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.