Levitt continues legal battles after parody Twitter case
Mount Pleasant attorney Todd Levitt is engaged in seeking damages for a story published by local newspaper The Morning Sun and revisiting a June 2014 defamation lawsuit regarding a Twitter account Levitt said portrayed him in a false light.
The case was dismissed in February by Isabella County Chief Judge Paul Chamberlain, who concluded that then-Central Michigan University senior Zachary Felton's tweets were parody and therefore protected free speech. Levitt filed an appeal to the Michigan Court of Appeals in March, questioning Chamberlain's decision to grant Felton summary disposition, a determination made by a court without issuing a legal opinion.
Levitt is represented by Southfield attorney Steven Mamat, Felton is represented by attorneys Gordon Bloem and Jon Schrotenboer.
The Isabella County Trial Court made errors when it failed to consider Levitt's other claims, Mamat said, including false light, intentional infliction of distress, libel, tortious interference with business relations and business defamation. Mamat will have to show that the judge has either not followed the law or failed to follow a particular process in coming to a decision.
A brief was submitted to the court on Aug. 2, and Felton's lawyers have until Sept. 3 to draft a reply to Levitt's allegations.
"This case concerns a fundamental right, the First Amendment, and how it applies to everyday life," Mamat said.
Levitt also filed a civil lawsuit on April 23 against Lisa Yanick-Jonaitis, local newspaper The Morning Sun, the paper's parent company Digital First Media, CMU College of Business professors James Felton and Kenneth Sanney and Bloem as well as others yet to be identified who are listed as John or Jane Doe.
The civil suit stems from a story written by Yanick-Jonaitis, community engagement editor, and published by The Morning Sun. The story, titled "Mt. Pleasant lawyer suing student admits to fake award, marijuana tweets," details statements Levitt made in court during a hearing. It states that "Levitt himself created the website topcollegelawyers.com, and then proclaimed himself “College Lawyer of the Year,” and used the manufactured award to promote himself."
Levitt is accusing the defendants of libel and slander, false light invasion of privacy, intentional interference with business expectancy, civil conspiracy, infliction of emotional distress and reckless conduct due to The Morning Sun. Levitt, represented by Mount Pleasant attorney John Devine, is seeking $1 million in damages for each count.
Yanick-Jonaitis and The Morning Sun are represented by Robin Hermann, a Bloomfield Hills attorney who specializes in areas of media law, particularly defamation, privacy and access issues, among others.
Lawyers defending both sides spent most of the summer arguing over whether or not The Morning Sun should have to answer discovery requests served to the defense. The Morning Sun objected to 134 questions served to them and wanted to file a motion to dismiss the case before answering the discovery questions.
Isabella County Chief Judge Paul Chamberlain issued an order that the questions would have to be answered by June 4. The Morning Sun answered some the questions but also made 140 objections in its answer, and filed a motion for summary disposition.
In the meantime, individual defendants James Felton and Bloem, represented by Schrotenboer, and Sanney, representing himself, filed motions for summary disposition on July 31, which were taken under advisement by Chamberlain.
A motion hearing is scheduled for Sept. 18. Chamberlain will make a ruling on whether or not the case will see its day in court. The hearing begins at 1:30 p.m. in Isabella County Trial Court.
"We are diligently preparing to defend the motions and it will be timely filed," Devine said.
Devine said it could take up to 18 months for the case to be resolved.
Sanney, a CMU finance and law professor and previous chair of the entrepreneurship program, is counter suing Levitt after a June 2014 incident outside of Levitt's office on Bellows Avenue. Sanney claims that Levitt verbally assaulted him as he Felton were walking from Sloan Hall to the Kaya coffee shop.
According to Sanney's counter-complaint, Levitt approached James Felton in an aggressive manner as they passed his former law office in the Student Book Exchange building. The complaint states that Levitt menacingly stared as the pair walked by and began shouting "catch me if you can mother (expletive). Well, I caught you mother (expletive), and you're going down."
The complaint states that Levitt then began to approach Sanney and James Felton from behind, shouting obscenities and trying to goad them into a fight. At one point, Levitt began reaching around his back and when asked why he did so replied "because I'm not going to just hit you," according to the complaint.
Court documents state that Sanney claims Levitt clearly demonstrated his desire to intimidate Sanney, who is representing himself in court.
Sanney said in court documents that Levitt’s verbal assault violated the Michigan Rules of Professional Conduct, which states that "A lawyer shall treat with courtesy and respect all persons involved in the legal process." He is seeking an unspecified amount of monetary damages, costs and attorney fees.
Sanney did not file a police report after the incident.
Tweets from Todd Levitt 2.0
Felton's account @levittlawyer, also known as "Todd Levitt 2.0," posted over 70 tweets since April 15, 2014. The account was removed for some time during the first round of legal action between Levitt and Felton and reactivated after Chamberlain's dismissal of the case.
The parody account has not been active since April 13.Tweets by @levittlawyer