If there is any quicker way to bring negative attention to negative news, I don’t know of it. Joseph Rakofsky seems to have a lock on ruining his own career by “suing the internet.”
It all started with Rakofsky, a new-ish lawyer who was representing Dontrell Deaner in a murder case in Washington, D.C. The Washington Post reported in its article D.C. Superior Court Judge Declares Mistrial Over Attorney’s Competence in Murder Case:
A D.C. Superior Court judge declared a mistrial Friday in a 2008 murder case and allowed the defendant to fire his New York-based attorney, who exhibited what the judge said were numerous signs that he lacked knowledge of proper trial procedure, including telling the jury during his opening statements that he had never tried a case before.
Judge William Jackson told attorney Joseph Rakofsky during a hearing Friday that he was “astonished” at his performance and at his “not having a good grasp of legal procedures” before dismissing him.
Rakofsky’s Web page on lawsearch.net says he specializes in criminal law, DUIs, traffic law, malpractice law and negligence. He lists his firm’s address as 14 Wall St. in Manhattan, but the New York state attorney registration offices have no record of Rakofsky being licensed in New York. Rakofsky, who received his law degree from Touro College in Brooklyn, N.Y., in 2009, has been licensed in New Jersey since April 29, 2010.
“There was not a good grasp of legal procedures of what was, and was not, allowed to be admitted in trial, to the detriment of Mr. Deaner,” Jackson told Rakofsky.
Later during his statement, Rakofsky informed the jury that the case was his first trial. The revelation shocked Jackson, the judge revealed at Friday’s hearing. “I was astonished someone would represent someone in a murder case who has never tried a case before,” the judge said.
And the ABA Journal posted a similar story, quoting the Washington Post at times. The story included the following:
The judge declared a mistrial after reviewing a court filing in which an investigator had claimed Rakofsky fired him for refusing to carry out the lawyer’s emailed suggestion to “trick” a witness, the story says. Rakofsky’s suggestion allegedly read: “Thank you for your help. Please trick the old lady to say that she did not see the shooting or provide information to the lawyers about the shooting.”
I’m not sure which is the bigger story here: the judge allegedly calling out Rakofsky for being incompetent (Rakofsky says that didn’t really happen), or Rakofsky’s version of his supposed expertise. His profile mentioned above says he “specializes” in “criminal law,” yet this case was reportedly his first criminal trial. Not to mention the fact that Rakofsky graduated from law school in 2009, and as a solo practitioner with no apparent guidance in his firm from more experienced attorneys, it’s unlikely that he has true expertise in anything law-related. (No, his apparently very brief stint at a larger firm couldn’t have taught him enough to be a specialist of any sort, either.)
What follows are numerous “likes” and positive comments from Rakofsky’s friends, including some from people who appear to be fellow Touro Law students. I’m going to believe that these people are supporting Rakofsky’s bare-bones status update and did not engage in independent investigation to ascertain exactly how Rakofsky ended up “securing” this mistrial. I’m going to believe that, because frankly the alternative is too terrible to contemplate. The thought of Touro pumping out kids who think ignorance and embarrassment are effective tools in the lawyer’s arsenal would keep me awake at night.
I don’t know if Rakofsky’s Facebook status and follow-up comments should be considered bragging, but these things certainly don’t paint a good picture of him.
So after a fair amount of shame and humiliation, what’s a newish attorney to do? Shut his mouth and let the story die (which happens surprisingly quickly, thanks to an internet with vast quantities of information being updated by the second)? Or bring more attention to the issue and guarantee that it is reported widely (and forever a part of any Google search on Rakofsky, since the internet never forgets)?
In a move that would appear to support the judge’s alleged low opinion of Joe Rakofsky, the young lawyer decided to bring even more negative attention to himself.
We’re not talking about a blog post, article, or letter to anyone explaining that the case didn’t go down like everyone was saying. That might be understandable. Everyone wants to defend himself or herself, and so it would be reasonable for Rakofsky to want to have his say.
No, no, no. Rakofsky didn’t take such a reasonable approach. Attorney Joseph Rakofsky instead decided to sue the internet for talking about him. Rakofsky and Rakofsky Law Firm P.C. have sued more than 80 defendants at last count, including individuals, websites, and companies. Now that, my friends, is one way to guarantee you a permanent place in internet history, and not in a good way.
To sum up the lawsuit, Joey implies that he did an amazing job, and that he asked to withdraw from the case after the defendant requested he ask certain questions of a witness, which Joey did not want to ask. He says he knew that his withdrawal would cause a mistrial, but that all his good work would help the next defense lawyer. The judge granted the motion to withdraw.
Rakofsky says in his complaint:
After stating that RAKOFSKY’s motion for withdrawal as lead counsel for the defendant was precipitated by a conflict with the defendant which the defendant confirmed, Judge Jackson next uttered several statements in open court that slandered RAKOFSKY’s knowledge of courtroom procedure. The statements slandered RAKOFSKY because they were plainly irrelevant to the trial and RAKOFSKY’s motion to withdraw as lead counsel, which RAKOFSKY had made on March 31,2011 and which Judge Jackson then stated he was inclined to grant.
