Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Cease and Desist. (So I did.)

Nearly two years ago, I had a post about a couple who were suing their kid’s school over a fund-raising hoo-hah, in which the school claimed they had made a pledge for $XXX, when the couple felt that they were only on the hook for $X.

The suit against became something of a kitchen sinker, with while-we’re-at-it claims that their kid was mistreated at the school, etc. Damages sought included a year’s severance pay for the car service driver that had been schelpping their kid to school, since, at the new school, the driver would no longer be needed.

As I often do with my posts, I cited the news stories I’d seen on this brouhaha, and added in my own meandering speculation on what was really going on.

It just didn’t strike me as believable that someone in the development office at a pricey private school would make an order-of-magnitude mistake and not immediately apologize, etc. for it. There just had to be something more to it. My guess was that there had been a miscommunication along the way – either parents-school or husband-wife.

As it turned out, someone at the school had – incredibly – gone ahead and done the fake bidding, but had been fired for it. Despite the firing, the suit progressed.

It also struck me that what the couple were claiming as mistreatment of their child – a typically innocuous example cited said that their kid had been made to hold the door open for others – might well be more along the lines of helping a child learn to play well with others and take their turn. (Not that I don’t believe that kids can be mistreated in their schools. I know about all that up close and personnel, having logged my years at Our Lady of Misery watching mistreatment and having been the occasional target of it.)

Anyway, the couple that was suing the school seemed completely worthy of making light fun of, if only because of their much-documented appearances at events (some of which they’d thrown for themselves)  in which the husband was once pictured in velveteen slippers with crests on them.

I wasn’t familiar with any of the outlets that featured the goings and comings of this couple. I think the rags where the couple got their mentions were online-only – not that there’s anything wrong with that – and dedicated to the more minor society leagues. I wasn’t familiar with the names of those profiled in them, either. I.e., there were no instantly recognizable big-buck names mentioned. (Not that I’d recognized the names anyway. Maybe Babe Paley’s or Jackie O’s, but I think they’re both dead.)

And the woman of the house seemed to have some masthead relationship with a couple of the zines in which she and her family were so prominently featured. She did seem awfully dedicated to getting her picture, and those of her husband and kids, in the “news.”

I also found the couple worthy of being made light fun of because the husband’s business – wealth management – pictured a ludicrous this-could-be-yours pile – think Downton Abbey – on its home page.

I thought nothing about any of this until I received a cease and desist request from a Park Avenue lawyer asking that I remove the offending post, claiming, among other things, that the post was “off topic” (huh?) and that I had made false statements within my “article.”

I reread the post, and, unless what was mentioned in published news stories was false, there were no false statements. There were a number of “I wonder if” and “it sounds like” statements, in which I offered conjecture on just how the brouhaha had come about, but these weren’t false statements. Just blog-jecture.

Then there was something about my “denigrating” their minor child. Okay, maybe it was mean to point out that he had appeared in some society ‘zine or other dressed like Lord Fauntleroy – surely through no fault of his own. And I had hypothesized that what the parents felt was mistreatment may have been more along the lines of ‘how-to-handle-a-kindergartner’. Maybe I shouldn’t have brought the kid into the make-fun-ism. But that Little Lord Fauntleroy outfit had been too much to resist. (What both those kids are going to go through once their school friends start googling each others’ names and come across some of their star-turns…)

I was also, apparently, violating copyright and stealing intellectual property by having grabbed a jpeg of the pile on Daddy-O’s web site and using it (with attribution) in my blog. Well mea culpa. (On top of everything else, I bet it was stock photo…)

But the real point – and the lawyer did have a point – was that someone had made a comment accusing the father of being something of a flim-flam man, and that this was damaging his business.

Point taken.

When I write about people in the news, especially if there’s any controversy attached to them, I do occasionally draw a lot of comments. But the ones that are libelous – those of the “liar” and “thief” variety I always delete.

Apparently not always.

As a way of excuse, this was during my husband’s treatment for a recurrence of the cancer that killed him. So I might not have been as vigilant with my comment monitoring as I should have been.

Anyway, there was all sorts of tort-rattling in the letter from the lawyer.

I immediately deleted the comment. The lawyer was right: I was wrong to have left it there.

Then I took out the picture of the castle from their site and swapped in Disneyland.

Then I took out any hypothesizing mention of the kid.

Then I rewrote the post without using any names.

Before I pushed the “publish button,” I had an f-them moment in which I considered contacting my lawyer.

After all, other than the comment, what was there said on my little blog that was harmful or untruthful? Maybe a tiny little bit mean, if you were on the receiving end. But I do think that folks who do foolish things in the public arena, and who are obviously publicity hounds hungering to make a splash in someone’s idea of society, leave themselves open to being made fun of. And I reserve the right to continue to do so.

Then I reread the missive from their attorney which contained some legalese about ‘even if you take the post down my clients may still sue you for ruining their lives.’

And I said to myself, my life’s too short and this one ain’t worth a First Amendment suit.

To hell with it.

I deleted the post, let the tort-rattler know, and, in response, he informed me that I would not be hearing from him again.

I am sorry about letting that libelous comment stand for as long as it did. What was said about the man may well have been true, but let someone take him to court and prove it, not leave an anonymous comment on my blog.

As for the rest of the post, on reflection, I should at most have done a light re-write, removed the picture of the castle, taken out the name of the kid, and let it stand.

I googled the names of the couple, and there are a few other spots out there on the web where they – especially the woman – are made fun of, most notably for her pretentiousness and naked Jay Gatsby-like striving to make it among the swells.

Frankly, the more I read about this woman, the more I felt kind of bad and embarrassed for her. And exhausted for her: making sure your name, pic, and the names and pics of your husband and kids are in the news so frequently must get tiring. Maybe not if you think there’s some pay-off.

Fundamentally, I don’t get the real or fake society-page mentality – either those who are born into it, or those “nobodies” who do their damnedest to claw their first generation way in.

And I will more than likely have further posts on minor royals, society folks (“authentic” or wannabe), and rich people who do things with their money that IMHO are ludicrous. (It’s my blog: I get to say what’s off topic or not.)

Anyway, having ceased and desisted, I’ll now cease and desist on this one.

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