Thursday, April 12, 2007


An Ill-Conceived Demand Letter

Everyone is watching Kat Coble's drama involving the employment firm (and potential shakedown artists) JL Kirk & Associates, who apparently retained the law firm of King & Ballow in an effort to get Kat to take down a post of hers about a professional encounter with JL Kirk. First, Kat posted this comment. Then she received the certified letter. Then Kat posted the letter. Pay attention to the comments, because they are coming fast and furious, which tends to happen when Instapundit, Bill Hobbs, Professor Bainbridge, Captain's Quarters, and nearly every other blog takes notice.

While I love Hobbs' treatment of the story, the best post may be from Bob Krumm, who made sure that JL Kirk & Associates and King & Ballow will always be linked with this story via Internet searches with the words "scam," "fraud," "rip-off," and "con."

In any case, this is a real blunder by King & Ballow. Yes, the practice of issuing demand letters as a way of getting what a client wants without having to resort to actual litigation is widely used. However, you can't treat every case the same. You need to know when something is going to be attractive to media - local, state, or (in this case) global. This goes for civil suits (as the one being threatened against Kat), criminal suits, and even juvenile cases (because the media can request access on certain hearings there, too). If this case is going to make the media take notice (taking into account that mainstream sources oftentimes are agitated to action by bloggers), then you have to be perfect in your actions.

King & Ballow were not perfect here. Not by a long shot. They ignored the relevant federal caselaw regarding libel, opinions as free speech, truth as an absolute defense, and 1st Amendment litigation in general. And surely they knew (or should have known) that Kat would take this public. Anyone familiar with Kat's writings (and you have to assume that the associate who wrote this letter at King & Ballow would be so familiar, having referred to specific posts of the blog) knows that she doesn't take crap from anyone. They should have known that she would expand this conflict, and the public relations blowback against JL Kirk and King & Ballow would be more than significant.

However, the real culprit here is JL Kirk & Associates. They should have let sleeping dogs lie. I oftentimes read Kat's blog, but I didn't recall the particular post about her and her husband's experiences with the agency. The limited effects of her post would have gone away. Not now, though. We'll all remember this. They made the primary blunder in politics - never expand a conflict that you can't control. And looking at the blogosphere (83 blog hits on Technorati as of 7:34 A.M.), this story is about to spin out of control into the mainstream media.

Will JL Kirk do the smart thing and have King & Ballow draft up a retraction of their demand letter? Will they apologize to Kat? That would probably be the best thing to do, as it could minimize the damage. However, egos being what they are, that probably won't happen. Of course, the worst thing to do would be to file suit. I don't know how deep JL Kirk's pockets are, but I dare say that the economic ramifications of such a maneuver could sink their entire ship.

An aside: it just occurred to me that Senator Jamie Woodson's proposed bill from earlier in the year might have altered Kat's free speech rights in this case. I guess that just goes to show how bad of a bill that would have been. (Woodson pulled the bill after certain bloggers made a big deal about it, blaming its language on a third year law student.)

UPDATE: Welcome all Instapundit and Fark readers (who are traversing from Bob Krumm's site)! Feel free to look around while you're here.

Bill Hobbs, Professor Reynolds, Volunteer Voters, and Jay Bush have some updates. As many are saying, it is certainly in JL Kirk's best interests to quash this controversy and move on. A blogospheric legal defense fund is certainly a possibility to assist Kat Coble, and with the Media Bloggers Association getting involved, this would not be a case of David versus Goliath in the courtroom in terms of finances.

As SayUncle so poignantly put it: "In other news, don’t send bloggers stuff that makes you look like an asshat. They tend to blog about it."

Like I said (but Uncle said more colorfully), let sleeping dogs lie...

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