The Plagiarist Strikes Back!

Move along, Atticus. Nothing to see here, and I wouldn't want you to barf.

Well, some of you called it. I was a sap. I expected better.

Mary Frances Prevost, the California criminal law attorney who substantially expropriated an Ethics Alarms post and placed her name on it, responded to my request for an explanation, and failing that, an apology, a retraction, and proper credit, with this (on her Facebook page), in which she said, in part:

“I received a histrionic run-on-sentence email from someone named “Jack Marshall” today accusing me of committing crimes, threatening to report me to my bar association(s), the Inns of Court, and essentially spend your days and nights harassing me.” I have also viewed a a highly unethical rant published purportedly by you on a blog suggesting strongly that I have engaged in unethical conduct throughout the entire course of my career. I have counseled with one of the country’s premiere ethics attorneys. Here’s the result: 1) accusing me of a crime is defamation per se and unethical; 2) suggesting that my entire law practice has been based on unethical conduct is defamatory and unethical. I maintained copies both of your email and blog. It is clear that you are hell bent on engaging in systematic harassment and unethical conduct, the likes of which can, and most likely will, develop into a lawsuit unless rescinded forthwith. It is clear you have little to do in your life besides sent me emails accusing me of crimes, and writing poorly written blog posts accusing me of immoral behavior. Interesting how one making such claims, engages in most egregious conduct himself….But the sheer amount of energy really suggests something more: a lack of work; too much time; off your meds. I suggest you take a look inward and remove your defamatory and unethical blog post regarding me. Indeed, you should come clean on your blog. You’ve practiced law only two weeks before giving up. Yet, your resume suggests far more experience. I think you should rethink what you’ve done.”

Now how do you like that?

A wise colleague—blogger, ethics expert, and, like Prevost, a criminal lawyer of some note, had advised me to leave open the possibility that Prevost’s blog was not written by her, and that she might not have been aware of the plagiarism and would “be horrified” to learn about it. Many lawyers do this, unfortunately, which can lead to Ron Paul newsletter-type embarrassments—or ethics violations—unless the lawyer also closely monitors the output. Personally, I think it is unethical for lawyers (or Presidents) to represent to the public that they are writing a personal blog when they aren’t, and someone else is really doing the writing. At least in that situation, however, the ghost-writer has agreed to the arrangement and is being fairly paid for it. Mary Frances Prevost made me her ghost-writer without bothering to tell me.

And now she’s attacking me for having the audacity to object to it. Wait–that was a lot of words; did I miss “I’m sorry” in there? I don’t think I did.

I had e-mailed Prevost and asked for four things. First, an explanation if she had one; then an apology, a retraction, and proper credit. I didn’t demand damages, as I could have. This vicious response is so far from what I expected that it leaves me momentarily stunned, which I suppose is Prevost’s intention. That barrage of denials and personal attacks may serve her well when she is representing a criminal defendant who has no defense left but bluster. Obviously, it is neither appropriate, professional or civil in this situation.

What is wrong with this kind of response by someone who has been caught red-handed in dishonest and disrespectful conduct toward a fellow professional is so obvious that it speaks eloquently for itself. Here are a couple of details to reflect on, however:

  • I specifically wrote that she had not committed a crime.
  • I didn’t “accuse” her of anything. I stated a fact. She plagiarized me, the text comparison proves it, and she knows it.
  • There is nothing defamatory about stating a fact, which as a lawyer, she should also know.
  • My post about her plagiarism accurately laid out the considerations I am required to reflect upon in deciding whether her conduct causes me to have legitimate doubts about her honesty, trustworthiness, and fitness to practice law. If it does, the rules of my two jurisdictions require me to alert bar authorities. She will have a hard time making the case that asking reasonable questions in public about the implications of public theft of another’s work product constitutes unreasonable or tortious conduct.
  • Prevost responded to me on her Facebook page; a friend had to tell me what she posted. I had sent her a personal e-mail with my phone number so we could discuss the matter in private. When there was no response, I asked for an explanation for the purloined post using her Facebook Wall. Maybe she was embarrassed. I hope so.
  • If she thinks my writing is so poor, why did she lift it and put her name on it?
  • I do not use “run-on sentences.” I often use complex, too long sentences. So did Victor Hugo. <Humph!>
  • In an online debate a couple of years ago, I mentioned that I had intended to be a prosecutor out of law school and was for a few weeks, before I left to take a job in the Georgetown Law Center administration after being asked by its new Dean to join his team. To some of my nastier critics, this proves that something is lacking in my abilities or character, though I don’t know what. I had seen enough of the criminal justice system to discover that it was an ethical morass…frustrating, low-paying and often corrupting. Those three weeks were far from my only experience practicing law, however, whatever source Prevost read, and there is absolutely nothing misleading in my resume.

