Free speech on trial
Over the last decade, Mount Pleasant lawyer Todd Levitt has built a quirky public persona as a “badass” attorney best known as an advocate for students who find themselves appearing in the sometimes unfriendly courtrooms of Isabella County.
Today, Central Michigan University students are most likely to recognize Levitt’s name because he is the former fixed-term faculty member who is suing CMU student Zachary Felton after he created a parody Twitter account titled “Todd Levitt 2.0.”
One thing that almost everyone can agree on is that Levitt’s reputation is on the line. In many ways, this is a case he cannot win. That’s why we are urging him to withdraw the complaint against Felton.
In May, Levitt filed a lawsuit against Felton, a Mount Pleasant senior, who is the son of James Felton, chair of the finance and law department. Professor Felton and Levitt have exchanged jabs in the past during a confrontation that was recorded and leaked online. Now, Levitt is accusing Felton – the student – of harming his professional reputation and intentionally inflicting emotional distress.
Felton’s attorney claims the parody account caused Levitt’s reputation no more damage than he already has inflicted on himself.
Levitt is well-known on campus and in the community. There is no doubt he’s made himself a public figure. He hosts a radio show where he dispenses opinions and advice. Last Spring, he tore through campus driving a taxi while a television crew recorded his conversations with students – a stunt he hoped would eventually land him his own reality-television show. Then there are his numerous YouTube videos, which have helped him create a singular cult of personality.
In the lawsuit, Levitt states that his professional reputation was tainted by the tweets. Levitt admitted in later court documents that he created the website “Top College Lawyers” and then awarded himself the highest honor and promoted it to students. Levitt’s own Twitter account made reference to partying, cancelling class for no reason and smoking marijuana.
Satire and parody are forms of expression protected by the Constitution. Ultimately, Levitt cannot be upset that a student is exercising his right to free speech just as Levitt has always done.
To some, Levitt’s behavior is off putting. Many other students look upon him with reverence. Despite the work Levitt has done on behalf of students, his reputation as a fighter for student rights was greatly diminished the moment he filed this lawsuit.
Even worse, if Levitt does choose to head our protestation, he may have already gone too far to turn back. In conversations with Felton’s lawyer, Gordon Bloem, Levitt has few options of taking back his complaint. Bloem said that if Levitt tries to back out, he will still try to seek damages for his client.
That all depends on whether a judge will allow the case to see its full course through the legal process – we’re hoping for Levitt’s sake, it does not.
Until then, we feel compelled to say what everyone in this town has been thinking.
If Levitt truly cares about the freedom to be whoever you want to be, say whatever you want to say and be free of reprisal and censorship, this odd saga must end immediately.