I got the letter (PDF) from Judge Ruben Guerrero’s lawyer, Bruse Loyd, a couple of weeks ago:
It is our understanding that you own the domain name “judgerubenguerrero.com.” This website constitutes an unauthorized use of Judge Guerrero’s identity and is both unlawful and harmful to his reputation. As such, we respectfully request that you take down the website.
…and I had to decide what direction I was going to take.
I could respond to Mr. Loyd’s threats (“If the website is not removed within ten (10) days, we will take the necessary legal action”) with an explanation, either privately or here, of the law (noncommercial use of Judge Guerrero’s name, as in judgerubenguerrero.com, is protected by the First Amendment; attempts to stifle my speech would be met with a defense that would prove very expensive to Judge Guerrero both financially (because of Texas’s new anti-SLAPP statute) and reputationally (because of the Streisand Effect). The effect, if Mr. Loyd were just a little more competent than his client (an unknown, since a competent lawyer would not have sent the threatening letter in the first place), would likely have been to head off a lawsuit.
Or I could give prepare to defend myself in court and give Mr. Loyd and Judge Guerrero a chance to double down and carry through with their threats.
In his letter Mr. Loyd wrote, “Please call or email if you wish to discuss the matter.” So on 18 August I emailed:
Dear Mr. Loyd:
I have your letter of 16 August on behalf of your client, Judge Ruben Guerrero.
In your last paragraph you state, “If the website is not removed within ten (10) days, we will take the necessary legal action.”
I appreciate your explaining to me that “ten” is the same as “10,” but please describe what you consider “the necessary legal action.” I’m a criminal-defense trial lawer; I need things spelled out.
In other words, c’mon Bruse, double down!
Loyd didn’t reply.
I sent the email again on 21 August. Again, Bruse Loyd didn’t reply. He and his client didn’t double down, which either shows a) that one of them came to his senses and realized how bad an idea it would be to file suit or b) that they knew all along that their threats were hollow, but misestimated their target.
A certain class of lawyers enjoys writing demand letters; usually (protip for the nonlawyers out there) they are bluster, with citations (meant to impress people who don’t read law) masking the shoddiness of the legal reasoning. They depend on the ignorance and fear of their targets to get what they want. I don’t know whether it’d be better that they did not intend to carry through on their vague legal threat, or that they did intend to.
Whether or not he knew that the law was not on his side, Judge Guerrero thought it was okay to try to stifle criticism by threatening legal action.
I put judgerubenguerrero.com up on a lark a couple of years ago, when I realized how terrible a judge Ruben Guerrero is (worst judge in the Harris County criminal courthouse, even before I knew of his contempt for the First Amendment; I have told him personally what I think of his judging) and that he would be seeking reelection in 2012. I never did anything to promote it, and would probably have forgotten about it had Guerrero not tried to sic his lawyer on me. I wonder how that’s going to work out for him.
Loyd complained that judgerubenguerrero.com is “harmful” to Guerrero’s reputation. That’s as it should be: when your reputation is a falsehood, the truth tends to harm it.