he will be required to come in and be interrogated, and never knowing when his car will be pulled over and seized. Yes, you do work with the tools you have, and on a rock, I recommend a chisel.
For those of you who need a wake-up call, for those parents who want to drive the reality of online misconduct into your children's young and impressionable minds, or for those who simply need to know that our legal system is not broken but can offer powerful solutions, I write this open letter. And for those who decide to continue perpetrating attacks on the innocent, for those who embrace lawlessness over lawfulness, for those who try to wrap themselves in our flag and hide behind OUR Constitution, for those of you who have forsaken true justice for mob justice, and for those who have not the courage to stand up and be counted and object, but prefer rather to be swept along with the mobosphere in the latest swarm attack on the helpless, read my lips: If we get involved, we'll come knocking. And you will at that point have few options other than to live a life in destitution. Or go on the run and be looking over your shoulder for the rest of your life.
Can't get water from a rock? Think again.The Awakening of the Sleeping Tiger
Your Time To Speak
While juries deal with individual rights and obligations, and judge on a case-by-case basis the right thing to do, the overriding societal benefit from the jury system is education. Jurors contribute mightily to defining the norms of society and what is acceptable and unacceptable conduct. They are the brave souls who toil long and hard with the singular goal of doing the right thing, and often reflect a wisdom and judgment that lawyers and judges admire and respect. And far more often than not, they get it right.
In Sue's case, they got it right. That jury could have awarded Sue some nominal amount of money. But then what message would be sent by that? Lawyers defending victims of attacks view this as a great victory, principally because it sends out a message heard around the world that the legal system is catching up with the realities of living in today's society. Lawyers for free-speech fanatics characterize the $11.3 million judgment as an anomaly, a decision of a runaway jury disconnected from reality and overcome by the passions and emotions of the moment.
Ignore it, and it will go away. Deny it, and it will be impugned. Attack it, and it will wilt.
But I am reminded of my history lessons about December 7, 1941, and the attack that will live in infamy. While the upper echelons of the Japanese forces celebrated in perceived victory, from the highest reaches of the enemy leadership came the thought that they had "awakened a sleeping tiger:' Attack them and they wilt? Break their back and their will is destroyed? The attack became a defining moment when clarity of purpose was achieved and a unified will arose. And it is very much the same feeling today. Has our society evolved from being mad as hell and not willing to take it anymore to finding Pulp Fiction inspiration in Samuel L. Jackson's well-chosen, albeit foreboding, words? "The path of the righteous man is beset on all sides by the inequities of the selfish and the tyranny of evil men."
If so, many of you know what happened next.
Now, of course, I am not suggesting any sort of violence. This is hyperbole. And the coming struggles won't be easy. There will be skirmishes and battles and campaigns to be fought. But the war has been joined. And all across the country, in our small local courthouses to the grand halls of the Supreme Court of the United States, from the chambers of local city councils to the lobbies of Congress, justice will prevail.
But along the way reputations will be ruined. Very real dangers do exist. Those who have the courage to stand up will be threatened and attacked mercilessly. But there will come those who take this blight of online society head-on. Perhaps it will be for personal vindication. Perhaps it will be driven by a deep-seated commitment to justice, a sense of devotion to our country, or a simple fundamental belief in doing the right thing. But they will come. And one day, the scofflaws and miscreants will dig out of their caves toward the light, only to find that it is an oncoming locomotive. Yes, Sue has built the foundation for others to follow. She has paid the price. And you are soon to find out just how big a price she has paid.