CONNECTICUT JUDGE: ATTORNEY MARC RANDAZZA IS TOO UNETHICAL TO REPRESENT ALEX JONES
Alex Jones needed an “untainted” lawyer. That’s why he fired Marc Randazza this month.
The far-right conspiracy theorist had had a brief professional relationship with the attorney-to-the-trolls. Last spring, Jones, who falsely claimed that the Sandy Hook massacre was a hoax, hired Randazza after being sued in Connecticut Superior Court by six families of children killed in the 2012 school shooting and an FBI agent who responded to the scene.
But Randazza, a regular guest on Jones’ conspiracy outlet Infowars, came with baggage.
In January, the attorney filed what’s called a pro hac vice application to be added to the Sandy Hook case as an out-of-state lawyer. Judges routinely sign off on these applications. The Connecticut judge, however, swiftly rejected Randazza’s application, citing “serious misconduct” by the attorney.
“Permission to appear pro hac vice is a privilege, not a right,” the judge wrote, ending Randazza’s aspirations to take the stage in one of the highest-profile First Amendment cases in the country.
The ruling was a humiliating setback for a lawyer who styles himself as a top free speech attorney. So was getting canned by his marquee client. Jones declared that he had no option, given the rejection of Randazza’s pro hac vice application, but to “choose new counsel untainted by the claims of misconduct.”
Claims? There was nothing suggestive about Randazza’s misconduct. It happened. And his ethical problems had been on display for almost a decade, flaring into view only a few years after he began his legal career as a copyright enforcer for pornographers.
In 2009, he’d taken a job as in-house counsel for a group of porn companies known as Excelsior/Liberty. But he sold out his employer for side money, according to an arbitrator’s ruling. After getting caught, Randazza waged lawfare against Excelsior/Liberty for years. The dispute only exposed him as a scoundrel. In 2015, he lost decisively in arbitration, then declared bankruptcy to avoid paying $600,000 in damages.
By then, he’d reinvented himself as an attorney for racists, fascists, rape advocates, propagandists and extremists. He soon became America’s go-to attorney for far-right undesirables who use defamation, harassment and threats to silence others. Some of his current clients include neo-Nazi publisher Andrew Anglin, Holocaust-denying slanderer Chuck Johnson and Pizzagate peddler Mike Cernovich, who is also Randazza’s close friend and business partner. Another Randazza friend and ― according to him ― former client is the porn actress and right-wing Gamergate troll Mercedes Carrera, who was charged in February with eight counts of sexually abusing a minor under the age of 10. (Carrera has pleaded not guilty.)
Randazza’s brush-off in Connecticut, however, had nothing to do with the sordid company he keeps. It had to do with his ethical problems.
In December, HuffPost published an exposé of Randazza’s violations of the rules of professional conduct that govern attorney behavior. He’d made scores of misrepresentations in court, entered into conflicts of interest and solicited bribes.
“There needs to be a little gravy for me,” he once wrote opposing counsel while seeking extra lucre. “I’m gonna want at least used BMW money.”
For years, Randazza had avoided scrutiny for his wrongdoing, mainly because the legal profession does such a poor job policing its own. Eventually, the State Bar of Nevada, which licenses Randazza, launched an investigation. (He is also licensed in Arizona, California, Florida and Massachusetts.) Randazza pleaded guilty to two ethical violations. The first concerned a shady loan he’d made; the second, a bribe he’d solicited from Oron, a file-sharing company he sued while working for Excelsior/Liberty.
But the Nevada Bar found “mitigating circumstances” to reduce Randazza’s punishment. In October, he walked away with a 12-month stayed suspension and an 18-month probation. He kept right on lawyering.
He also continued to fudge facts. And his offenses may finally be catching up to him.
LEGACY OF LIES
Randazza started his job at Excelsior/Liberty in 2009. But he was soon secretly lawyering for Excelsior/Liberty competitors such as Bang Bros, Titan Media and Kink.com. These were glaring conflicts of interest. Randazza also worked for companies accused of infringing Excelsior/Liberty’s copyrights. One was XVideos, a porn site that Excelsior/Liberty wanted Randazza, then their in-house counsel, to sue for infringement. Instead, Randazza started billing XVideos every month, a fact he concealed from Excelsior/Liberty while dissuading his employer from pursuing litigation. Randazza invoiced XVideos for over $44,000 during this period.
Randazza also made misrepresentations about his role at Excelsior/Liberty. In court filings, he often concealed his salaried job and claimed that Excelsior/Liberty had “incurred” his fees, which allowed him to recoup more money from litigation targets. Over time, his behavior grew more brazen. He used ill-gotten privileged legal communications that might have come from a hacker to gain an advantage in one proceeding. In others, he began soliciting payoffs from litigation targets to “conflict himself out” from being able to sue them again.
