Big Law firms’ anonymous internet postings about clients, cases and legal opposition. Part 1 in a new series.
“Let’s start with Miller Thomson LLP’s anonymous Internet postings about the National Hockey League Players Association and work up from there.”
Is it ethical for lawyers to anonymously post on the Internet about their cases, clients and legal opponents?
Since at least 2004, personnel from Miller Thomson LLP’s Toronto law office made dozens of anonymous Internet postings on Wikipedia.org and other websites; about clients, opponents and others involved in ongoing legal matters. I’ve also discovered that some other Big Law firms similarly made anonymous postings over the years.
But before the public calls upon the Law Society of Upper Canada to investigate, we had better ask “Who will watch the watchmen?”
As an example, my investigations show that in 2009 personnel from the law society themselves posted anonymously on Wikipedia.org about then Osgoode law student Wendy Babcock, a former Toronto sex-worker and political organizer. Babcock later committed suicide in 2011.
This extraordinary information is easily confirmed online by anyone with Internet access.
You’ll be able to confirm everything for yourself after reading this and other articles in the series. (So will investigators from the Law Society of Upper Canada; not that LSUC takes any action against BIG LAW firms like Miller Thomson LLP, but that is a separate issue.)
National Hockey League Players Association
Personnel from Miller Thomson’s Toronto law office anonymously posted on the Internet about the National Hockey League Players Association, former NHLPA Executive Director Bob Goodenow and then NHLPA associate counsel Ian Pulver.
These anonymous Internet postings appear to have been made at a time when Miller Thomson LLP either represented some of the subjects of the articles, or represented other clients in existing and/or potential legal proceedings or negotiations involving the subjects.
Over the years, Miller Thomson law office personnel also made many other anonymous Internet postings about persons and entities involved in legal actions, negotiations and labour disputes. Although their motives are not always apparent, one thing that is clear is that Miller Thomson personnel chose to make these Internet postings anonymously instead of using their real names or attributing the postings to Miller Thomson.
Are MIller Thomson’s actions ethical? Do their actions contravene any rules of the Law Society of Upper Canada?
Lawyers and other law firm personnel deal with privileged, confidential and intimately private information daily. That these same lawyers and staff would anonymously post information online about their clients, cases and legal opponents should be of grave concern to the legal profession and governing bodies because it tends to undermine public confidence in lawyers and thus in the justice system itself.
Forensic investigations revealed the truth about this little-known activity by law firm personnel. Other Big Law firms have been up to the same thing: a coming article in the series will consider anonymous Internet postings by Cassels Brock & Blackwell LLP and some other BIG LAW firms.
Are lawyers and law office personnel allowed to make anonymous Internet postings about their legal cases, clients and opponents?
To the ordinary Canadian, the Rules of Professional Conduct as posted on the website of the Law Society of Upper Canada appear to be so general and vague as to be almost useless as a guide in some of the incidents documented in this series. Other incidents I present in this new series are, however, obviously in violation of the LSUC Rules and of various Federal and Provincial laws as well.
Perhaps some lawyers out there might be able to comment after reading this article and others in the series.
I have identified a number of different types of anonymous internet activities that Miller Thomson and some other Canadian lawyers, law firms and legal personnel appear to be engaged in. In order of increasingly serious conduct:
- Anonymously changing the online public record about clients, cases and legal opponents.
- Anonymously spreading online rumours, misinformation & discord.
- Serious misconduct, including anonymous online threats against opposing witnesses, harassment, posting of confidential information including Identity Information as defined in the Criminal Code.
Once again, all of these activities happen in situations where the subjects of the anonymous conduct are either legal clients or opposing entities. And, in at least three examples I’ve found, personnel from law firms made anonymous internet postings about competing law firms and lawyers.
Example #1: Miller Thomson personnel anonymously changed the public internet record about Robert W. “Bob” Goodenow, Executive Director of the National Hockey League Players Association
Spend a few minutes surfing the website of Miller Thomson’s Sports & Entertainment Group, do a few Google searches and you’ll soon confirm that the Miller Thomson law firm and many of its partners and associate lawyers have NHL teams, owners and players as clients.
