**** UPDATE – 1/4/13 **** Once again, the best source of information on the SPLC’s ham-fisted fundraising tactics is the SPLC’s own website. Under the “Docket” tab on the SPLC’s home page you can find the actual complaint against JONAH, again, something that no Media outlet could bother to do.
According to the 28-page document, the actual lawyers handling the suit are Lite DePalma Greenberg of Newark, NJ, who bill themselves “…as the pre-eminent New Jersey firm for litigation of complex class actions in the areas of securities fraud, antitrust, and consumer fraud.” Sounds like they know what they’re doing.
The SPLC is listed on the complaint as having requested pro hac vice status, which “refers to the application of an out-of-state lawyer to appear in court for a particular trial, even though he/she is not licensed to practice in the state where the trial is being held.”
Now, why exactly would New Jersey’s pre-eminent fraud attorneys require the assistance of an Alabama civil rights law firm, who are not licensed to practice law in the Garden State, especially when you consider that the term “civil rights” does not even appear in the 28-page complaint??
(The same question can be asked of Faegre Baker Daniels, the law firm handling the copyright infringement case filed in Denver on behalf of the New Jersey gay couple. FBD is one of the highest ranked Intellectual Property law firms in the country, and again, the term “civil rights” appears nowhere in the actual legal complaint.)
The short answer, the blindingly obvious answer, is that neither law firm requires the services of the Southern Poverty Law Center of Montgomery, Alabama. The SPLC brings nothing to these cases except publicity, and since that publicity is a) highly favorable to their clients’ lawsuits, and b) absolutely free, (The SPLC would never accept a dime in legal fees…), any sharp lawyer would take full advantage of the opportunity.
What’s in it for the SPLC? According to the American Bar Association, the application fees for pro hac vice status run to a maximum of $186 dollars a year in New Jersey, and $250 in Colorado. All of the attorneys assigned to the two cases are already on the SPLC payroll, and even if the pro hac vice fees apply to all four of them you’re looking at a cost of just $808 dollars.
Now Google the term SPLC gay lawsuit (the search works even better if you enclose it in parentheses) and see how many hits you get. We came up with 299,000 hits, but since Google tailors its results to specific users your results may vary. Check out who’s carrying the stories: “mainstream” media outlets like ABC, CNN, Twitter, as well as hundreds of local newspapers and television station web sites. Not surprisingly, the stories have been picked up by countless LGBT web sites and even a number of prominent Jewish sites, due to JONAH’s Jewish origins.
You try buying that much publicity for $800 bucks…
If you notice a certain “sameness” in the “reporting,” that’s just because almost every site is simply regurgitating the highly polished press releases issued by the SPLC’s Public Relations chief, Mark Potok. And all of them claim that the SPLC is somehow “fighting hate” by associating itself in these simple civil suits. The LGBT community includes a lot of financially well-off, Progressive-leaning members who are no more or less prone to investigating the SPLC’s claims than anyone else.
In short, they are the perfect demographic for Mr. Potok and his fundraising minions. The SPLC won’t take a dime in legal fees because they’d probably have to pay taxes on that income, but donations are exquisitely tax-free.
Vaya con dinero!
[Original post] More “mission creep” from “the nation’s leading civil rights organization.” In October, we at WTW noted that the Southern Poverty Law Center was taking on the case of a New Jersey gay couple whose engagement photo had been appropriated by a conservative political group who used the image in campaign ads in Colorado.
The facts in that case are pretty straight-forward: The political group used the photo without the permission of the couple or the photographer, who holds the copyright to the photo.
It’s a copyright infringement case. Nothing more. The plaintiffs are not indigent and there is no shortage of qualified attorneys in New Jersey.
Fast forward to December and the SPLC are back in New Jersey, this time, going after a non-profit group that claims it can “cure” gay Jewish men of being gay. According to SPLC attorney Sam Wolfe, the group Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing (JONAH), deliberately duped a number of gay Jewish men into believing that their homosexuality was a mental aberration that could be “cured” through therapy. Wolfe made his case by stating:
“We found our plaintiffs’ experiences with JONAH to be compelling and even shocking in terms of the types of techniques and misrepresentations the defendants were luring these men into their programs with.”
“People are paying for these services under false pretenses. They are believing and trusting that these counselors know what they are doing, but in fact, they don’t.”
What exactly does “the nation’s leading civil rights organization” propose to do for the plaintiffs in the case? Under New Jersey’s Consumer Fraud Act, Wolfe is “…seeking triple monetary damages to cover the cost of “legitimate therapy” and attorneys’ fees.” A case worth thousands of dollars, maybe tens of thousands.
So, were anyone’s civil rights violated here? Not so much. All of the plaintiffs enrolled in the JONAH program of their own free will. In at least two cases, the adult plaintiff’s fees were paid by their mothers, so these were not the isolated victims of some secretive cult. Again, none of the plaintiffs are indigent.
No civil rights violations. Can you call “antisemitism” when all the parties involved are Jewish? What you have is a cut-and-dried fraud suit, or possibly a malpractice case, but at the end of the day, there is no “hate” going on here, and damn little poverty.
So what does the Southern Poverty Law Center bring to this case and the copyright infringement suit? Publicity. Nothing more. As noted above, there is no shortage of qualified fraud attorneys in New Jersey. The SPLC brings in the publicity and their ace Public Relations guru, Mark Potok, will spin that publicity into gold. Donor gold.
Does the SPLC run any risks by suing a Jewish organization, considering how many of its top donors are Jewish? Again, not so much. JONAH is operated by conservative Orthodox Jews, who are far less likely to donate money to the SPLC than their progressive coreligionists. The rest of the donor base, especially wealthy gay donors, will see this as a gay issue first and a Jewish issue second, if at all.
SPLC founder Morris Dees made his first fortune in direct-mail marketing in the early 1960s. The Maestro, who was inducted into the Direct Marketing Association’s “Hall of Fame” for his fundraising prowess, knows an opportunity for cheap publicity when he sees it. Truly, there is no trial like a show trial for gulling the gullible donors.