Statements on law firm website result in attorney suspension

New Hampshire’s Supreme Court Committee on Professional Conduct accused the respondent of violating New Hampshire Rule of Professional Conduct 7.1, which provides that a lawyer is prohibited from making a “false or misleading communication about the lawyer or the lawyer’s services.” Under the rule, a communication is false or misleading if it “contains a material misrepresentation of fact or law.”

The website for the respondent’s law firm “suggested that he had experience in helping small businesses file direct public offerings, although [he] had only drafted offerings that had never been filed.” The referee appointed to the case determined that the language on the website “advertised [the respondent’s] expertise in financing and raising capital even though ‘he did not have any special training or experience in securities law.'” The referee determined that such statement was a violation of Rule 7.1, and the state’s Supreme Court affirmed the decision.

Richmond’s Case, — A.2d —, 2005 WL 1048105 (N.H., May 6, 2005).

Morgan Freeman wins transfer of from cybersquatter

Perhaps Morgan Freeman never learned about the high profile domain name disputes involving celebrity names (e.g., Madonna, Bruce Springsteen and Julia Roberts), because he didn’t register before it was snatched up by Mighty LLC in April 2003. After learning about Mighty LLC’s cybersquatting, Freeman filed a complaint before a WIPO arbitration panel under the Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy.

Mighty LLC didn’t respond to Freeman’s complaint, so the decision never had the opportunity to be very instructive. Prior to the filing of the complaint, Freeman’s attorneys contacted Mighty LLC, to which Mighty LLC responded: “Your client isn’t the only Morgan Freeman. Why do you think he/she is entitled to the domain name?”

The panel found that Freeman’s long and successful career made his name distinctive for use in connection with movies and entertainment services. The panel also recognized Freeman’s rights in the domain name based on a pending United States trademark application for MORGAN FREEMAN [Serial No. 78/531,828]. The panel further held that the circumstances indicated Mighty LLC had no rights or legitimate interests in the domain name, and that it was registered in bad faith.

A regular reader of this weblog (or listener to the podcast) will recognize that Mighty LLC is no stranger to domain name disputes.

Freeman v. Mighty LLC, Case No. D2005-0263 (April 28, 2005).

Microsoft website unreliable as a matter of law

An appellate court in Michigan has affirmed the trial court’s refusal to take judicial notice of information on Microsoft’s website relating to the corruption of server event log files. The court found that Microsoft’s website is not a “source whose accuracy cannot be reasonably questioned.”

After Valrene Mae Schilke was terminated from her position as a technical analyst for Express Management Services, she did what a lot of fired IT workers have probably dreamed of doing: she wrought havoc on the company’s network. Unfortunately for Schilke, however, she didn’t cover her tracks well enough to prevent investigators from tracing malicious activity to the IP address for her home computer. She was charged with one count of “unauthorized access to a computer” under Michigan law, and a jury convicted her of the crime.

At trial, Schilke admitted that she changed the network’s administrative password, deleted user accounts, and took home backup tapes and CDs without authorization. Schilke was also accused of deleting the computer system’s “event log,” but she denied this claim. She argued that a known defect in Microsoft software was instead responsible for the missing event log information. She asked the court to take judicial notice of information contained on Microsoft’s website regarding corruption of event log files.

According to the decision, under Michigan law, for a court to take judicial notice, a fact “must be one not subject to reasonable dispute in that it is either (1) generally known within the territorial jurisdiction of the trial court or (2) capable of accurate and ready determination by resort to sources whose accuracy cannot reasonably be questioned.” The trial court found that the alleged problem with the event logs was not “capable of accurate and ready determination,” and that “the Microsoft web site does not constitute ‘a source whose accuracy cannot be reasonably questioned.'”

The appellate court held that the trial court did not err in refusing to take judicial notice of the Microsoft website. It affirmed the defendant’s conviction and sentence.

People v. Schilke, 2005 WL 1027039 (Mich.App., May 3, 2005).

