This week, Andrew Robert Rector filed a lawsuit through his lawyer, Valentine Okwara, in Bronx Supreme Court against the New York Yankees, Major League Baseball, ESPN and two of its announcers – John Kruk and Dan Shulman. The suit alleges defamation and infliction of emotional distress after a clip of Rector sleeping during the April 13 Yankee game against the Boston Red Sox aired on ESPN and was posted online by MLB.com. The lawsuit is asking for $10 million in damages from the defendants. OK many media outlets have already been talking about how frivolous this lawsuit obviously is. The fan was at Yankee Stadium knowing that the game would be aired on national television. He therefore had no expectation of privacy and thankfully the law has been pretty much settled before the Pilgrims came to Plymouth Rock that mere expressions of opinion, insults, hurt feelings, mockery etc are not actionable. The announcers made fun of him for falling dead asleep during the game? So what? ESPN announcer Dan Shulman referred to the sleeping fan as “oblivious,” while John Kruk, the color commentator opined that the ballpark was “not the place you come to sleep.” Shulman also wondered whether the fan had slept through a third inning home run by Yankee Carlos Beltran and wondered whether now that it was the fourth inning, would this guy sleep all the way through the whole game? In his complaint, the lawyer alleges they called him a “fatty cow who needs two seats” but I did not hear that on the clip. In any event, Can you imagine how filled up the courthouse would be if anyone could sue over such slights? Looking at the screenshot below of the clip, I am reminded of the legal adage that truth is a defense to defamation actions:
So if this is such a clear surefire-loser-of-a case, why am I bothering to write about it? Because it is not enough that the world knows that the case is meritless; something must be done to stop these kinds of lawsuits which do nothing more than make the legal system look like a joke. These cases make a mockery of lawyers as much as they do of the fan who is the subject of the lawsuit. Also, in some bar somewhere two idiots will be saying to each other “I bet he ends up getting money, you’ll see. Damn lawyers” So I need to write just a few snippets about the lawsuit and then a few snippets about the lawyer,and I’ll be done.
The lawsuit starts out by misnaming four out of the five defendants. John Kruk is misspelled “John Kruck,” The New York Yankees Partnership (the legal entity that controls the Yankees) is named as the NY Yankees, which is just brand name not a legal entity. Another defendant is ESPN New York which also doesn’t legally exist. ESPN New York is the brand name for radio station WEPN-FM, The station’s license is owned by Emmis Communications and its operations are controlled by the Walt Disney Company, ESPN Radio‘s majority owner. ESPN, inc. is the legal entity known colloquially as ESPN. The lawyer also left off the legal designation “L.P” of Major League Baseball Advance Media” which operates MLB.com. He did get Dan Shulman’s name right, so 2 points for Slytherin!
The complaint is available online and frankly it is hard to believe a lawyer drafted it. It is replete with misspellings and grammatical errors and with sentences that don’t really make sense Here’s a clip.:
You getting the picture? No? Well in an earlier paragraph he describes the NY Yankees by saying “the New York Yankee is a company . . .engaged in Baseball sport.” Whatever happened to proofreading? Or common sense for that matter? Another gem-of-a-segment:
“The defendant MLB.com continued the onslaught to a point of comparing plaintiff to someone . . . unintelligent and probably intellectually bankrupt individual.” “John Kruck .. .insinuated that the plaintiff is individual that know neither history nor understood the beauty or rivalry between Boston Red Sox and New York Yankee.” As someone who taught legal writing to first year law students at New York Law School for over 7 years, I feel qualified to ask “How did this guy get through law school and pass the Bar?” Believe me I could go on and on presenting similar sections, but I am sure we all get the picture by now.
I decided to try and look into the plaintiff’s attorney, Valentine Okwara and found pretty much nothing. His LinkedIn profile lists him as an attorney at AJA & Associates. When I looked that up I could not find a law firm with that name. The three Facebook listings with that name all indicate that the person comes from Abiu Nigeria but nothing indicating a law practice. The NY State Court website shows he is involved in two cases as a lawyer for two different defendants in what appear to be collections matters. He lists his office as Sutphin Blvd in Jamaica Queens. On the attorney registry site for the court system his entry shows that his registration is current and he is in good standing, having been admitted to practice in NY in 2013. It also shows he lists his educational background as the University of Buckingham in Buckingham England You can sit for the NY Bar with just a British Law Degree but perhaps they didn’t cover the First Amendment to the US Constitution at his alma mater.
When a lawyer signs a pleading and files it in court, he affirms to the court that the matter is not frivolous. Whichever law firm or lawyer the defendants hire to respond to this complaint and I am sure they will be very good ones, should send Mr. Okwara a letter demanding that he retract the complaint or provide some good faith legal argument for its merit. If he fails to do so, they should move for dismissal of the complaint and legal fees before they even answer . Their actions must be swift and the message must be sent that these types of complaints will be swatted down like so many gnats buzzing around your head at a picnic or a ball game. Come to think of it, it would have been helpful to his client if he had some gnats buzzing around to keep him awake and maybe this whole legal debacle could have been avoided in the first instance. I look forward to reading about the case being thrown out soon – very soon please!