In 2012, his boss at Excelsior/Liberty caught Randazza trying to sneak one of these bribes into a settlement agreement. Their relationship ended. Randazza filed a trumped-up discrimination claim, alleging he’d been sexually harassed as a straight man working at a gay porn company. He sued Excelsior/Liberty. Then he initiated an arbitration dispute. Excelsior/Liberty, meanwhile, filed bar complaints against Randazza everywhere he was licensed.
In 2013, Randazza lied to the bar associations in Nevada and Florida about not representing XVideos. The Nevada Bar, which was the lead regulatory body, did nothing and declined to investigate any of Excelsior/Liberty’s other allegations, citing pending litigation. The bar complaints in other jurisdictions were subsequently closed.
But the arbitration forced Randazza to produce financial records and admit under oath that he’d been working for XVideos all along, among other unethical things. In 2015, the arbitrator ruled against Randazza on numerous points and determined that the attorney had solicited a $75,000 bribe from Oron. Randazza filed for bankruptcy to avoid paying damages to Excelsior/Liberty. His former employer lodged another round of bar complaints based on the arbitrator’s decision and voluminous evidence from the arbitration.
At the end of 2016, the Nevada Bar finally filed an amended complaint against Randazza seeking to discipline him for misconduct. Randazza negotiated a conditional guilty plea that let him off the hook for most of the alleged violations. The Nevada Bar accepted his plea last year and recommended a light punishment, which the Nevada Supreme Court approved in October 2018.
The Nevada discipline has now prompted “reciprocal” disciplinary proceedings in the other jurisdictions that license Randazza. Those bar associations will decide whether to impose similar discipline for Randazza’s admitted ethical violations or to increase or reduce his punishment.
Below, a roundup of Randazza’s latest problems and prevarications across the country.
Randazza is not licensed in Connecticut and not subject to reciprocal discipline here. He has, however, made misrepresentations that might indicate a continued pattern of unethical behavior. Consider the sworn affidavit attached to Randazza’s pro hac vice application in the Sandy Hook case. In it, Randazza acknowledged the reciprocal disciplinary proceedings against him but told the court that he was “aware of no other grievances.”
But he had known for weeks about a new Excelsior/Liberty-related complaint against him, this one filed in Arizona in October by a different party.
When HuffPost asked Randazza about the omission in his affidavit, he claimed the complaint wasn’t a “grievance” because Arizona uses different terms. He called it a “screening” and said he felt no need to report it since it was a refiling of documents from the Excelsior/Liberty dispute, which was true. A few days later, he told the Connecticut court that the new complaint dealt with the “same set of operative facts as the underlying discipline in Nevada.” That, though, was misleading. The complaint covers alleged violations that the Nevada Bar failed to address ― for example, Randazza’s request for “used BMW money.”
In response to Randazza’s application to represent Jones, the Sandy Hook plaintiffs had also filed a memorandum that included the 2015 arbitration ruling against Randazza. Emails produced during the arbitration show that Randazza solicited a payoff to prevent him from suing Oron in the future, a clear violation of an ethical rule that prohibits a lawyer from offering or making an agreement that restricts his right to practice.
In court, Randazza dismissed the memorandum as “an effort to smear” him and called the bribe a “mischaracterization.” Randazza also told the court that his discussions with Oron about paying him “were fully disclosed” to Excelsior/Liberty. But this, too, had been shot down during the arbitration.
“That’s a flat-out lie, and he knows it,” said Brian Dunlap, the vice president of Excelsior. “He could never produce any emails when he disclosed it. He could never recall any specific dates when he did. He could never back it up at all. And his story kept changing.”
In response to the Nevada Supreme Court order disciplining Randazza, the Arizona Bar in January gave Randazza 18 months of probation and a formal reprimand for his “failure to avoid conflicts of interest with clients” and his failure to act ethically in extending a loan to a client.
A separate Arizona ethics complaint was filed against Randazza on Oct. 12, 2018, by Tom Retzlaff, who has tangled in court with far-right extremists such as Jason Lee Van Dyke, a Texas lawyer and ostensibly a former member of the Proud Boys gang. Van Dyke has worked closely with Randazza in the past and was recently suspended from practicing law in Texas for three months for threatening to kill Retzlaff.
The Arizona Bar confirmed to HuffPost that Retzlaff, who has his own history of legal trouble, had filed a “charge” against Randazza, which has triggered a preliminary “screening” investigation. The Arizona Bar appears to be looking into a wider range of scurrilous activity than Nevada did, including Randazza’s relationship with XVideos, the alleged copyright infringer that Randazza was secretly representing.
And Randazza now appears to be lying about XVideos to the Arizona Bar. In January, he assured the bar that he’d told Excelsior/Liberty “in writing” about his representation of XVideos and that he let his employer know he couldn’t represent Excelsior/Liberty against XVideos because of a potential conflict.
Randazza did not attach any proof of his XVideos disclosure to his response and refused to show the disclosure to HuffPost, citing attorney-client privilege.
