PHILADELPHA (CN) – Legal publishing giant Thomson West will be back in Federal Court in January, after being walloped by a $5.2 million jury verdict for two law professors who said the company maliciously misattributed to them a poorly done addendum to their guide on Pennsylvania Criminal Procedure.
The January hearing on an injunction will concern an ad the company used to market the guide, said the professors’ attorney, Richard Bazelon of Bazelon, Less & Feldman.
That ad, which prominently displayed the professors’ names, failed to sufficiently disclose that they had nothing to do with a 2008 supplement to the guide, which the professors and their counsel called a “sham publication,” a “total ripoff” and deceit against the legal community.
The company has stopped using the ad, but “we want protection going forward,” Bazelon told Courthouse News.
Professors David Rudovsky, a senior fellow at the University of Pennsylvania, and Leonard Sosnov, who teaches at Widener Law, wrote “Criminal Procedure – Law Commentary and Forms,” which Thomson West published in 1988.
The men prepared annual updates to the guide for years, for which they were paid $5,000 apiece.
But Thomson West wanted to pay them only $2,500 each for the 2008 installment, or “Pocket Part,” so the professors declined the offer, Bazelon said.
Undeterred, the company rushed to publish the Pocket Part in time to bill customers before the end of 2008, tapping a first-year editor who was a year out of law school to handle the job, Bazelon said.
It was “rush, rush, rush” with “no qualifications, no supervision, no review,” he told jurors in his closing argument.
The editor “did a few hours of work. She apparently changed some formats, some instructions. She found three random cases, threw them in, changed a few rules, and that was it. Nobody looked at it. Out came the publication,” Bazelon said.
The result was a Pocket Part that was “terribly misleading” and “contained almost no substantive information not already contained” in the previous update, he said.
“There’s really no dispute about its total and complete inadequacy,” Bazelon told jurors.
He said the so-called update wasn’t an update at all, but “misinformation” that overlooked critical case developments and rule changes.
“It’s not that they missed some … they basically got zero in terms of new developments in the law,” Bazelon said.
“And worst of all, as you know, all of this was attributed to Professor Rudovsky and Professor Sosnov.”
Rudovsky told Courthouse News that he was “stunned” when he saw the 2008 Pocket Part for the first time.
The professors sued Thomson West and its subsidiaries, West Publishing Corporation and West Services, in February 2009, claiming defamation, false advertising, unauthorized use of a name and invasion of privacy.
John Shaughnessy, vice president of communications for corporate parent Thomson Reuters, declined to answer questions but told Courthouse News that the verdict had “no basis in fact, law or equity,” and that the company plans to appeal.
Counsel for the defendant companies, James Rittinger of New York-based Satterlee Stephens Burke & Burke, acknowledged to jurors that the Pocket Part was sub par, but said the plaintiffs failed to show that it was published with knowledge of its falsity, and therefore with malice.
“Who’s got the most at stake here?” he asked. “West. We have no motivation to put out anything that’s terrible. It’s the last thing in the world we’re going to do.”
Rittinger said the companies hadn’t received a single complaint about the 2008 Pocket Part, and that the companies had the right to use the professors’ name on the publication.
But “I could tell you one thing,” he said. “They would have been a lot better off if they paid them the 5,000 bucks.”