Aaron Kelly, Daniel Warner respond to fraud allegations
A three-member disciplinary panel will hear the case brought by the Arizona Bar against attorneys Daniel Warner and Aaron Kelly. The bar has issued a disciplinary complaint against Kelly and Warner, and a third person, alleging they filed libel lawsuits against fake defendants as part of an Internet takedown scheme.
Kelly and Warner of Kelly/Warner Law, a prominent Internet libel law firm located in Scottsdale, Arizona, are accused of submitting documents to the court containing fake names and forged notaries for the purpose of removing online criticism and negative comments. Also named in the complaint is Raeesabbas Mohamed, an associate of the firm.
According to the complaint, the Kelly/Warner law firm represents clients in online reputation matters that includes removal of alleged Internet defamation and online trade libel.
The Arizona bar alleges that the respondents engaged in “the filing of fraudulent and/or frivolous lawsuits aimed at removing online criticism of the firm’s clients.”
The complaint further states that there were two procedural schemes. The first involved the client identifying online criticism, such as negative reviews for services or allegations that the client was engaged in a scam, and hired Respondents to remove the criticism from the Internet. Next, a defamation suit would be filed on behalf of the client alleging the criticism was false and defamatory.
“Rather than attempting to prove the online criticism is defamatory, Respondents fabricate, or allow their clients to fabricate, an admission from the purported defendant that the online criticism is false.
“The plaintiffs/clients then produce a fraudulent stipulation for permanent injunction signed by the purported defendant. The stipulation for injunction states the plaintiffs/clients and purported defendant(s) agree that the online criticism is false and constitutes defamation.”
The court is then asked to enter an order requiring removal of the online criticism and/or to de-index the criticism. Website where the criticism is posted, such as Ripoff Report are served with the injunction.
The second scheme involves hiring the Respondents, who then locate the originator of the post and name the originator as the defendant. Respondents obtain an admission that the content is false from the defendant, even if the content is true. The Respondents then seek an injunction, citing that all parties agree the content is false and constitutes defamation.
The Arizona Bar filed the following allegations:
* In 2016, Respondent Warner was hired by Joseph Chinnock to remove allegedly defamatory posts about Chinnock from the internet. At that time, Respondent Warner was already aware that Chinnock was accused in Florida of fraud and using a fake identity [because Kelly/Warner Law had earlier gotten the court file in the Florida Kogan v. Chinnock case, in which Chinnock was accused of fraud and impersonation].
*The allegedly defamatory posts were purported to originate from a woman named Krista Ivanski.
*Prior to filing the complaint on behalf of Chinnock, Respondent Warner and others in his firm communicated with an individual identifying herself as defendant Krista Ivanski. All communication was conducted through email. No one from the firm spoke with Ivanski on the phone or in person.
* In June 2016, Respondent Warner filed a complaint on behalf of Joseph Chinnock …. Prior to filing the complaint, Respondent Warner was aware that Chinnock was accused in Florida of fraud and using a fake identity.
*The complaint in Chinnock v. Ivanski alleges defendant Krista Ivanski defamed Plaintiff Joseph Chinnock by posting 38 false statements about Chinnock on the internet….
*Respondent Warner took no action to determine if the statements were true or false before filing the lawsuit.
*The first URL listed in the complaint (https://bitcointalk.org/index.php?topic=669614.0) routes to a page wherein individuals complain about a scam run by Joseph Chinnock. The page claims Chinnock uses the aliases of Sara Wood, Sara Ward, and Patrick McDowell to run scams.
*[email protected] was one of the email addresses for Ivanski provided to the firm by Chinnock.
*The complaint states Ivanski resides in Turkey and Chinnock resides in Colorado. The complaint states, “[t]he parties purposefully availed themselves of the benefits of Arizona law,” but does not explain how the state courts in Arizona have jurisdiction to hear the matter….
*Respondent Warner knew that Krista Ivanski is not a real person. Krista Ivanski was fabricated to serve as defendant in the matter.
*Respondent Warner knew that Krista Ivanski did not post the 38 allegedly defamatory statements.
*Respondent Warner knew that the 38 allegedly defamatory statements were not posted by the same person.
*Respondent Warner knew that legal action regarding many of the allegedly defamatory statements was barred by the [Arizona one-year] statute of limitations ….
*Alternatively, if Respondent Warner did not know the information in paragraphs 42-45, Respondent Warner failed to investigate the matter prior to filing the complaint.
*In June 2016, Respondent Warner filed a document entitled “Stipulation For Permanent Injunction and Dismissal Without Prejudice,” ostensibly signed by Krista Ivanski. Warner knew that Ivanski’s signature was forged or failed to investigate the matter prior to filing the document…
Defendants respond and hearing timeline established
Kelly, Warner and Mohamed denied the allegations set forth in the bar’s complaint. They will have the opportunity to prove their innocence when the disciplinary hearing begins.
A mandatory initial case management conference was held March 6 for the purpose of establishing a uniform court-supervised procedure.
The deadline for a settlement conference is to be held no later that June 15. “The parties shall attend and actively participate in good faith in settlement negotiations,” the stipulation orders.
A five-day hearing will be held commencing July 16 and ending July 20. The panel is not bound to or limited by the sanction suggested by the Bar.
Some records and testimony can be sealed if one of the parties makes a request. In absence of a request, the proceedings are public.
A small part of a larger problem
Reputation management has become a growing problem as has the struggle between the First Amendment and reputation. As previously reported, future court rulings can play a major role in the survival of online media.
Injunctions to remove what the court feels is defamatory content can result in a news site removing and entire page, threatening public access to important news. De-indexing requires a specific article or commentary to not show in search results. A person would need the exact URL to access a page the court ordered de-indexed.
Kelly/Warner Law offered reputation management by seeking court injunctions or de-indexing orders. They are one of many offering the service, which often comes with a hefty price tag.
While the Arizona Bar Association operates with transparency and makes public many of its disciplinary proceedings, many states operate under strict confidentiality so the public and press often aren’t privy to the complaints before them until such time a disciplinary ruling is handed down against a lawyer.
Judge William J. O’Neil will serve as the presiding disciplinary judge in the Kelly/Warner case.