“For him to say there was any disclosure or that clients were aware at all is obviously just bullshit,” Dunlap said. “If that were the case, why would he deny [working for XVideos] initially to the Florida and Nevada bars in 2013?”
Randazza’s claims to Arizona contradict what the Nevada Bar found in 2016, when it charged him with failing to disclose the XVideos conflict, hiding it from his employer and never getting “informed consent, confirmed in writing … to represent XVideos.” (The Nevada Bar did not pursue this alleged ethical violation.)
Randazza’s Arizona response also clashed with his sworn arbitration testimony, when Randazza explicitly said he never made any written disclosure to Excelsior/Liberty about XVideos being his client nor obtained written consent from Excelsior/Liberty to represent XVideos.
Randazza will likely face reciprocal discipline in California for his Excelsior/Liberty transgressions. And Randazza made what appear to be dozens of misrepresentations in California federal court about his fees. He also solicited payments from TNA and Megaupload, two other Excelsior/Liberty litigation targets, to conflict himself out of future lawsuits, according to evidence produced during arbitration. As in other jurisdictions, it is an ethical violation in California for an attorney to “be a party to or participate in offering or making an agreement” to restrict his right to practice.
Retzlaff filed a bar complaint against Randazza in California on Nov. 22, 2018, he said.
A reciprocal discipline action against Randazza is underway in Florida, which has looked past Randazza’s dishonesty before. In 2013, Randazza told The Florida Bar that he didn’t work for XVideos. Randazza’s lawyer at the time, Brian Tannebaum, made the false statement in a letter he sent to the Bar.
Randazza told HuffPost that he insisted the letter be corrected as soon as he realized it contained an error and that Tannebaum was “entitled to get a detail wrong.” Randazza said he told Tannebaum to send a new letter to the bar.
But it’s unclear when Tannebaum did this, if at all. (Tannebaum refused to tell HuffPost if he had sent another letter.) And the timing Randazza cited was curious. His XVideos misrepresentation came to light during the arbitration in 2015. In September of last year, HuffPost showed Tannebaum the portion of the arbitration hearing where Randazza admitted to working for XVideos. Tannebaum, who no longer represents Randazza, said it was a document he’d never seen before.
“I did not participate in the arbitration,” he said.
After speaking with HuffPost in September, Tannebaum said he contacted The Florida Bar in an effort to correct the XVideos misrepresentation. But this would have been at least three years after Randazza became aware of the problem.
Randazza is scheduled to appear for a disciplinary hearing in Massachusetts on March 26. He may face the most legal jeopardy in his home state, where he may have already misled two courts in telling them that he didn’t “cause his clients to suffer any actual harm or financial losses.” That statement clashes with the ruling of the arbitrator, who determined that Randazza pilfered a $60,000 settlement from Excelsior/Liberty and violated the terms of another settlement, forcing his employer to pay back half of a $550,000 award.
In a reciprocal proceeding in Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, the Massachusetts Board of Bar Overseers, which licenses Randazza, is closely scrutinizing his Excelsior/Liberty misconduct. According to Dunlap, the board hopes to convince a judge that the Nevada Bar didn’t do enough to rein in Randazza, who has continued to make misrepresentations.
In his response to the board, for example, Randazza declared that he “did not participate in the offering or making of an agreement to explicitly restrict his practice,” which would be a violation of the rules of professional conduct.
But arbitration evidence and his own testimony showed that Randazza discussed payments from several companies to restrict his practice. His own guilty plea in Nevada includes an admission that he “offered to enter into an agreement [with Oron] which would have the likely effect of restricting Respondent’s right to practice law.”
Randazza also told the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court that he’d never made an offer to “never sue” Oron again.
But in an email from Randazza to Oron’s attorney, Randazza does make an offer to never sue Oron again:
Randazza isn’t licensed in Montana, where he represents the neo-Nazi publisher Andrew Anglin in another high-profile case. He has run into pro hac vice problems here too. In November, the judge in the Anglin case, having learned that Randazza neglected to follow court rules requiring him to update his pro hac vice application with the Nevada discipline, ordered Randazza to comply. Randazza quickly updated his application. But he has continued to fib in court.
In Nevada, Randazza can avoid an actual suspension if he “stays out of trouble” during his probation. Any other grievance against him that results in discipline will likely trigger a suspension. With each deception, Randazza increases that risk.
But other jurisdictions that license him have also been hamstrung by Nevada’s tepid response to his misconduct, an outcome that Randazza has wrongly trumpeted as evidence of his innocence with respect to allegations that Nevada didn’t consider. Without a judge’s authorization or a new complaint, other bar associations are limited in their reciprocal proceedings to addressing only the violations to which Randazza pleaded guilty in Nevada. Some of the bars are upset with Nevada for letting Randazza off easy, according to Dunlap.
“It’s good,” Dunlap said. “If everyone gets together for a conference, I want Nevada to be all lonely in the corner.”