Although the decision and order are dated April 29th, Justice Shlomo Hagler’s order hit the interwebz after hours on a Friday, a bit of internal irony under the circumstances. Marco Randazza, counsel for a large group of Rakofsky defendants, post the order at the Legal Satyricon, and all 31 pages are available for your reading pleasure.
The TL;dr version is that the complaint, all 1200+ paragraphs and 300+ pages of it, is dismissed. Sanctions are denied.
That the court dismissed the complaint should come as no surprise. It was baseless and stunk, but you already knew that. It was procedurally defective in so many ways that it would have taken a small fortune to expound on the arguments and issues that are normally subject to intense scrutiny in an ordinary case, and most defendants just waved those issues for the sake of expediency and a final determination on the merits.
The decision was judicious, likely crafted for the purpose of covering all the bases on appeal so that it never darkens Justice Hagler’s chambers door again. Its recitation of the facts was simultaneously damning and limited, addressing only the wrongs that came out of the Deaner trial and ignoring all that was learned afterward, and formed the basis for much of the commentary about Joseph Rakofsky. In a way, it’s understandable, given the unwieldiness of the case, the facts, the forests of trees that died for the cause and innate desire to limit rather than expand issues.
At the same time, limiting the scope of the inquiry serves to ignore so many of the critical messages that arose from Rakofsky’s conduct. While it may make sense from a judicial perspective, there were a host of critical issues for the legal profession that were left on the table. This may reflect the difference between how one views the world as a judge versus those lawyers who waste their days trying to prevent the next generation from dragging the profession into the gutter. It may also explain why we’re bloggers rather than judges.
As for the denial of sanctions, this will give rise to some confusion by lawyers and others from foreign (meaning, not New York) jurisdictions. In New York, sanctions are so rarely imposed as to be essentially nonexistent. Was this the one case so outrageous, so frivolous, that sanctions would be imposed?
There are numerous factors that may have influenced the denial of sanctions. Foremost, the dismissal of the complaint would ordinarily be deemed sufficient “punishment.” That’s how New York rolls. But additionally, we have the fact that Joseph Rakofsky will live in perpetuity on the internet as the poster boy for what not to do in so many different ways. More punishment.
Other influences include the sense that Rakofsky’s conduct, from its initiation in the Deaner trial to his websites to his suit against the Internet was, as Justice Hagler termed it during oral argument, a “rookie mistake.” While others would explain it differently, this mitigates the basis for sanctions. Additionally, the court found some comments harsh and offensive, which generates some off-setting sympathy for Rakofsky. While it may not be a legal justification, sanctions are more about “feeling” than “thinking.”
On a firmer foundation, the imposition of sanctions would have been unlikely to lead to any defendant having received a dime, making them more a gesture than a reality. At the same time, it would have given Rakofsky greater incentive to appeal, and exposed the decision to a greater likelihood of reversal, given the rarity of sanctions in New York.
Still, the notoriety of this matter, from its inception to the litigation, offered enormous opportunity for a court, a judge, to explain to a new generation of young lawyers, digital natives who see what was once a learned and honorable profession devolve into the gutter of deceit for their own self-interest, and who will use the courts to burden, if not shut down, criticism of their ways, that the law will not tolerate them.
While it is clear to those of us who spend our time on the internet and try our best to push young lawyers toward the path of ethics, hard work, client service and personal integrity, it may not be as clear to lawyers, even those in robes, who are not as aware of the race to the bottom and its impact on the future of the profession. No one ever said that judges are tech aware or savvy. It’s not a job requirement.
And so the case of Rakofsky v. Internet comes to an end, perhaps with more whimper than bang as hoped, but still with one message that cannot be denied. Joseph Rakofsky’s claims were dismissed. The defendants win. Yes, Rakofsky burdened the defendants with the expense of having to defend against his gazillion allegations, and except for the handful of defendants who lacked the fortitude to put integrity ahead of convenience, the rest of us were prepared to suffer the cost and annoyance because integrity matters. And so the defendants won.
If necessary, it will happen again on appeal.