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harassment and unethical conduct, the likes of which can, and most likely will, develop into a lawsuit unless rescinded forthwith.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.