1-800-Ask-Gary firm sues lawyers over critical blog
Published: September 13, 2010
Three lawyers say they were just engaging in legitimate speech about the 1-800-Ask-Gary hot line. Not amused, the people behind Ask Gary sued.
Now, both sides are engaged in a Pinellas County lawsuit that will test commercial speech rights. At issue: how far can the lawyers go when criticizing the hot line and the chain of accident clinic behind it?
Last month, a company called W.S. Marketing Inc. filed a lawsuit against attorney Peter Brudny of Tampa and two Pinellas County lawyers, Kathryn Fenderson Scott and Charles Scott, individually as well as their law firms. W.S. Marketing licenses the 1-800-Ask-Gary trademark and does business as Ask Gary, according to the suit filed in circuit court in Pinellas County.
The lawsuit concerns a blog that the Scotts, a married couple, have posted on their Web site at www.scottandfenderson.com. Occasionally, the Scotts wrote critically about the Ask Gary helpline and the personal injury lawyers who get referrals from it.
For example, in a July blog item the Scotts list a number of heavy-advertising law firms that receive referrals from 1-800-Ask-Gary. The Scotts point out that these firms don't disclose their referral relationship with the hot line.
Behind the hot line is a large chain of accident clinics called Physicians Group LLC, which has offices in Florida, Kentucky and Minnesota.
On one occasion, the Scotts asked people who have used 1-800-Ask-Gary to call Brudny - a Tampa personal injury lawyer - about their experiences. In an interview last week, Brudny said he has been investigating the relationships between the Ask Gary hot line, the lawyers who receive referrals from it and Physicians Group.
W.S. Marketing claims in its lawsuit that these blog postings essentially were advertisements for the law firms and constitute "unfair methods of competition or unfair or deceptive acts or practices." It also says the blog postings don't meet the strict requirements that the Florida Bar sets for legal ads.
The Tribune was unable to reach attorneys for W.S. Marketing on Monday. The law firms being sued say W.S. Marketing and its related Ask Gary hot line are trying to squelch critics. To defend them, the Scotts have hired Luke Lirot, a lawyer best known for representing adult entertainment club owners such as Joe Redner.
Lirot said the Scotts' blog was less critical of 1-800-Ask-Gary than many of the YouTube videos, Internet comments and news articles devoted to it.
Brudny added, "They can't show any economic harm (from the blog). And, this is just their attempt to quiet any investigation of what's going on inside their walls."