I don’t know how people become this way. (MY meds?) I don’t know how professionals function when they are like this, either. This matter could and should have been dealt with by an admission, an apology, and some remedial action; instead, the individual entirely responsible for it had to double-down on her misconduct, and add to it. I find it sad. It’s early, though: I’ll be furious after a few cups of coffee.

Naturally, the blog posts involved  the Trayvon Martin case. The ethics train wreck rolls on.

 I didn’t expect it to roll over me.

__________________

Note: I was so rattled by Prevost’s response that in the original version of this post I kept calling her “Prefort.” (There were also an even more inexcusable number of typos than usual.) I don’t know who “Mary Frances Prefort” is, but I’d sure rather be dealing with her.

35 Comments

Filed under Character, Etiquette and manners, Law & Law Enforcement, Professions, Research and Scholarship, The Internet

35 responses to “The Plagiarist Strikes Back!

  1. crella

    I was astounded by the original article…I didn’t post anything, I was just shocked. I’m even more shocked by her response. I read your post twice, so as I was reading her response, I found myself mumbling ‘That’s not what he said’ ‘He did not!’ to myself. Amazing. When people are this brazen it’s frightening.

  2. Mike Martin

    I’m surprised that you are surprised, Jack. Someone who cared how they were received would have at least bothered to gussy it up a bit to disguise the source. I wonder if Ms Prevost is prepared for the entry of “Super Marco” or Ken and the Popehat Signal into the fray.

    Ken’s latest activity next door at Popehat is something to behold.

    I recall an attorney once telling me “when the facts are against you, argue the law; when the law is against you, argue the facts; when both are against you, pound on the table..” She reached stage 3 pretty quickly, unless you were not the first to bring this to her attention.

  3. Elizabeth

    Interesting that Ms. Prevost didn’t have “time,” apparently, to do her own research and write her own post but instead lifted yours and called it her own. Equally interesting that she DID have the time to write a long, insulting, and defensive response. I think she doth protest too much.

    “The best defense is a good offense?” I am assuming this is her tack — and her unbelievable response only reveals her fear that she is CAUGHT. One key proof remains the time line here — your post went up up early on East Coast time; she picked it up just over one hour later West Coast time and put it up as her own.

    No wonder lawyers have such bad reputations among the general public. Prevost is case in point. Please DON’T cave to her. Go after her.

    And finally, WHO’S not on their ‘meds?” Is this comment of hers per se slander? (I am not a lawyer, so don’t know. But she obviously is out to insult, defame, and damage you and your reputation.) She’s a jerk, don’t let her get away with this.

  4. trafford1977

    Oh dear – is this online stoush headed for the Courts?

  5. Sue

    Run-on sentences?! That in itself would be enough to make me see red. The gall!

  6. McCall Doyle

    This is a woman who mocks fat people on her Twitter account. Hardly a class act…so I didn’t expect better.

  7. zoebrain

    Bar Association.
    Now.
    Include all correspondence.

    No, after this reply, you can’t let it rest.

    Get legal advice too.

  8. NharahKiri

    The entire FaceBook exchange has now been removed from Ms. Prevost’s account. However, the offending blog version is still live.

  9. Walrus

    Wow. If she was embarrassed before, she should be more embarrassed now that we all can see through the bluster. Perhaps she is shameless. I, too, must be naive or live under a rock; her response absolutely shocks me.

  10. Shelly Stow

    I think that you should print the sentence accused of being a run-on so that it may be analyzed, diagrammed, dissected, and parsed.

  11. Wow. Just, Wow. I’m glad to hear you’re following up with a formal complaint. This type of behavior is just not on.

  12. LD

    I can tell you so much about her. She threatens to sue for harassment all the time. That is nothing new. She is just a money hungry attorney, who will through her clien’s under the bus, promises she will do her job, and doesn’t do her job at all. The only thing she has going for her, is a good PR person to give her exposure and publicity. Look at all her records in the superior court of California, it’s pretty amazing. She makes her living on suing clients and anyone that crosses her path.She pulls the harassment card all the time. I know this for sure. I have nasty letters accusing me of such as well.

  13. Samuel

    Is this really the best use of your time? You said your piece. Maybe she was right, maybe she was wrong, but your the one whining about it. Put your energy to better use.