According to the Miller Thomson website, at least one M/T lawyer worked with the National Hockey League Players Association during the 2004/2005 lockout that saw the entire season cancelled, while other M/T lawyers have been, and still are, involved with NHL negotiations in various capacities. We don’t know if Miller Thomson LLP represented NHLPA Director Bob Goodenow personally, but the law firm certainly represented persons and entities that were heavily involved in the 2004/2005 season lockout that cost Goodenow his job on July 28, 2005.
Wikipedia.org is an online encyclopedia that members of the public are able to edit, either with an identifying account or anonymously (with or without an account). The website is considered so important that it is a major source for ‘Top 10’ Google search returns.
When members of the public edit Wikipedia without an account, the Wikipedia website logs their IP (Internet Protocol Number) and makes these logs available to the public, which in certain cases can be used to identify the source of the anonymous posting. Obviously, some Miller Thomson LLP personnel were unaware that their IP number was assigned to the law firm and could lead forensic investigators right back to their 40 King Street West, Toronto office!
Records from the Wikipedia.org show that on September 22, 2006, an anonymous person from IP 22.214.171.124 made public edits to the Wikipedia article about Bob Goodenow by removing the following paragraph:
ˇIt has been confirmed that Goodenow attended the Major League Baseball All-Star Game instead of participating in the overnight talks. Goodenow’s lack of a solid plan to fight the billionaire owners needlessly cost the players an entire season and almost $1.5 billion in compensation and hurt many, many others as well.”
Here is a screen capture (photo) of the revision: Sept 22, 2006 Miller Thomson Goodenow
Here is the Sept 22, 2006 revision in the page history online now at Wikipedia.
What nobody realized until years later, is that IP 126.96.36.199 has been permanently assigned to Miller Thomson LLP law firm’s 40 King St. West, Toronto office since 1997. (Screen capture of ‘WhoIS’ search for IP 188.8.131.52 here. Do your own ‘IP WhoIS’ search at DomainTools.com WhoIs Lookup)
Was Miller Thomson LLP retained by Mr. Goodenow or some other client to make anonymous changes to Bob Goodenow’s Wikipedia page and other online information? Or, did Miller Thomson legal personnel take it upon themselves to anonymously delete a paragraph that reflected badly upon Mr. Goodenow; a person that had been involved with Miller Thomson LLP law firm? What was their motivation? Why would lawyers do this anonymously?
Example #2: Miller Thomson personnel anonymously changed the public internet record about Ian Pulver, Associate counsel to the National Hockey League Players Association from 1990 – 2005. Miller Thomson personnel anonymously published the names of four of Pulver’s clients.
On January 31, 2007, unknown personnel from Miller Thomson’s Toronto office (using IP 184.108.40.206) anonymously edited the public National Hockey League Players Association page at Wikipedia.org and added this passage about Ian Pulver, Associate Counsel to the NHLPA from 1990-2005:
“Ian Pulver – Associate counsel to the NHLPA from 1990-2005, one of the driving forces behind salary arbitration and a key member of the NHLPA’s CBA negotiating team. Pulver started Pulver Sports in 2006. Clients include Scott Gomez, Bryan McCabe, Patrick Lalime and Wade Belak.”
Here is a screen capture (photo) of the revision: Jan 31, 2007 Miller Thomson Pulver
Here is the Jan 31, 2007 revision online now at Wikipedia.
Are Mr. Pulver’s clients content that Miller Thomson personnel revealed their names publicly as Mr. Pulver’s clients? Are the NHLPA and Mr. Pulver content that personnel from Miller Thomson LLP changed the public internet record about the NHLPA and Mr. Pulver?
Those are just the first two of dozens of Miller Thomson LLP’s anonymous internet postings that will be documented in this continuing series.
Part Two: How this investigation happened.