ESPN cameras caught Andrew Rector sleeping in his seat in the fourth inning of the April 13 Boston Red Sox-New York Yankees game. In the time-honored tradition of TV play-by-play when something funny, weird or, most especially, sexy is spied in the stands, ESPN commentators Dan Shulman and John Kruk began making fun of him. The clip ended up on YouTube, naturally, and thus on various sports websites, followed by the various idiotic, cruel, gratuitously mean-spirited insults, usually composed by brave anonymous commenters.
This is a familiar pattern of unethical public mockery, and we have become inured to it. Though the ESPN team’s jibes were rather mild in nature, and Rector’s legitimate embarrassment quota would be far, far less than, say, that of George Costanza when this happened at the U.S. Open, let me say for the record that picking fans out of the crowd at sporting events and making fun of them, whatever they are doing, is generally a rotten thing to do. I know: it’s public, you know you might be on camera, and the fine print on the ticket stub puts you on notice. Unless, however, the conduct involved is actually newsworthy or despicable (as in instances where an adult has snatched a baseball from a child), the Golden Rule applies. Who knows why Rector was sleeping? Maybe he was up all night with a dying relative or a grievously ill child—Shulman and Kruk don’t know. And if he chooses to pay for a ticket and nap during the game—and it wasn’t exactly a scintillating game, I should add—so what?
Unfortunately, Rector, whose name was unknown and whose sleeping form would have been quickly forgotten, decided that his humiliation was so great that he needed to sue…for $10, 000,000. Rector filed the suit against ESPN, Shulman, Kruk, the New York Yankees and Major League Baseball. Now he is in the full throes of the Streisand Effect—in fact, I think we should consider calling it the Rector Effect. Absent his lawsuit, his embarrassment would have been fleeting and anonymous. As a result of it, he is being ridiculed and criticized all over the internet, from snarky gossip blogs to sports rags to serious legal commentary websites. This is entirely self-inflicted harm, and his lawyer, whom we will return to shortly, had a duty to warn him about it.
Rector’s complaint asks for damages for defamation and intentional infliction of emotional distress, citing malicious and false statements said about him,including that Rector is “a fatty cow” that represents a “symbol of failure.” You will notice in the video that none of the defendants actually said any of these things (“fatty cow”?) Rector’s suit is apparently making the creative legal argument that ESPN’s mild mockery seeded the vicious mockery elsewhere on the web. The theory is illogical and ridiculous, and is one of many reasons the law suit is likely to be thrown out of court, if not the window.
Meanwhile, the drafting of the complaint has raised eyebrows for other reasons. Here are some samples of Rector’s lawyer’s artistry:
Where to begin? Well, the complaint is careless, semi-coherent, horribly written, ungrammatical, and lacking in basic punctuation. Worse, from a legal ethics standpoint, it makes assertions that are demonstrably false. As ESPN has noted, its announcers didn’t say what the complaint alleges they did, and since the entire incident is a matter of video record, this amounts to a negligent of intentional misrepresentation to the court. You can read the entire, stunningly awful document here.
There are at least two serious legal ethics breaches suggested here. One is New York Rule of Professional Conduct 4.1, which forbids lawyers to make material misrepresentations of fact. This serious misrepresentation is being made to a court, and if the lawyer gets out the door without having an ethics complaint filed against him he should start playing the lottery. The other is Rule 1.1, Competence. If you can’t write any better than this when submitting a formal document to a court, you shouldn’t be representing clients in court. All over the web, bloggers are trying to find out what law school gave Rector’slawyer, ValentineOkwara, a law degree (he apparently passed the bar exam last year). Thus we can add a phantom law school to the ethical transgressors here…
- The mystery law school, for falsely leading Okwara to believe he was qualified to practice law, and taking his money to do so,
- Oksara, for filing and incompetent and false lawsuit (but not necessarily frivolous, because ya never know…),
- Oksara, for not advising his client that the chances of winning such a suit (especially with him as the lawyer) were slimmer than slim, and the chances of the laws suit magnifying Rector’s humiliation and infamy exponentially were huge,
- Oksara, for making his profession look bad
- Rector, for misusing the civil justice system to try to get a windfall payday that he doesn’t deserve from a bad lawsuit, as so many bad lawsuits have done for others in the past (but perhaps not quite this bad), and…
- Kruk and Shulman, for using a national broadcast to humiliate a fan who was, after all, just sleeping.
In a word–yecch.