A Hartford lawyer who is being sued in federal court for allegedly using the likeness of daytime TV’s “Judge Judy” in an ad for his law firm says the whole thing is a “misunderstanding.”
John Haymond, of The Haymond Law Firm, said he was “shocked to learn” that Judith Sheindlin had brought the claim. In a prepared statement, Haymond said that TV stations in New Haven and Springfield, Mass., which air the courtroom reality show, had “approached us to appear in promotional advertisements for the ‘Judge Judy Show,’” and that those ads are the subject of the lawsuit.
Haymond went on to explain “it was always my understanding that the promotions were properly authorized.”
But in the lawsuit filed March 12 in U.S. District Court in New Haven, Sheindlin paints a different picture. Her claim states that the actual ads in question show clips of Sheindlin, taken from the “Judge Judy” show, and alternate them with images of Haymond and his daughters. The ads are “edited to imply that Sheindlin actually is interacting with Mr. Haymond and his daughters,” the complaint states, “though in reality, she has never met him.”
According to the complaint, the ads in question were broadcast on Connecticut and Massachusetts TV stations during the “Judge Judy” show. They also reportedly appeared on Haymond’s web page and on YouTube.
The suit claims Haymond’s firm unlawfully used Scheindlin’s image in its television and online advertising “for their own benefit,” and refused to stop when asked to do so.
With Oprah Winfrey no longer producing her own daily talk show, “Judge Judy” is now billed as the most-watched daytime show in America, with about 9 million viewers. The lawsuit says that a 2013 Reader’s Digest survey ranked Scheindlin, a retired Manhattan family court judge, as one of the “100 Most Trusted Americans.” Scheindlin says she “maintains control over her image and name” and “has refrained from engaging in the commercial endorsement of the products and services of others.”
Sheindlin accuses Haymond, who focuses on personal injury work and whose ads are readily visible on billboards and buses around Connecticut, with violations of the Connecticut Unfair Trade Practices Act, and for appropriation of likeness and appropriation of the right of publicity under Connecticut state law.
The lawsuit, which was filed on Sheindlin’s behalf by Wiggin and Dana lawyers James Glasser and Kevin Smith, also makes a federal law claim of false endorsement. Scheindlin is also represented by Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison. Neither law firm responded to phone calls seeking comment.
In a prepared statement, Scheindlin said: “Over my 50-year career, first as a family court prosecutor, then as a family court judge, and most recently as the presiding judge on ‘Judge Judy,’ I have never filed a lawsuit against anyone. However, the unauthorized use of my name, image and reputation by Mr. John Haymond is so outrageous that I feel it requires this action. Without my consent, Mr. Haymond has taken my name and image and used it in television and Internet advertisements to falsely suggest that I have endorsed his legal services. … Mr. Haymond is a lawyer and should know better.”
Scheindlin said any money she collects from the lawsuit will benefit Her Honor Mentoring Program, an organization that provides scholarships for women.
Alan Neigher, a Westport lawyer who represents clients in entertainment, news media, marketing and advertising matters, said the claims raised in the lawsuit “are quite basic and easy to understand.”
“I can’t take someone’s picture, and put it in my store, and say that person loves [the store],” Neigher said. “You can’t use a false endorsement. You can’t misappropriate someone’s face, or likeness, as if it were your own and use it for commercial purposes. In this case, the claim seems to be he was using Judge Judy’s name or likeness for his own commercial use or advantage.”
There have been a handful of similar lawsuits in Connecticut over the years. Most notably, in 1979 professional golfer Ken Venturi claimed he suffered “humiliation, embarrassment, public ridicule, loss of sleep and mental anguish” as a result of seeing his image appear without permission in an advertisement for Hartford’s Savitt Jewelers.
In July 1981, a Superior Court ruled against Venturi, finding he hadn’t proved store owner Bill Savitt acted with malice against him. The court noted that the ad did not suggest that Venturi endorsed Savitt Jewelers, but was merely intended to promote the Greater Harford Open. Venturi appealed to the Connecticut Supreme Court, which in 1983 affirmed the trial court’s decision.
Other cases have involved the use of photographs without permission in print ads and billboards. In 1959, in Korn v. Rennison, a Superior Court judge ruled that, in Connecticut, damages can be awarded for a misappropriation claim when a photo is used without the subject’s permission for advertising purposes. The court found that the defendant, in using a person’s image on a highway billboard, “should have realized the conduct would be offensive to persons of ordinary sensibilities.”
In 1988, another Superior Court judge found that a claim for misappropriation could proceed when someone’s home appeared without permission in a magazine real estate advertisement, as long as the plaintiff “was identified in some way in the photo.”
As for the “Judge Judy” case, the lawsuit claims that the questionable Haymond ads first appeared in March 2013. A month later, Scheindlin’s producers say they notified Haymond that the unauthorized use of her image was not permitted. According to the claim, the ads were then removed from Haymond’s website and from YouTube, but they continued to run on television.
Haymond also did not respond to interview requests from the Law Tribune, nor did senior members of his law firm. But in his statement, he did note the lawsuit had become “a national news story” overnight.
“My family—especially my youngest daughters—has always enjoyed Judge Judy and her particular brand of justice,” said Haymond, who also called himself “a fan of Judge Judy” because of the “manner in which she has elevated the legal profession.”
He expressed hope that “Judge Judy takes another look at the promotions, and then is willing to discuss them with me in a manner that befits our profession.”•