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Judge: Lawyer Rating 'Ludicrous' But Legal

A federal judge in Seattle yesterday dismissed the class action complaint filed by two lawyers against lawyer-rating site Avvo (as I noted earlier today at my blog LawSites). While observing that the rating of attorneys (and judges) has become "ludicrous," U.S. District Judge Robert S. Lasnik ruled that the opinions expressed through Avvo's ratings system are absolutely protected by the First Amendment. Here is the opinion's best sound bite:

Rather than seeing the Avvo ratings for what they are -- 'that and $1.50 will get you a ride on Seattle’s new South Lake Union Streetcar' -- plaintiffs Browne and Wenokur want to make a federal case out of the number assigned to them because (a) it could harm their reputation, (b) it could cost them customers/fees, or (c) it could mislead the lawyer-hiring public into retaining poor lawyers or bypassing better lawyers. To the extent that their lawsuit has focused a spotlight on how ludicrous the rating of attorneys (and judges) has become, more power to them. To the extent that they seek to prevent the dissemination of opinions regarding attorneys and judges, however, the First Amendment precludes their cause of action.

The judge, who also ruled that the Avvo system does not violate the Washington Consumer Protection Act, clearly thinks little of rating systems. At one point, noting his own selection as one of the leading judges in the United States by Lawdragon, he cites his parents' words of wisdom from when he was growing up on Staten Island: "That and five cents will get you a ride on the ferry." At another point, he pokes at the irony in plaintiff John Henry Browne's contention that his Avvo ranking of 5.5 must be inaccurate because he was designated a "Super Lawyer" by Washington Law & Politics magazine: "Why one should assume that the attorney rating system developed by Washington Law & Politics is any better than that used by Avvo is not specified, and the Court is not inclined to make such an assumption."

Avvo CEO Mark Britton, commenting on the ruling in a post at the Avvo Blog, picks up on the ludicrous theme to call the case preposterous. He writes:

As I have said many times before ... this is a case that never should have been filed. It was aimed at chilling and censoring the opinions of Avvo, consumers and even other lawyers. So preposterous was the case that I don’t need to give it any more ink here. Simply read Judge Lasnik’s decision -- it sums up the preposterousness better than I ever could.

Further reading:

Posted by Robert J. Ambrogi on December 19, 2007 at 01:20 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)


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