    • Well, gee, Sam, I don’t know. You’re the one writing a jaw-droppingly dumb comment on a post that’s two months old. There’s no “maybe” about it, as anyone who read the post and who has two brain cells to rub together can tell. I’m a legal ethicist, and whether plagiarism on a blog is a professional violation of the legal ethics rules is a thorny question certainly worth exploring. Plagiarism on the web is epidemic, and is itself a valid topic on an ethics blog. And plagiarism that is stealing from ME is definitely worth my time, because I hate it, and it’s wrong, you jerk. Then there’s the outrageously dishonest and offensive way this lawyer responded when I contacted her, which is certainly worth discussing, being unethical conduct on AN ETHICS BLOG.What do you think a is better topic for me to spend time on? Because there are roughly 2700 of them here, and yet you chose to take your time to write a comment on the one that you, wrongly and ignorantly, think is a waste of my time.
      What IS a waste of my time, come to think of it, is typing a response to the likes of you. But then, I’m watching the Red Sox play the Mariners and its late, and I’ve had a long day, and I like nothing more than sitting down to read comments and to see some clown making a gratuitous and ignorant remark.

      I won’t be doing it again, Sam, me boy, because you’re banned. The traditional way to introduce yourself is to show some damn respect. Get lost.

  14. EllieMay

    Noticed her post is still online. Did you ever report her to the bar?

    • Interesting question. Short answer: No, raising its own ethical questions. While I am theoretically “required” to appoint conduct like that that indicates lack of trustworthiness, it’s mandatory nature is dubious because experts disagree (though this expert doesn’t) as to whether plagiarism is violation of the legal ethics rules. As a DC lawyer reporting a California lawyer’s unethical conduct, my responsibilities are unclear. Then there is my counsel from California bat members that their bar not only wouldn’t do anything with such a complaint, but would also view it with suspicion as an effort to gain leverage in a potential civil lawsuit for copyright theft. Finally, there’s the fact that the page is stale and she has a reputation for being a litigious wacko, or so I am told. Is it worth it to bat a hornet’s nest when there is no chance of it accomplishing anything good or productive? No. Unfortunately.

      • EllieMay

        I can certainly understand your decision, as I too doubt the bar would act and who KNOWS what she would do in retaliation, but this quote leapt to mind…

        “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” Edmund Burke

  15. CS

    I’m an attorney in San Diego, where Ms. Prevost practices. Ask anyone in the legal community here about her reputation.

    Mr. Marshall, I urge you to report her to the California State Bar. Southern California attorneys would owe you one big time!

  16. zsazsabonboomie

    Wow. How does this woman live? Jack is there a possibility if someone- a potential client were to Google her name about this whole unscrupulous maligned ordeal that she started when she decided to plagiarize you would be what shows up in a Google search or any search engine?? Maybe the court of law or the Bar Association in California doesn’t see this worth investigating. But I bet if her pocketbook were to be impacted by her wrong actions (a client would pass on her services both because her name is tied to plagiarism and also it’s known that she likes to sue clients calling it harassment?) At the very least I don’t see how her law firm could employ her because she is an albatross. Mary Frances prevost plagiarized your respected blog. That’s sort of cheating too in my opinion. I love to read your blog and go to work and discuss it with my clients one on one every day and let them know where my source of info is your viewpoint others’ viewpoints and ultimately my own which is pretty much in alignment with most people who write in. Guess what? I am not part of the legal community. I have a sense of decency and respect and I suppose ethics that would not allow me to steal your opinions via a conversation I have with clients. I do lash extensions in Scottsdale Arizona. Reading yours works enlightens me & the ppl I discuss it with. Your blogs (for discussion) come in handy when I am on a sad and sorry match.com date or a great date or when my clients are lying there and receiving the best lash extension artistry I can give them. What I mean to say dear Jack, is I really enjoy reading your blogs and I pay homage by prefacing “jack Marshall ethicist he writes a daily blog” before talking about your topic. The biggest insult to my own pleasure of reading you (enlightenment & alignment that I’m in sync with being a “good” person) would be to steal you. But hey, I know that less then well intentioned people and downright dirty and bad natured people like Mary Frances can read your blog and that does not morph said person into some kind of wonderful ethical person. I just wanted you to know that while there are horrendous Mary Frances out there stealing your work, there are also people like myself and the others who loves reading and eager to give you credit.
    I really dig your title to this post it’s a purposeful reference to empire strikes back yes? Am a star wars geek.
    Thank you again for the work you do everyday & others who contribute to make the liveliness of this board happen. It enlightens me and keeps me connected to being a person who wants to evolve.
    I hope someday I will have more relevance here but in meantime I shall be lurking. Oh, sorry for punctuation & syntax errors.

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