Arizona Bar accuses lawyers of filing libel lawsuits against fake defendants
The Arizona Bar has issued a disciplinary complaint against three lawyers they claim filed libel lawsuits against fake defendants as part of an Internet takedown scheme.
Lawyers Aaron Kelly and Daniel 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 firm’s website advertises that to win an Internet defamation lawsuit, the plaintiff must:  Prove the defendant published or broadcast the statement;  Prove that the statement is false;  Prove they were harmed by the statements;  Demonstrate that the defendants did not verify their claims.
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 alleges that the Respondents filed false and/or frivolous lawsuits to achieve the desired outcome.
The scheme was first reported by Eugene Volohk, who publishes Reason. “Back in Fall 2016, Paul Alan Levy and I wrote about one such scheme that we had uncovered (thanks to a tip from one of the scheme’s targets, Matthew Chan). The operation was run by one Richart Ruddie, of a company that had various names, including Profile Defenders,” Volohk, who also write for the Washington Times, wrote on his blog. “Ruddie apparently arranged the filing of some such fake-defendant lawsuits; we linked him to several, though I found a total of about 25 lawsuits in various courts that had very similar boilerplate, and 15 of them gave addresses for the defendants — addresses that didn’t seem to correspond to any such defendant, at least based on the public record searches that we ran (with the invaluable help of Giles Miller, a private investigator at Lynx Insights & Investigations). But all these lawsuits were ostensibly filed by the plaintiffs without a lawyer. (I say “ostensibly” because it’s possible that the reputation management company filed some of the lawsuits without telling the plaintiffs, and the plaintiffs weren’t even aware that the lawsuits were going to be filed — much less that they were fraudulent — but were relying on the seemingly reputable reputation management company to just “do something” behind the scenes. The Arizona lawsuits, though, were filed by lawyers Aaron Kelly and Daniel Warner of Kelly / Warner Law, a prominent Internet libel law firm.”
The Arizona Bar filed the following allegations:
[30.] 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].
[31.] The allegedly defamatory posts were purported to originate from a woman named Krista Ivanski.
[32.] 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.
[34.] 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.
[35.] The complaint in Chinnock v. Ivanski alleges defendant Krista Ivanski defamed Plaintiff Joseph Chinnock by posting 38 false statements about Chinnock on the internet….
[37.] Respondent Warner took no action to determine if the statements were true or false before filing the lawsuit.
[38.] 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.
[39.] [email protected] was one of the email addresses for Ivanski provided to the firm by Chinnock.
[40.] 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….
[42.] Respondent Warner knew that Krista Ivanski is not a real person. Krista Ivanski was fabricated to serve as defendant in the matter.
[43.] Respondent Warner knew that Krista Ivanski did not post the 38 allegedly defamatory statements.
[44.] Respondent Warner knew that the 38 allegedly defamatory statements were not posted by the same person.
[45.] Respondent Warner knew that legal action regarding many of the allegedly defamatory statements was barred by the [Arizona one-year] statute of limitations ….
[46.] 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.
[47.] 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…
The complaint goes on to state that the proposed order is signed by Ivanski and notarized by Amanda Sparks, a notary from Fulton County, Georgia. The Plaintiff’s Verification attached to the original complaint and signed by Chinnock was also notarized in Fulton County, Georgia. According to the complaint, neither Ivanski nor Chinnock reside in Georgia.
“There is no notary in Fulton County named Amanda Sparks. A search performed via the Georgia Superior Court Clerk’s Cooperative Authority notary search shows no notary in Fulton County named Amanda Sparks. The notarization by Amanda Sparks is a forgery.”
The Bar further alleges that Warner knew the notarization was a forgery or failed to investigate the matter prior to filing the document with the court.
The Arizona Bar also claims some of the defendants are fake.
There has been no word as to whether the Arizona Bar will pursue criminal charges.