Doubling Down On Sleaze

A husband and wife, struggling through unemployment, place a resumé on line, and a placement firm notices it and invites the couple to an interview. The husband completes an application and a first interview, and everything seems fine. However, when the placement firm calls back, they want the wife to accompany the husband for the second interview, which seems rather strange — until the “counselor” gets to the point at the end of the presentation. After regaling the couple with tales of how difficult it is to find placement, and how traditional headhunters (who get paid by the employer) eat into the compensation plan offered by companies, the placement firm tells the couple that for just over $4,000, they are 90% sure they can find the husband a job.
Sound like a scam? That’s what Katherine Coble thought, too, and she blogged about her experiences with Tennessee placement firm JL Kirk Associates. Shortly thereafter, however, JL Kirk sent the Cobles a different kind of proposal — to shut up or else:

I am being ordered to take down all of my blog entries pertaining to JL Kirk & Associates. If I don’t, they will so me for tortuous interference and other damages.
In a subsequent conversation with the attorney, Alan Kopady of King & Ballow Law Offices, if I do not take down the blog entries they will contact my Internet Service Provider, Comcast, to have my internet access shut down.
I have until April 13th to comply with the demands of the letter.

Here’s the relevant text of the letter:

This firm represents JL Kirk Associates. In the February 27, 2007, posting to your blog “Just Another Pretty Farce” you made the following false and defamatory statements about JL Kirk Associates:
1. JL Kirk Associates “…was formerly Bernald Haldane before it was purchased by Mr. Kirk Leipzig.”
2. That JL Kirk Associates personnel “use fear to motivate” potential clients to pay for services “without question and without the possibility of a refund.”
3. That, during your interview with your husband, there were questions “designed to help [you] as the insecure wife put more economic pressure” on your husband.
4. That the amount you were asked to pay “neatly” coincided with your tax refund “which is a matter of public record.”
In addition, a number of statements made in you posting conve a meaning that is clearly injurious to the reputation of JL Kirk Associates.
Under Tennessee law, any malicious publication expressed in writing intending to injure the character or diminish the reputation of a business is libel. Moreover, even if statements are literally true, the publisher of those statements is subject to monetary damages where “the meaning reasonably conveyed by the published words is defamatory.” Memphis Publishing Comany v. Nichols, 569 S.W. 2d 412 (Tenn. 1978)
As the “publisher” of your blog, you control, and are responsible for, the content appearing in it. References by persons posting to your blog to JL Kirk Associates as “crooks” and its services as a “scam” are equally false and defamatory as your own.

Well, now we have both sides of the story. I have no direct knowledge of which side is telling the truth. Coble could be lying and perhaps defamed JL Kirk Associates. However, let’s ask a couple of questions about this:
1. Are you, the CQ reader who looks at both communications, likely to believe JL Kirk or Katherine Coble? Given the nature of both communications (read Katherine’s posts!), which sounds more likely to be true?
2. Given that even a fairly moderate criticism (even if unreasonable) of JL Kirk prompted this 16-ton legal approach, would any of you be tempted to do business with them?
3. Did anyone at JL Kirk or King & Ballow, JLK’s legal representatives, ever consider that issuing this kind of threat amounted to throwing gasoline on a lit match? Did any of them understand the blogosphere at all? And given that level of cluelessness, would CQ readers do business with either firm?
If Coble misunderstood the nature of JLK’s offer, perhaps JLK would have been better advised to contact her directly rather than run to their lawyers. Only six weeks passed between the post and the certified letter, and it probably took them five weeks just to notice the blog post at all. Companies that quick to sue over a public complaint, even with inflammatory language like “crooks” and “scam”, generally turn out to be guilty of being both.
Most laughably, K&B includes this pithy little passage:

Moreover, even if statements are literally true, the publisher of those statements is subject to monetary damages where “the meaning reasonably conveyed by the published words is defamatory.” ” Memphis Publishing Comany v. Nichols, 569 S.W. 2d 412 (Tenn. 1978)

That may or may not be true in the legal sense, but what does it mean in practical terms? It means that her description of the event was literally true, but it damaged them, and they don’t like it. That tends to make me see Coble as even more credible, and JLK as suspiciously hysterical.
Coble may have to take down her posts. Her family already has to struggle through unemployment and assuredly cannot afford to fight JL Kirk Associates and King & Barrow. However, their ham-handed efforts have ensured that the rest of the blogosphere will have created a long trail on the Internet for future researchers to discover, which will cost them much more than whatever K&B charges JLK for truly foolish legal — and practical — advice.
UPDATE: They should have hired Bill Hobbs.

16 thoughts on “Doubling Down On Sleaze”

  1. I’m no lawyer, but I seem to recall that the truth was an absolute defense against slander and libel. Accordingly, the only way you can tell the truth about someone and still be defaming them is if you use the true statements to support an unspoken, defaming, and untrue statement. Sounds to me like these guys are praying that Coble can’t afford to put up a legal defense.

