Its the oldest excuse in the middle school playbook: Telling the teacher that you didn’t do your homework because your grandmother or grandfather died. Of course it never worked, and guess what – it doesn’t work in Federal Court either.
Attorney Richard Liebowitz has been declared a copyright troll by Federal judges; has been ordered to post bonds on civil cases due to their frivolous value; and now has been held in contempt of court for lying about his grandfather’s death in order to explain a missed court appearance. Liebowitz has filed over 1,000 copyright trolling lawsuits over the past few years in the Southern District of New York, alone for websites allegedly copying and posting a digital image without the photographer’s permission. But get this – its not the photographer who finds out about the infringement, its Liebowitz who then immediately files a lawsuit in hopes of getting a quick settlement and netting a legal fee that’s a percentage of the recovery.
The recitation of what happened is lengthy but a worthwhile read to lawyers and non-lawyers alike. Lawyers who have cases against Liebowitz will want to have this information and lawyers who don’t will want to see how far and how intransigent a lie can be carried. Non-lawyers can use the story to educate themselves about making sure they choose the right lawyer when they need one. It also just provides a crazy tale of lies and stubbornness gone to the extreme.
Strike One: One of his many cases was scheduled for a conference before Judge Cathy Seibel. Liebowitz was as no show. Seibel directed Liebowitz to explain “why he should not be required to pay Defendant’s attorney’s fees for the time expended to appear at the conference.”
Strike Two: Liebowitz filed a letter with the court saying he missed the April 12 conference because “I had a death in the family.” He added that, “this was an unexpected urgent matter I needed to attend to.” He then requested that the discovery conference be rescheduled (and that it be conducted telephonically since he would be “out of the office”).
During the phone conference, Liebowitz told her that “the death in the family occurred on the morning of April 12,” a Friday, and he apologized for not letting her or opposing counsel know. While that normally may have sufficed the judge, a former Federal prosecutor, noted that other issues arising during the conference “reflected negatively” on Liebowitz’s credibility. She pointed to conflicting statements he made about the provision of discovery materials, as well as Liebowitz’s claim to defense counsel that he could not produce those records “because he was out of the country due to an emergency, when in reality he was at a trade show in Europe trying to drum up business.”
Strike Three: The judge went on, “At that point, concerned about Mr. Liebowitz’s credibility, I determined that I could not merely accept Mr. Liebowitz’s representation that he missed the April 12 conference because of a death in the family.” As a result, she ordered Liebowitz to “provide evidence or documentation regarding who died, when, and how he was notified.”
On May 1, two weeks after the telephone conference, Liebowitz wrote the court to “let the Court know the reason for my absence at the conference scheduled for April 12, 2019.” Liebowitz then claimed his grandfather “unexpectedly passed away” that Friday, “and I needed to immediately arrange to be with my family during this difficult time.”
Liebowitz continued, “In the Jewish religion certain customs needed to be done before the Sabbath that I needed to assist in. I truly hope the Court understands this emergency.” Liebowitz did not further describe his responsibilities prior to the Sabbath (which begins at sunset on Friday and continues until nightfall on Saturday).
Seibel immediately dismissed Liebowitz’s letter as not responsive, writing that she ordered him to “documentwho passed away, when the person passed away and when Mr. Liebowitz was notified.” She sought such proof, Seibel noted, because “there is reason to believe Mr. Liebowitz is not being candid.” The judge added, “When someone dies, there is documentation including a death certificate and (almost always) an obituary, and nowadays one’s phone usually contains evidence of what one was told and when.” Since this is not documentary evidence as required, the Judge ordered Liebowitz to provide documentary evidence about what he was talking about. She gave him until May 3.
Strike Four: May 3 Liebowitz told the court he settled the case. I’m sure he got next to nothing just to not have to continue with Seibel’s investigation. Did he tell his client that? I doubt it. Anyway, Seibel was not having it. Seibel noted the case closing did not relieve Liebowitz of his responsibility to “document the death in the family that he says caused him to miss the conference.” Seibel gave Liebowitz until May 9 to document his grandfather’s death since, “I still need to satisfy myself that there is no need for disciplinary or other inquiry.”
Strikes Five Through Eight: Over the following months, Liebowitz filed four “good faith” sworn declarations that asserted he had met his obligations in response to Seibel’s request for proof of his grandfather’s demise. In reply to each filing, Seibel explained that Liebowitz–despite her repeated orders–had failed to offer any documentation to support his death-in-the-family claim. Liebowitz’s court filings did not include his late grandfather’s name (or indicate what side of the family he was on)or provide any documentation. So on July 26, Seibel ordered Liebowitz, “under pain of contempt,” to provide her with a copy of his grandfather’s death certificate “so as to support his claim that he could not attend the April 12 conference, nor provide timely notice to the Court or opposing counsel, as a result of his grandfather’s death.”
Strike Nine: In reply to Seibel’s order, Liebowitz again claimed that he had already “discharged my obligations,” adding that he should not be ordered to “produce a death certificate of my grandfather, which is a personal matter.” Uhm . . . you can’t tell a Federal judge that ordered you to do something that they shouldn’t order you to do something. If you believe the judge stepped out of bounds, you have recourse – go to the administrative judge or file an immediate appeal with an injunction.
