Bellaire lawyer Michael W. Weston and his firm, Weston & Associates, have filed a defamation suit alleging a “false review” about the firm was posted online on Citysearch.com. They seek more than $1.25 million in damages.
Weston and his firm are suing a paralegal who formerly worked at Weston & Associates and a man who has her same last name. The plaintiffs allege in the petition — filed March 3 in Harris County’s 133rd District Court — that the Nov. 22, 2010, “fraudulent posting” on Citysearch.com was accessible through a Google search. The further allege the review resulted in hundreds of thousands of dollars of lost business, because it was “made public to thousands of potential clients since Nov. 22, 2010.” [See the petition.]
In Weston & Associates, et al. v. Williams, et al. , Weston and his firm bring defamation, common-law fraud and conspiracy causes of action against former paralegal Amber Williams and Jon Peter Williams. The plaintiffs allege the defendants live at the same address in Houston. Weston says the Williamses are married.
A telephone number for Amber Williams and Jon Williams could not be located, and an e-mail sent to an address listed in the petition for Jon Williams received no response. They have not filed an answer, according to records on the Harris County District Clerk’s website.
Weston and his firm allege in the petition that Weston hired Amber Williams as a paralegal on Oct. 11, 2010, but she was “terminated for insubordination” on Nov. 6, 2010.
The plaintiffs allege that on Nov. 22, 2010, the defendants, “posing as former clients, posted a false and derogatory review on Citysearch.com.” Weston and his firm allege the review was posted under the name “jon77088,” and they traced it to a Yahoo.com e-mail address and a Facebook page for Jon Williams.
As alleged in the suit, the review states:
I went to this attorney on the recommendation of a friend. He had used the father for a bankruptcy. I would be using the son to help with debt settlement. I found him to be condescending to my situation and cold in demeanor. If you are looking for a factory that turns out debt settlements then this attorney is for you. If you want someone to answer your questions and help you through a hard time in your life then find another firm!!!!!!!
The review of Weston & Associates is no longer available on the Citysearch.com site, but it can be read through a cached version. Weston & Associates — Michael Weston and his father, Pete Weston, own the firm — does bankruptcy and debt resolution work.
The plaintiffs seek $20,000 in actual damages for money they paid for “pay-per-click” advertising; $250,000 for lost profits; $1 million for damage to reputation; “multiple damages” under Texas Business & Commerce Code §17.50(b)(1); and punitive damages under Texas Civil Practice & Remedies Code §41.003(1).
In an interview, Michael Weston says he found the Citysearch.com review on March 3 when he typed his firm’s name into the Google search engine. At his request, Citysearch.com removed the review, but Weston is concerned that he and his firm lost business over several months as clients and prospective clients looked at the review.
“I read it, of course. My stomach drops, thinking, ‘What client could I have upset?’ and me not knowing about it,” Weston recalls. “I was obviously pretty upset that someone would go out and do that, and it sat there for three or four months. . . . As a lawyer, your reputation is everything,” Weston says.
Weston says right now there’s no way to know precisely how many clients or prospective clients saw the review online. To prevent something similar in the future, Weston says he set up Google alerts on his firm and himself, so he may learn quickly what’s posted online about him or the firm.
There’s one small problem with that, Weston notes: The main character in the USA television series “Burn Notice” is named Michael Westen, so most of the alerts are about that fictional character.