He goes on to say that no one told him he had done anything wrong in the courtroom, and Rakofsky’s more experienced co-counsel never corrected anything he did in court. Rakofsky alleges that the judge then defamed him with a statement regarding Rakofsky “not having a good grasp of legal procedures.” He complains about investigator Adrian Bean submitting a complaint to the court regarding Rakofsky’s request to “trick” a witness, which Rakofsky tries to explain away.
Joseph Rakofsky then goes through each of the more than 80 defendants and makes claims against them, largely of defamation for publishing what they published in newspapers and on blogs. He claims the Washington Post deliberately misstated what documents in the case said and had a “reckless disregard for the truth.” Rakofsky claims that people improperly reported that the defendant “fired” him, when the record shows Rakofsky asked to withdraw.
The claims appear to be largely on the basis that the writers reported facts incorrectly, although it appears to me that the writers were largely quoting or paraphrasing from earlier articles. His claims appear to be on par with hair splitting.
The defendants were allegedly trying to inflict severe emotional distress onto Joseph Rakfosky. And he vaguely accuses them of interfering with his contracts, since he relied on the internet to get new clients and all this anti-Rakofsky material is now all over the internet. One article he takes particular umbrage to states:
You aren’t willing to pay the price that Joseph Rakofsky is now going to pay.. The internet will not be kind to Rakofsky, nor should it. If all works as it should, no client will ever hire Rakofsky again. Good for clients. Not so much for Rakofsky, but few will cry about Rakofsky’s career suicide.
[snip] But before you do anything that comes close, think about Joseph Rakofsky. And know that if you do what he did, I will be happy to make sure that people know about it. There are probably a few others who will do so as well. What do you plan to do about those loans when your career is destroyed?
The complaint winds down by claiming that:
….he has been deprived of the ability to provide legal services. In addition, RAKOFSKY suffered mental anguish and pain and suffering, for which, it will require physical rehabilitation and psychological treatment for the rest of his life, to deal with the various traumas associated with his reputation being destroyed due to the intentional or negligent acts…
And that the acts by the many defendants:
…which has caused his health and quality of life to be profoundly impaired, has lost his ability to work in a meaningful way and to provide, for himself, the basic necessities that a human being requires for survival now and hereafter.
What if the facts as reported by the Washington Post and repeated by many bloggers were slightly different than reality? What if they were blatantly false? I’m no lawyer, but it seems that there isn’t a good case against any of the authors who repeated the allegations and gave their own take on them. I know all too well how devastating false allegations of defamation can be. (Fortunately for many of the defendants in this case, I can’t imagine the case getting any sort of traction in court.)
And maybe the allegations aren’t really false at all, at least when it comes to his performance in the courtroom. It seems Joey Rakofsky protests too much. An alleged member of the jury in Rakofsky’s criminal trial which started everything, said:
Right now, I am looking at a letter adressed to me from Judge William M. Jackson, thanking me for my jury service on the Deaner trial….and I feel obliged to set the record straight as just that “indsider”. Additionally, I’d like to thank the judge for his extreme tolerance of Mr Rakofsky’s antics…..to those of us on the jury, we were stupified and, having sat on many trials in the past myself, Judge Jackson gave Mr Rakofsky as much “leash” as was professionally possible. It’s Mr Rakofsky’s own fault, and frankly narcissism, that allowed him to “hang” himself with that leash and draw a mistrial.
It was obvious from the opening statements that Mr Rakofsky was way out of his league and poorly trained for a proper court defense. Whatever momentary empathy any of us on the jury may have felt for Mr Rakofsky’s absolute ineptitude, were quickly absolved by our knowledge that a young man’s entire life was at stake. The absolute amateurish antics displayed by Mr Rakofsky were repulsive and oddly narcissistic. He had very little command of the law, and now hearing that Mr Deaner’s family actually hired him is truly upsetting. Most of us assumed that this was a court ordered public defender that may just have been too young and overwhelmed by a huge docket of cases to put together a proper defence.
Additionally, the quotes above from Rakofsky [as well as the Facebook entries] make my stomach absolutely turn. His poor performace was much much more than a lack of training and time….he truly had no grasp for how to handle a proper criminal court trial and it was obvious to EVERYONE in the court that he had trouble even putting a proper thought together, often repeating and repeating himself over and over to the audible gasps from the jury. Now, hearing his responses on facebook, I am truly repulsed that this “attorney” could defend his own actions while he wasted the time of the court, those of us on the jury, the money of DC taxpayers and most importatly jeopardized the life of the person he was defending. It’s an absolute travesty and mockery of the fragile system that protects ALL of our rights.
My bit of fatherly advice: If you don’t want to become the poster boy for legal incompetence and deception, don’t be incompetent or deceptive. Commencing a ridiculous lawsuit is never a good answer.
What has all this “suing the internet” nonsense gotten Joseph Rakofsky? Far more negative attention than the criminal case in Washington D.C. would have ever garnered him, even in light of the Washington Post article and follow-up articles by other sites. What better way to get more bloggers and journalists to pile on than to sue so many people over a news story, that your suit gets nicknamed Rakofsky v. Internet.
Rakofsky has subjected himself to the Streisand effect… A current Google search for “Rakofsky suing the internet” turned up 20,000 results today. I can only surmise that the number of negative mentions of lawyer Joe Rakofsky will continue to grow.