A couple weeks ago, Jack Marshall wrote a post criticizing the ethics of George Zimmerman’s legal team. Later that same day, California criminal defense lawyer Mary Frances Prevost at California Criminal Lawyer Blog wrote a post about the same subject. Her post used many of the same words. And rather a lot of the same phrases and sentences.
Marshall decided to call her out for plagiarism on Thursday. Given that Prevost’s blog is basically marketing her lawfirm, my guess was that Prevost had hired someone to ghost-write her blog, and that person had figured they could just steal Jack’s post instead of doing actual work. I figured that she’d probably apologize when she found out.
That’s not what happened, according to Jack Marshall in a followup post a few days later. He had emailed Prevost, asking for “an explanation, and failing that, an apology, a retraction, and proper credit.” Instead, according to Jack, she responded via Facebook with a message that included this:
I have counseled with one of the country’s premiere ethics attorneys. Here’s the result: 1) accusing me of a crime is defamation per se and unethical; 2) suggesting that my entire law practice has been based on unethical conduct is defamatory and unethical. I maintained copies both of your email and blog. It is clear that you are hell bent on engaging in systematic harassment and unethical conduct, the likes of which can, and most likely will, develop into a lawsuit unless rescinded forthwith.
It is clear you have little to do in your life besides sent me emails accusing me of crimes, and writing poorly written blog posts accusing me of immoral behavior. Interesting how one making such claims, engages in most egregious conduct himself….But the sheer amount of energy really suggests something more: a lack of work; too much time; off your meds. I suggest you take a look inward and remove your defamatory and unethical blog post regarding me. Indeed, you should come clean on your blog. You’ve practiced law only two weeks before giving up. Yet, your resume suggests far more experience. I think you should rethink what you’ve done.
[paragraph breaks added for readability]
Perhaps this is a good aggressive response in the legal arena, but it doesn’t go very far in the blogosphere. For all I know, she could very well be right to question Jack Marshall’s motives and knowledge of legal ethics, not to mention his sanity, honesty, writing skils, and personal hygiene. Lord knows, I strongly disagree with a lot of what Jack says. But when I quote what he writes, I follow the standard blogger ethic: I give credit and a link. And that highlights what this response is missing: She never addresses the substance of Jack’s complaint. She neither admits nor denies the alleged plagiarism.
What really bothers me about Prevost’s response, however, is her accusation that Jack is obsessed and has too much time on his hands. For someone who’s been running a blog for five years, she really doesn’t know much about blogging.
An email and a blog post do not come within a mile of being systematic harassment by blogosphere standards. Jack was just passing by. He says he sent one email, and he’d only written the one post at the time. Prevost could have just ignored him and he’d probably have moved on to something else. Instead, she responded in anger, triggering a second blog post. And now Jack says he filled out a bar complaint.
[Update: Jack says he hasn’t filed the bar complaint yet and isn’t sure that he needs to. See comments.]
As a criminal defense lawyer, Prevost probably gets the question all the time, “How can you defend those people?” I can almost see my defense lawyer readers flinching as they read that. It’s not that they don’t have a good answer, it’s just that they’re really tired of the question, and of the implication that there’s something wrong with them for doing what they do.
For bloggers, I think the equivalent question is “Why are you bothering with this?”
I get that a lot. I’ll read some news story, and some aspect of it will stick in my brain, and eventually a blog post will come out of it. This is how blogging works. Quite often, we leave the big, obvious stories to the news media and focus our attention on an interesting detail. And for some reason, this upsets people.
They say we’re missing the big picture, as if the details couldn’t possibly hold an important lesson. They accuse us of bias in picking a subject, as if having a point of view was sufficient to prove us wrong. They tells us we’re ignoring the important story, as if life was a television script, and it would be confusing if too many things were happening at once.
This is the weakest possible criticism of a blog post. If you’re not interested in what we’re writing about, just stop reading. If you actively dislike what we’re writing about, then write your own blog. In your own words.