A court in Washington has said that the legal directory Avvo does not have to reveal the identity of an anonymous online contributor who posted disparaging remarks about a lawyer.
The case arose because a Florida-based attorney, Deborah Thomson, was unhappy that Avvo would not remove a negative online review, which she claims was not genuine, but a personal attack.
However, in what is seen as a victory for free speech, and the ability of the public to maintain anonymity on public online forums, the state appeals court said that Avvo is not obliged to “unmask” the mean reviewer.
Thomson had sued for defamation, but the court ruled that there wasn’t enough evidence to show that the review was defamatory.
Thomson maintained that the review was fictitious and designed to damage her professional name.
This was the original review posted on Avvo:
“I am still in court five years after Ms. Thomson represented me during my divorce proceedings. Her lack of basic business skills and detachment from her fiduciary responsibilities has cost me everything. She failed to show up for a nine-hour mediation because she had vacation days. She failed to subpoena documents that are critical to the division of assets in any divorce proceeding. In fact, she did not subpoena any documents at all. My interests were simply not protected in any meaningful way.”
Thomson then counters with her own reply:
“The writer of this review was not an actual client of mine. This is a personal attack from someone that I know. • The writer alleges that I represented her more than five years ago. Five years ago, I was employed by a law firm, and any cases were not my own. • The court has procedural safeguards to ensure that a case does not drag on for a significant amount of time, and alleging that a case is still going on for over five years is absurd. • If this was an actual case and was still going on five years after representing a person, my involvement would have been far removed. • A mediation would not occur if the attorney did not show up. Mediations are not scheduled for a specific amount of time, as indicated in the review. • I had a different last name at this time, and an actual client would not have referred to me as Ms. Thomson. Unfortunately, AVVO does not verify the information contained in a negative client review, nor does it verify that a person was, in fact, an actual client, before allowing it to post on an attorney’s profile.”
If you look at this lady’s Avvo page, though, the harsh review is an outlier – just one negative response among a sea of positive ones.
In an interview, Avvo general counsel Josh King said that the company has been sued a number of times in this fashion, and received one or two request a months to reveal the identity of anonymous commenters.
Pictured: Tacoma, Washington