  2. Last November I met with a similar ‘recruiting’ firm as JLK. Only at the end of a 90 minute ‘interview’ with far more pyscho-babble than I am comfortable with did they inform me that they were a pay-for-service operation. But no details on fees or placement rates. Interestingly they also required that my wife attend the second meeting. I dropped them like a hot rock; there are no circumstances where it is necessary to pay someone to find you a job. My opinion of the people I met was that they preyed on the general insecurity of the job-seeker.

  3. I had some similar experience with R L Stevens – which seems to operate on a similar business model (or, perhaps, a similar model of con game – it is very hard to tell if you don’t pay out).
    From the research I did on them, the scheme worked as such: you pay them a lot of money and they dribble out some tire old bromides one could find one’s self in the library in an afternoon, and you appear to do all the real work yourself. I could not find any evidence that they ever helped anyone get a job nor that there existed any hidden network like they claimed.

  4. I’ve found that there are many businesses now that do hire people to find out what is being said about them on the web. Some, to their credit, try to contact those with problems in order to resolve their issues.
    My son recently purchased a brand name firearm. From the beginning there were problems with the fitting of certain parts, with distinctive wear patterns developing. He was getting the run-around with the company as the firearm did work, with no malfunctions. The rep he talked to said that the problem was only cosmetic. Yet the evidence was there that some holes were misaligned in the frame and consequently so were the parts. I told my son to post factual comments, including pictures, on one of the web sites where fans of the company post remarks about the products. Within 24 hours he received an email asking that he send the weapon back to the factory. It was subsequently replaced with a new weapon and he was reimbursed for the shipping charges.

  5. I’m unclear now on the specifics, but if I recall correctly fee-placement companies like JLK were barred from operating in Minnesota – or at least had VERY serious questions raised about their ethics. I only remember dimly, but I think JLK even operated in Minnesota up until this controversy hit, probably 15 years ago (I could be wrong on that).
    Still – one of the best bits of advice I ever got was “never give money to an agent”. It was when I was in radio and voice-over work, but the same lesson applies in other fields. Once they get your money, where’s their motivation?
    I know how desperate unemployment can make you – but employment firms where the job-seeker pays up front are (in my opinion) an irredeemable scam.

  6. Thirty years ago, I dealt with King & Ballow. They had a reputation as a “take no prisoners” labor law firm that represented management against labor unions.
    I long ago handled some defamation matters in the Tennessee courts. K&B’s “take no prisoners” culture doesn’t translate well into the blogosphere, where they can easily be tarred as bullies beating up helpless women, children, widows, and orphans.
    They’ve just stepped in it. To switch metaphors in mid-stream, the law firm has aggravated the injury to their client by pouring gasoline on a small fire. They’ve ensured massive publication of their threats on behalf of their client. They’d better put their carriers on notice.

  7. When I was young and desperate I went to two interviews with an ’employment coaching firm’. I can’t remember the name, but “Haldane” certainly rings a bell.
    I was fortunate that I retained enough rationality to decline their offer of services. At best – at very best – such businesses are charging money to hold your hand while you look for a job.
    Coble doesn’t need any grief. She should take down her post, write a completely neutral and factual account of her experiences and post that, together with the legal letter – much the same procedure as GarandFan’s son used.

  8. Threatening to Sue Bloggers and the Impact of the Internet

    Bill Hobbs has the tale of Katherine Coble, a Nashville-based blogger who had an unpleasant experience with a headhunter firm called JL Kirk and Associates which she posted about on her blog.
    The short version of the story is that roughly six weeks aft…

  9. As much as I generally despise the MSM, this is the sort of incident where they can do some good. Here we have a woman who claims that a company is threatening her with a defamation lawsuit because of things she’s written about them on her blog. She claims that they essentially tried to flim-flam her and her husband. Either she’s lying, or the company is. If it’s the company, not only are they trying to steamroller a woman who lacks the deep pockets to fight back, they are also engaging in some pretty shady (if not outright illegal)business practices. Seems like an investigative reporter for the local paper or news station might want to look into this.
    But, since it doesn’t involve a bimbo and / or a bloody crime, I guess they’ll take a pass and go stake out Anna Nicole Smith’s grave some more.
    It also seems like a local attorney might want to get involved. I don’t suggest that attorneys work for free any more than I’d suggest that (choke) I work for free, but it seems like a worthy cause AND a chance for some free publicity if they decide that the woman is being truthful.

  10. Like Ric James in the first post, I would have thought telling the truth would be enough of a defense.
    The Volokh Conspiracy yesterday had a similar case where truth won out, but they still had to go through the hassle.

  11. People that prey on other people who are desperate to find a job are as low as people who prey on people who are desperate for a mate.
    People like this used to be tarred, feathered and ridden out of town on a rail. Now they have lawyers. What progress.

  12. “And given that level of cluelessness, would CQ readers do business with either firm?”
    If I were guilty of a felony and wanted to tamper with some witnesses, I might consider doing business with King & Ballow. Otherwise the answer is no.

  13. I hope that Coble will go to Jay Sekulow and ACLJ, where they can put her in touch with organizations that will help pay her legal fees and find her a good lawyer, as well.

  14. Other J.L. Kirks

    The story is mythic. A wife pens a negative review of how a company treated her husband. The company sends out the lawyers. The story lands on instapundit. A new verb is born.
    But while JL Kirk insane public relations strategy of…

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