Wal-Mart on the domain name war path

WIPO arbitration panel orders transfer of

Wal-Mart seems to have been particularly vigilant lately about protecting itself from third parties setting up websites critiquing Wal-Mart and its practices. See, for example, recent blog postings by Eric Goldman, Kevin Heller, and an article from

Wal-Mart recently scored a victory in an arbitration proceeding under the Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy (“UDRP”) before the World Intellectual Property Organization (“WIPO”) against Jeff Milchen, a self-proclaimed critic of Wal-Mart from Bozeman, Montana who registered the domain name “”.

The arbitration panel took great liberty with the factors set forth in the UDRP to determine that Milchen registered the domain name in bad faith. The panel found that Wal-Mart had “not adduced sufficient facts to show the existence of one of the bad faith elements under paragraph 4(b) [of the UDRP].” Instead, the panel noted that the 4(b) elements are not exclusive, and looked at “the totality of the circumstances surrounding the registration and use of the Domain Name” to determine that bad faith existed.

In taking this “totality of the circumstances” approach, the panel considered four factors to find that the domain name was registered in bad faith. First, the respondent had not used the domain name to post content constituting fair use or any other legitimate purpose. Second, the respondent knew of Wal-Mart’s trademark rights when he registered the domain name in January of 2005. Third, the respondent’s “admitted animus” was an indication of actual malice and ill will toward Wal-Mart. Fourth, the use of the entire Wal-Mart trademark in the domain name made it difficult for users of the Internet to infer a legitimate use of the domain name by the respondent.

Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Milchen, Case No. D2005-0130 (April 10, 2005).

Listing in web directory not enough for personal jurisdiction

Plaintiff Kalk, a resident of Delaware, filed suit in federal court in Delaware against his former employer, Fairfield Language Technologies, who has its principal place of business in Virginia. The dispute arose out of Kalk’s employment by Fairfield in the state of Florida.

Fairfield moved to dismiss the complaint for lack of personal jurisdiction. The court granted the motion. Fairfield argued that it did not transact business in Delaware or own property there, nor had it purposefully availed itself to the privilege of conducting activities in Delaware.

The only evidence Kalk submitted regarding Fairfield’s contacts with Delaware was evidence of a link to and description of Fairfield’s website on the Delaware Immigration Directory’s website. This evidence was not persuasive. The court found that Kalk adduced no evidence that Fairfield sought to be listed on the website. Thus, the court held that Kalk’s evidence was insufficient to show purposeful availment.

Kalk v. Fairfield Language Technologies 2005 WL 945715 (D.Del., April 22, 2005).

Employer had legitimate reason to fire employees for violating company e-mail policy; court found no age-based discrimination

In the case of Rizzo v. PPL Service Corp., the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania has awarded summary judgment in favor of the employer in an age discrimination lawsuit filed by former employees who were fired after sending and receiving personal e-mail at work.

PPL Service Corporation had a zero-tolerance policy against employees using their e-mail accounts to send and receive non-work related messages. After an internal investigation revealed they were in violation of this strict policy, plaintiffs were fired. Believing that the alleged violation of the e-mail policy was merely a pretext for illegal age discrimination, the plaintiffs filed suit against PPL under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, 29 U.S.C. § 621 et seq.

PPL moved for summary judgment, and the court granted the motion. Because there was no direct evidence of age discrimination, the court applied the burden shifting analysis set forth in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 93 S.Ct. 1817 (1973). Under this analysis, a terminated employee has the initial burden of presenting a prima facie case of discrimination. The burden then shifts to the employer to show a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for the alleged adverse employment action at issue. If the employer makes this showing, the burden shifts to the plaintiff to show the stated reasons are pretextual.

In this case, the court found that the plaintiffs presented a prima facie case of age-based discrimination. The record revealed that there was a disproportionate number of employees in the protected group (above 40 years old) who were investigated for improper e-mail use. Furthermore, the only people terminated as a result of the investigation were above 40.

There was no dispute, however, that the employer had presented a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for terminating the plaintiffs. The plaintiffs admitted they were aware of the company’s e-mail usage policy, and admitted they had sent and received prohibited messages.

