Call it the case of the dueling defamation suits.
Jeff Kurzon, an original member of the trio of lawyers behind a series of fraud class actions targeting law schools across the country, filed a defamation suit against the Thomas M. Cooley Law School in New York trial court on July 13.
Kurzon filed his complaint in New York County, N.Y., Supreme Court almost exactly one year after Cooley filed its own defamation claims in Michigan against him and former partners Jesse Strauss and David Anziska. (The statute of limitations for defamation in New York is one year).
Kurzon is seeking as much as $74,000 in damages.
Cooley claims in its suit that the three lawyers defamed the school in Internet postings seeking plaintiffs for a class action they eventually would file against the school on Aug. 10, 2011 — a charge the defendants said was merely an attempt to stifle their investigation of potentially misleading employment data produced by Cooley.
Kurzon’s countersuit claims that public statements made by Cooley president Don LeDuc regarding the school’s defamation suit in turn defamed him.
“I feel like they damaged [Kurzon LLP's] reputation, for sure,” Kurzon said. “Cooley is the largest law school in the country, and they somehow feel threatened by a few lawyers in New York. It seems strange.”
Cooley General Counsel James Thelen said Friday that the school had not yet been served with Kurzon’s suit and could not comment on it.
Kurzon’s complaint points to a lengthy response from LeDuc on the day Cooley filed its defamation suit. LeDuc refuted claims that the school had a 41 percent student loan default rate and took issue with the plaintiffs lawyers’ online tactics. “We believe these particular defendants have crossed the line both legally and ethically, calling us criminals who deceive our students and steal their tuition money, and ascribing to us fraudulent student loans activities and default rates that, if true, would cause either the Department of Education or the Department of Justice to shut us down immediately,” LeDuc said in a formal statement at the time.
Kurzon’s complaint alleges that much of LeDuc’s statement was false — including his claim that the plaintiffs lawyers circulated a draft class action complaint on Craigslist and Facebook in an attempt to lure potential plaintiffs. The complaint claims that Cooley “almost certainly performed no due diligence before making such blatantly false and defamatory allegations.”
Meanwhile, Cooley’s defamation suit against Kurzon, Strauss and Anziska has proven contentious — the two sides have been butting heads in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan for the past year. Each side has accused the other of withholding e-mails or other electronic data in the course of discovery.
Most recently, Cooley’s attorneys asked the court to compel Chase Cryn Johannsen, founder of a nonprofit organization that advocates for the eradication of student loan debt, to produce e-mails she exchanged with Anziska during the period in question. In a July 6 motion, Cooley’s lawyers alleged that Johannsen was dodging their subpoena attempts, although the parties agreed several days later that a Kansas attorney would accept the subpoena on her behalf.
Cooley has also sought communications between the defendants and University of Colorado law professor Paul Campos, who has become an outspoken critic of law schools on his blog Inside The Law School Scam. Campos said he has turned over what little e-mail communications he had with Anziska.
Cooley is pursuing a parallel defamation suit in Michigan state court against several anonymous Internet critics who posted comments on a blog called The Thomas M. Cooley Scam. A Michigan circuit court judge ruled against one of the defendants, identified as Rockstar05, in his bid to remain anonymous, but the Michigan Court of Appeals in late May agreed to hear the appeal.
Contact Karen Sloan at firstname.lastname@example.org.