Acknowledging that the “death of a loved one is indeed a personal matter,” Seibel held that “whether Mr. Liebowitz has been candid with the Court is a professional matter, so he is not relieved from my Order that he produce the death certificate.” She told Liebowitz that if he was concerned about the death certificate being available on the public docket, he could “provide the document directly to my chambers to ensure his privacy.” Seibel also warned that if Liebowitz did not produce the death certificate by August 26, he would be held in contempt of court, face monetary sanctions, “and/or referral to this Court’s Grievance Committee.” Sane Lawyer: Time to fold right? Just fess up and take your hits, right? Liebowtiz: Hold My Beer.
Strike Ten: Incredibly, Liebowitz again refused to produce proof of his grandfather’s death. In another “Good Faith Declaration,” the lawyer declared that, “I will not produce a death certificate of my grandfather, which is a personal matter that has no bearing on the facts of this case.” For good measure and to just raise the stakes , Liebowitz’s also took a shot at Judge Seibel, saying that since her demand for the death certificate “is of a highly personal nature and not related to this case, it likely constitutes a usurpation of judicial authority.” Dismissing Seibel’s concerns, Liebowitz blithely declared, “I missed a single court conference due to a death in the family. It happens.” All he needed to add was “Get Over It!” and he could have joined the Trump Legal Team. Predictably, Seibel declared Liebowitz to be in contempt of court and began levying fines of $100 per day until the death certificate is produced starting on October 2.
Strike Eleven: On November 1, when he still had not produced the death certificate, and had not paid any of the fines, it rose to $500 per day and a hearing was scheduled for November 13, 2019.
Strike Twelve: On November 13, 2019, Liebowitz showed up with two criminal defense lawyers who did not really help his cause. First of all , it was finally revealed that his maternal grandfather had actually died on April 9, 2019, not April 12, and that his estate had already been filed for Probate by the 12th so there was no urgency or arrangements that had to be made. Liebowitz’s parents are very wealthy living in a 10,000+ square foot mansion so I think they could have had plenty of help in making arrangements if that was in fact necessary.
According to the Smoking Gun website, which apparently had a reporter in attendance at the hearing, Seibel stated that Liebowitz knew he was lying about the date of his grandfather’s death, but “chose to repeat that lie six, eight, ten times” in court filings that were part of a “long-term campaign of deception.” Seibel remarked that he “double-downed, triple-downed, quadrupled-downed, octupled-down, I don’t know what would come after that.” (nontupled down, Judge) More: “I question Mr. Liebowitz’s fitness to practice,” Seibel said at one point during the hearing.
Seibel said that it seemed Liebowitz thought that if he could drag the court proceedings out, that she would lose interest in him. Referring to the “multiple lies” offered by Liebowitz, Seibel said, “I’m sure he’s disappointed I didn’t go away.” The Smoking Gun reports that , Richard Greenberg, one of Liebowitz’s lawyers, said his client was “not playing with a full deck,” adding that he shared the judge’s “mystification” as to Liebowitz’s behavior. Greenberg stated that Liebowitz “was in a daze” following his grandfather’s death, and than any misrepresentations on the lawyer’s part were not “intentful.” Oh boy. Seibel of course dismissed that claim, noting that it was “completely implausible” that Liebowitz’s “haze” continued for the many months he “tried to weedle his way out of the problem.” Seibel was equally unsparing when Greenberg described Liebowitz as a “young, inexperienced, somewhat immature lawyer.” The judge replied that she was “not really super-sympathetic” to the young lawyer argument, since attorneys know not to lie and understand their ethical responsibilities. She should have also noted the thousands and thousand of claims he has filed.
Noting the significance of a lawyer who “intentionally lies to the court,” Seibel said she has referred the Liebowitz matter to the Grievance Committee for review and possible disciplinary sanctions. Seibel added that her contempt rulings against Liebowitz will require him to disclose the sanctions to other courts and prospective clients.
In a letter to Seibel, Greenberg argued that the contempt findings against Liebowitz will damage his legal career. Near the close of the hearing, Liebowitz briefly addressed Seibel, saying he was “really, really sorry” and that his repeated misstatements were “really an honest mistake.” (JUST SHUT UP DUDE!!)
Seibel told him, “Stop kidding yourself. This was clearly not an honest mistake,” she said. Rather, it was a “concerted campaign of deception.”
During the hearing, Greenberg referred to a letter he submitted yesterday under seal to Seibel. In that communication, Greenberg referred to praise Liebowitz received from photographer’s associations and the growing explosion of his practice as proof that Liebowitz is filling a void in IP litigation. He also mentioned Liebowitz’s plans to seek personal treatment from a Long Island “analyst,” as well as professional help in managing his firm. Referring to those remedial efforts, Seibel suggested that Liebowitz bring the transcript from today’s hearing with him when he arrives for his initial session with a mental health professional. “You need to do some introspection,” she told Liebowitz. “It’s time to start facing the facts.”
Conclusion: I will keep monitoring the case to see if there are any updates or whether the court uploaded any documents. This case is just another in the litany of cases in which Liebowtiz has been slammed and/or sanctioned. The Grievance Committee should take note and pull or suspend his license.
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