Lawyer sues over ex-client’s bad review

Nov 10, 11

“An ugly attorney-client fight in San Francisco Superior Court could help clarify how far clients can go in maligning their lawyers on consumer-review sites.

William Gwire, a prominent S.F. legal malpractice attorney, says hedge fund manager Elliot Blumberg defamed him with posts on complaintsboard.com. In the posts, Blumberg accused Gwire of a “horrific fraud” that ruined his life during the course of a legal malpractice action against Blumberg’s previous attorney.

Gwire filed the defamation suit last year and is representing himself.

Blumberg’s current attorney, Jason Skaggs of Palo Alto, moved to strike the suit, saying it’s a SLAPP — or Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation — aimed at stifling his right to speak out about a legal proceeding.

At a hearing this week, San Francisco Superior Court Judge James McBride was sympathetic to Blumberg’s interest in publicizing his negative experience, but said he may have gone too far with his specific accusations.

“We’ve had a whole argument and you’ve won a lot,” McBride told Skaggs after 20 minutes of discussion, “but I can’t get past the ‘horrific fraud.'”

First Amendment attorney Mark Goldowitz, of the anti-SLAPP Project, said consumer reviews are undoubtedly protected. But to the extent that the “horrific fraud” is seen as an accusation of a crime, the statement may not be protected, Goldowitz said, because such an accusation could be provably false.

“If someone’s saying ‘horrific fraud,’ that implies very specific law,” he said.”

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