Notwithstanding the legitimacy of the employer’s reason for termination, the plaintiffs argued that the offered reason was merely a pretext. The court found otherwise, and noted that the plaintiffs presented no evidence that age played any role whatsoever in the decision to terminate them.

Rizzo v. PPL Service Corp., 2005 WL 913091 (E.D.Pa., April 19, 2005).

Court upholds police radio hacker’s conviction under Computer Fraud and Abuse Act

In the case of U.S. v. Mitra, The Seventh Circuit has upheld the defendant’s conviction under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, 18 U.S.C. § 1030, for using a powerful radio transmitter and computer hardware to intentionally interfere with a computerized radio “trunking system” that coordinated police radio and other emergency communications.

Rajib Mitra, already a convicted hacker, used radio hardware and computer gear to send out a powerful signal that blanketed all of the communication towers in Madison, Wisconsin used by the police, fire, ambulance and other emergency personnel. This blanketing prevented users of the city’s communications system from accessing the “control” channel, this disabling the entire communication network based on a “trunking system” that linked the entire city’s emergency personnel.

Mitra was charged under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (the “Act”), and went to trial in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin. A jury convicted him of two counts of intentional interference with computer-related systems used in interstate commerce. Mitra sought review of his conviction.

On appeal, the court held that even though the Act does not specifically address radio trunking systems, interference with such technology is included in the Act’s scope. Mitra had argued that Congress could not have intended such broad coverage, because the Act was drafted before trunking systems were brought to market.

The court rejected this argument, noting legislators “know that complexity is endemic in the modern world and that each passing year sees new developments.” Therefore, Congress can craft legislation in a general manner that will cover emerging technologies. Furthermore, and apparently dispensing with the notion of legislative intent, the court stated that “what Congress would have done about trunking systems, had they been present to the mind of any Senator or Representative, is neither here nor there.”

Mitra next argued that the statute could not rightfully prohibit his conduct, because the radio signals he sent did not cross state lines, and thus his actions did not involve interstate commerce. The court rejected this argument as well. It noted that although the system Mitra used was more powerful than the transmitter on the Huygens spacecraft that recently beamed back images from Saturn, the crucial inquiry was not whether Mitra acted in interstate commerce, but whether the affected computers and computerized systems were used in interstate commerce.

Having found the requirements of the Act met, the court upheld Mitra’s conviction. The question of whether his 96-month prison sentence was proper in light of the recent Booker decision was sent back to the district court for further proceedings.

U.S. v. Mitra, 2005 U.S. App. LEXIS 6717 (7th Cir., April 18, 2005).

Decision further exposes loophole in Electronic Communications Privacy Act

A federal court in Utah has held that although evidence obtained through illegal interception of wire or oral communication would not be admissible at trial, any evidence obtained through illegal interception of an electronic communication is admissible.

A confidential FBI informant accessed defendant Jones’s email account without his permission and printed out several messages which she turned over to FBI agents. Based on these messages, the agents obtained a search warrant and arrested Jones. Before trial, Jones moved to suppress the evidence contained in the e-mail messages, as well as the evidence derived from the search warrant based on those messages.

Jones argued that Section 2515 of the federal Electronic Communications Privacy Act (“ECPA”) prohibited the court from considering this evidence which he argued was illegally obtained by the confidential informant. Section 2515 provides, in relevant part: “Whenever any wire or oral communication has been intercepted, no part of the contents of such communication and no evidence derived therefrom may be received in evidence in any trial . . . if the disclosure of that information would be [prohibited].”

The court rejected Jones’s argument and denied the motion to suppress. Although the ECPA prohibits the introduction into evidence of wire or oral communications that may have been illegally obtained, the court held that the statute specifically excludes electronic communications from the statute’s suppression remedy. “Even though the [ECPA] prohibits the interception and disclosure of any wire, oral or electronic communication, the suppression remedy in §2515 applies only to intercepted wire and oral communications.”

U.S. v. Jones, — F.Supp.2d —, 2005 WL 850991 (D.Utah, April 12, 2005).