An ugly dispute has erupted between West Publishing and two law professors who claim they were falsely identified as the authors of an annual supplement to a treatise on Pennsylvania criminal law even though they had nothing to do with writing it.
In a federal lawsuit, professors David Rudovsky of the University of Pennsylvania and Leonard Sosnov of Widener Law School claim that the December 2008 supplement, or “pocket part,” to their book, “Pennsylvania Criminal Procedure — Law, Commentary and Forms,” was so poorly researched that it will harm their reputations if allowed to remain on library shelves.
In an injunction hearing Tuesday, the professors’ lawyer, Richard L. Bazelon of Bazelon Less & Feldman, argued that West should be ordered to notify all recipients of the supplement that Rudovsky and Sosnov were not the authors and that any unhappy customers may demand a refund.
Bazelon argued that the supplement was a “sham” that offered almost nothing new to subscribers and that users of the book would mistakenly connect the poor quality to Rudovsky and Sosnov.
Over the two decades since the treatise was written, Bazelon said, the professors have routinely added about 150 new cases each year in annual updates. But the supplement published in December 2008, he said, added just three new cases and failed to take note of any of the cases that had been reversed in the past year by the state Supreme Court.
But a lawyer for West insisted that although West was not “proud” of the first version of the supplement, it has recently mailed out a new version that cures those defects and includes a revised cover page that clearly explains that Rudovsky and Sosnov ended their work on the updates in 2007.
Attorney James Rittinger of Satterlee Stephens Burke & Burke in New York conceded that the December 2008 version of the supplement “didn’t measure up to what our standards are,” but also said that it “was not a sham.”
Rittinger urged Senior U.S. District Judge John P. Fullam to reject the injunction request, saying West has already done everything the professors are demanding and that an injunction is “extraordinary” relief.
The professors have no valid claims to press, Rittinger argued, because their agreements with West clearly provide that a supplement to their book may be prepared by others.
But Rittinger soon found himself on the receiving end of Fullam’s ire for the tone he had taken in his courtroom.
Fullam said he had just finished reading Rittinger’s most recent brief in the case and said, “I’m disheartened by the tone of it — and you seem to be following in that same tone here today.”
Adopting an almost somber tone himself, Fullam delivered a short lecture on manners.
“I’m much less interested in whether you have a reason to be angry with your opposing counsel and much more interested in the merits of the case. I don’t take kindly to briefs which attack opposing counsel and make snide comments right and left, and yours do. And you’re doing the same thing here today — you’re more critical of your opponent than you are of the facts of the case,” Fullam said.
Rittinger responded by insisting that the merits of the case must be viewed “in context” with the contract between West and the professors and that their lawsuit makes no sense since the contract specifically contemplates that an annual supplement may be written by others.
Fullam seemed unconvinced, saying: “You mean that it authorizes you to say that they prepared the supplement when they didn’t?”
Rittinger did not return repeated calls seeking comment.
According to court papers, the book was first published in 1988 and had a second edition in 2001.
The professors claim that in every year since the book was released, they have worked diligently to keep the treatise current by authoring annual supplements that include case notes on about 100 to 150 cases as well as rule changes.
But Rudovsky testified in the injunction hearing that he and Sosnov decided to stop working on the book when West announced that it was cutting their pay in half — from $5,000 each per year to $2,500.
Rudovsky testified that he had proposed to West that it was time to release a third edition of the treatise, but that West was not interested in spending the money to do so. Court records show that Rudovsky and Sosnov were each paid $12,000 for their work on the second edition.
When West soon after announced that it was cutting their pay in half for the supplement work, Rudovsky said, he and Sosnov jointly decided the project was no longer worth their time.
Rudovsky said he was “stunned” when the supplement was released in December that had both his and Sosnov’s names on the cover but almost nothing new in terms of content.
“‘Sham’ is the only word that comes to mind,” Rudovsky said, adding that he and Sosnov decided to file suit because they were concerned “that our names were being used on a sham product.”
West’s parent company, Thomson Reuters, issued a statement Wednesday in response to the professors’ allegations.
“West’s primary concern is to provide high quality products and services to its customers. We made the decision to update the 2009 supplement so that this publication could better meet the level of quality that our customers expect from us. West disputes the plaintiffs’ claim about the now-replaced 2008/09 supplement. The company will not otherwise comment on the pending lawsuit, but does look forward at the appropriate time to rebutting plaintiffs’ claims,” said John Shaughnessy, Thomson Reuters’ director of communications.
Fullam is expected to issue a ruling soon on the professors’ request for a preliminary injunction.