Two ladies, both “of the media” who at first blush appear to have little in common, now share the title,  “litigant”.  Though they live some 1,500 miles apart from each other, have dissimilar backgrounds and neither would be confused for the other, they are now sisters in litigation.

First up – daytime TV star, real attorney and former real judge, “Judge Judy”. Ms. Judy Sheindlin has commenced suit in Federal Court in Connecticut against an attorney named John Haymond.  Mr. Haymond is a personal injury attorney who advertises and promotes his firm via the web, YouTube and on television, sometimes during Judge Judy’s show. The ads and promos contain Judge Judy’s image and some include clips from her show. Such usage it is alleged in the complaint, is unauthorized and without the Judge’s consent.

Indeed, Ms. Sheindlin’s papers make it clear to the Court that she had requested that Mr. Haymond cease using her image in his ads, via at least written notice from CBS Television Distribution. Yet such use continued.

She decided to sue – reportedly for the first time in her life – and filed against the defendant/lawyer on multiple grounds which include allegations that Mr. Haymond and/or his firm are liable for: falsely representing that the Judge endorsed his services or law firm, deceptive trade practices, committed ethical violations in making “false or misleading communications about a lawyer or lawyer’s services”, appropriation of her likeness, appropriation of her right of publicity and under Connecticut common law.

Purportedly one of “America’s 100 Most Trusted Women” (that is in the complaint) is really ticked off. From what we see thus far, we don’t blame her.  She makes mega millions from the show, her books and related appearances. The fact that she is a lawyer suing another lawyer makes this case our easy “You Can’t Make This Stuff Up” winner of the week.

The complaint has just been filed and a formal response from the defendant is not due in court for several weeks yet.  We will keep you posted. If you want to read more, here is the article from the NY Daily News-

From Connecticut we go to the warm Florida coast to Lauren Greenfield who filmed the documentary film “Queen of Versailles”. A Sundance Festival fave, the flick has been engulfed in all sorts of media and legal mayhem.

Most recently, Ms. Greenfield obtained a very favorable decision from a Florida court regarding the adequacy of certain model releases which were used in connection with the filming.  The issue was whether the release and the signature on it, was effective. Whether any claims would be heard in court or via arbitration was technically the issue.

For our purposes, the key issue raised is whether a given person signing a model release has the actual authority to do so on behalf of another person or on behalf of a company.  We are frequently confronted with questions like, “Can Uncle Dave sign a release on behalf of his wife for life, Aunt Sue”? or “Can Joe Blow sign the release on behalf of the company he works for”? Here the issues involve whether the signatory on the model release who was a “son”, had the authority to bind a corporation for whom he perhaps didn’t work of have any corporate authority.

The judge in Florida took testimony to determine the validity of the model release based on the circumstances of its creation and questions about changes made to it. It found the testimony regarding the signing and the physical altering of the model release to be, “inconsistent and incredible and thus lacking weight”.  In good old fashioned English on the streets of America such a view is frequently shortened to, “F.O.S.”  Score the goal for Ms. Greenfield. You can read more about this case here.

Without a formal, written power of attorney or some roughly equivalent signed agreement or document, you ought assume that an adult is not authorized to sign a model release on behalf of anyone other than themselves whether it be at a wedding or on assignment at an exotic location.