Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Law Professors Sue for Defamation - Win $5+ Million

The case of Rudovsky v. West has resulted in a stunning victory for the plaintiffs. In 2009, Professor David Rudovsky of the University of Pennsylvania Law School and Professor Leonard Sosnov of Widener Law School sued West for publishing a poorly researched 'sham' pocket part to a Pennsylvania criminal law treatise they had written. Even though it had been prepared by the West staff, the pocket part featured the names of Rudovsky and Sosnov. Late last week the jury in the case found West liable for defamation and returned a verdict for $90,000 in compensatory damages and $2.5 million in punitive damages for each professor. You can find the verdict form here on Google Docs.

The treatise, Pennsylvania Criminal Procedure: Law, Commentary and Forms has been in print since 1991 and is a part of the West Pennsylvania Practice Series - quite similar to the Connecticut Practice Series. In 2008 Rudovsky and Sosnov wanted to revise and republish the 2001 edition. You can read the Declaration of David Rudovsky here from Justia Dockets. You can review the full Complaint here. Each new pocket part had, for years, included citations to 100 - 150 new cases, code sections, rules and, of course, expert commentary. West resisted the preparation of a revised edition and, without the participation of the professors, indeed, without their knowledge, published a new pocket part that did not contain the numerous changes that had taken place in Pennsylvania law since the publication of the last pocket part. According to West, there is a contractual provision that allows them to publish an update without changing the names of the authors. Regardless, it seems clear that the jury adopted the plaintiff's argument that West's actions constituted defamation per se.

Possibly the best overall review of the litigation is by Erika Wayne here on the Legal Research Plus blog. A good explication of all of West's mistakes during the litigation is here on the Law Librarian Blog. There is another concise review here on Jonathan Turley's blog, Res ipsa loquitor. Turley's post also addresses the probability that the verdict will be reduced.

A pre-verdict review of the case is here on the online version of the ABA Journal. The National Law Journal published an insightful article early on and you can find it here. For other comments see posts here on the Legal Skills Prof Blog, and here on 3 Geeks and a Blog, both of which helped develop the story and provided links to the relevant documents.

Although, as Turley points out, the verdict will almost certainly be reduced this will be a clear opportunity for the Court of Appeals to comment on what many consider to be West's hubris and greed

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