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LOS ANGELES-Shawn Khorrami claims he never thought of his law firm’s Web site as a marketing tool. But Khorrami, a plaintiff’s lawyer in Van Nuys, Calif., and lead counsel in lawsuits against the American Dental Association, decided as a matter of public interest that he would post certain statements about the alleged health dangers associated with mercury amalgam fillings. That’s when the ADA sued him for defamation. “To grab things on my Web site-which has never really been marketed-that was rather surprising to me,” he said. “If anything, the statements were publicized because of a lawsuit I filed, not because of the Web site.” The ADA and Khorrami recently settled the four-year-old lawsuit confidentially. His seven-attorney firm, the Law Offices of Shawn Khorrami, was not a party to the suit. A cautionary tale Legal consultants said that the case exemplifies how the constant threat of defamation claims has affected what kinds of statements law firms make on their Web sites, particularly those looking to attract clients. Beginning in 2001, lawyers began filing suits over mercury amalgam fillings in states such as California, Georgia and Ohio. The suits accused the ADA and other dental groups of promoting the use of the fillings while hiding their toxic dangers. Peter Sfikas, chief legal officer for the ADA, said that 37 lawsuits were filed against the Chicago-based dental group over the use of mercury amalgam fillings. Most were dismissed or withdrawn, but three are pending, he said. “In this case, we thought he had defamed us,” Sfikas said, referring to Khorrami. “He made statements about the ADA that related to matters that simply were not true.” The suit alleges that Khorrami knew about several studies concluding that dental amalgam was safe yet posted statements on his Web site accusing the ADA of efforts to “conceal the dangers associated with amalgam” because it had “vested economic interests in the continued use of mercury.” Defamation is an inherent risk for law firms seeking business via their Web sites, said Larry Bodine, a marketing consultant in Glen Ellyn, Ill., for law firms. “It’s a very definite risk that you’re taking anytime you put something on the Web,” he said. “There is no more public statement you can make than a Web site. It’s like running an ad on a newspaper or buying time on a TV network.”

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