Free Speech

CBS News Story on Forged Court Orders Aimed at Vanishing Posts from Google Searches

"I'm trying to figure out how the same links that are in this contract that you were paid $7,500 to remove end up in a fake court order with the client's name?"


See here; you can read more about the forgeries, and about other kinds of shenanigans in my Hassell v. Bird amicus brief. Many thanks, as always, to the Lumen Database, without which none of this research would have been possible.

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  1. It seems like coverage of this dirty trick is improving.

    Have their been any prosecutions for these false filings, or even much in the way of investigations?

    I could imagine these reports both encouraging more opportunists and discouraging those who are trying to keep out of the spotlight.

    1. I know of four prosecutions, see this post (Arnstein, Lichterman, Aukerman) and this post (Pennant).

      1. That’s great work!

        How many hours did you have to put into this? Was most of the work done by interns at CBS who brought stuff to you for review, or did you do all the digging to? How many documents did you have to review to come up with 60 fakes?

        That sounds like a pretty big amount of free legal work. I’m impressed, and glad that someone is out there pounding the pavement on this one.

        1. I’ve been studying this, and related matters, for nearly 3 years now (though not full-time, since I’ve had lots of other projects as well). I’d guess I’ve put at least several hundred hours into this. And this is one of the features of research universities — we faculty members get to research things that interest us, and sometimes those things interest others as well ….

          1. Law schools and research universities are not really interchangeable. Some research universities happen to have a law school attached to them, but the mechanics of law school academics is not at all the same. The academic journals are managed and run completely differently, for one thing. Professional journals among the other fields of a research university are edited by professionals in the field. Nearly all the academic journals in the legal field are edited by students.

            1. James Pollock: I agree that the journal system in law is quite different than in other disciplines. And I have heard that, decades ago, many law schools weren’t much research-focused.

              But today, most law schools (and certainly all the Top 20 schools and, I expect, almost all of the Top 50 and even Second 50) operate on the research university model: They give faculty members relatively light teaching loads (generally 5 hours/week at many of the higher-ranked schools, 6 hours/week at many others), and expect faculty members to do research.

              1. Do you have an endowed chair, perhaps? The tendency is to give faculty a light teaching load, because otherwise it would interfere with their day job. The shift to using adjunct faculty has some advantages… having people working in the field teach your classes helps combat “Ivory isolation”… but the tendency is to hire them because it is cheaper. I got second- and third-semester Constitutional law from a fellow who was acting as the USA at the time, and anti-trust from a private-industry practitioner who got tapped for the federal bench around the time I was graduating, and I got a seminar class on telecommunications law from the guy who represented the city of Portland at the Supreme Court when they were arguing over whether cable Internet providers had to allow competitors to use their copper (the city imposed a requirement of “yes” into their franchise agreements with what is now part of Comcast.)

                Here’s the bottom line: The primary business of a research university is research. Education is a side business. The primary business of a law school is turning out graduates who have a reasonable chance at passing bar exams. They may like it when their profs get mentioned for their research, and a handful are widely known to the public at large, the thing they care about is how many of their former students pass the bar exam on the first try, and how many default on their student loans.

  2. Ok, time for a complete detour….

    The CBS story touts setting up a meeting with the head of a company under what must be false pretenses:

    Hidden cameras set up by CBS News captured a meeting with John Rooney, who runs Web Savvy, LLC, a reputation management firm that buries bad reviews online.

    They use this “interview” to get footage and quotes about his opinion about other companies. Not even first hand knowledge, just something he has heard about other companies.

    And what is that something?

    “Are there tricky ways to do it? Kinda gray areas, if you will? Yeah. I wouldn’t risk it. I’ve seen it done,” he said.

    Some people do stuff in gray areas.

    But that wasn’t the real reason for the meeting. They wanted to spring a court order for a company that employed his company’s services on him. A court order that their internet law expert says is fake. (Our own E. Volokh!) He’s not prepared for this and declines to talk about it beyond denying that he submitted it.

    Classic CBS “gotcha” moment, right?

    Ok, here’s the sideways. How is this different than Project Veritas, a group that CBS and all the other mainstream news companies have decried for their tactics?

    Well, Project Veritas gets the people to talk about what they are doing in their own words, for one. So that’s different. Whereas this “gotcha” is a CBS reporter saying “You did this!” and the subject of the hidden camera saying “No I didn’t”, Project Veritas hidden cameras capture people saying things about what they and their organization are doing.

    I found that contrast interesting. A hidden camera that shows people denying any wrongdoing is good journalism. And a hidden camera that shows people bragging about wrongdoing (or things that are icky but perfectly fine)….. that’s a bridge to far, and certainly not journalism.

    1. Just to close the circle, here’s a CBS news hit piece on O’Keefe, founder of Project Veritas. Their primary “gotcha” for O’Keefe? Some of his “bombshells” are duds.

      Certainly not the only expression of derision for Project Veritas at CBS news, but the first link that came up in a google search.

      Anyway, I found the contrast to be illuminating.

      1. “Anyway, I found the contrast to be illuminating.”

        *rolls eyes*

    2. “Ok, here’s the sideways. How is this different than Project Veritas, a group that CBS and all the other mainstream news companies have decried for their tactics?”

      Editing to take people’s words out of context, mostly.

      1. When your target audience consists of downscale, gullible partisans, a few liberties in the service of polemics are to be expected and (by the credulous and uneducated) excused.

        1. Well, Art, the original claim is that partisans of both kinds are gullible and that outlets that cater to them are indistinguishable.

          I’m not a fan of broadcast news for anything other than breaking news headlines and coverage of things that are particularly visually interesting (car accidents, fires, and civil unrest.)

          1. People who can’t (or won’t) distinguish the New York Times, CBS News, and Washington Post from Project Veritas, Breitbart, and Gateway Pundit are deficient.

            1. They have no trouble distinguishing them. They just have a different opinion as to which can be trusted, and which can’t.

  3. Professor Volokh, it seems to me cases like this one are a new thing in the world—new since the internet. I suspect that even looking to whatever conduct would be analogous pre-internet, you would not find near so many examples as seem to turn up now.

    If I am right about that, it suggests to me that what you are illustrating is not some newly-emerged species of moral failure, but instead something new the internet is, somehow, bringing to the fore. Why treat this as primarily a legal problem, if the history shows it to be more an internet-related problem? Why look endlessly for legal remedies in case after case, if the problem is something which could be eliminated by managing websites differently?

    1. Forgery is not a recent invention. Finding novel ways to monetize forgery isn’t new, either, although it does involve some creativity. Making fake court orders will usually get tripped up quickly, because the real court is still there and, for those who know how, easy to check with to determine validity. This is one of a relatively few ways to use a forged court order that isn’t likely to cause someone to call the court and verity the authenticity, because the person the forgery is delivered to has no skin in the game, and no reason (other than inertia) not to want to comply. Make the target aware that forged court orders may exist, and they should check them before complying with them, and the value of forged court orders dissipates, forcing the forgers to apply some more creativity to find a new way to profit from their skills, such as they are.

  4. Ken White at Popehat has some excellent posts on these kinds of fraud.
    The same kind of mentality of people SWAT-ting folks they disagree with.

    Technology enables the ability to do this.
    BTW, didn’t some of the non-existent women who allegedly claimed Trump had attacked them have fake addresses and names on their court filings ? Does no one check this stuff? Apparently, not.

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