by Paul Alan Levy
There have been a few key developments in the story of Bradley Smith v. Deborah Garcia, the fake lawsuit filed for the purpose of getting certain articles written by Steve Rhode on the Get Out of Debt Guy web site deleted from search engine databases so that they would not be returned as search results. As I explained in previous blog posts, Bradley Smith, the CEO of a debt-relief company called Rescue One Financial, has denied having signed the complaint and consent order, and Deborah Garcia, who supposedly “consented” to a judgment, appears not to exist at all. But his company admittedly hired a company to use unspecified “proprietary methods” to scrub the Internet of unwanted criticisms.
Last week, I appeared before Chief Judge William Smith, who, in addition to granting the blogger’s motion for leave to intervene, expressed chagrin at having been duped into signing the “consent order” and raised the possibility that the filing of forged papers violated various criminal statutes; he indicated that he was going to ask the United States Attorney for the District of Rhode Island to investigate.
Consequently, we have moved both to vacate the order, and to dismiss the complaint. Because the Rhode Island anti-SLAPP statute provides for awards of not only attorney fees but also compensatory and punitive damages if the lawsuit aimed at protected speech was “frivolous or were brought with an intent to harass the party or otherwise inhibit the party's exercise of its right to petition or free speech,” we intend to argue that not only Ruddie and his company, but the debt relief company for whom Ruddie was serving as an agent in getting pages taken out of the Google search index, bear legal responsibility for Myvesta’s attorney fees and damages. In the final analysis, hiring an SEO company might both prove to have been an expensive mistake for Rescue One Financial, not to speak of costing it a significant hit to its reputation – after all, consumers may well wonder, what did Rescue One Financial have to hide that it needed to hire this sort of trickster?