Internet Law

ratings review

Image from Shutterstock.com.

A Pittsburgh lawyer has sued a former client for alleged libel in a negative online review that stays atop Google ratings because of reposting and editing.

Lawyer Robert Mielnicki filed the suit in state court in Pennsylvania, Law360 reports.

Mielnicki said that, for a prolonged period of time, he was the first or second listing in Google search results that appeared when people searched for “Pittsburgh criminal attorney” on Google. Next to his listing was his top Google rating of 5.0. He was receiving three or four calls per day from prospective clients as a result of the listing.

After the client posted his review calling Mielnicki’s representation a “nightmare,” his rating dropped to a 4.7, Mielnicki’s suit says. Now he doesn’t receive even one call per day from prospective clients, Mielnicki says.

Google removed the negative review in late February or early March, but the former client posted a new review March 27, according to the suit. Since then, the client continued to edit the review, making it the newest review that people see.

The former client “is engaged in cyberstalking at this point” because of the constantly changing reviews, Mielnicki’s suit alleges.

Mielnicki said he asked Google to remove the new review, but the company said it could do nothing because the review did not appear to originate from spam or a bot. Mielnicki sent case documents to Google in hopes that it would side with him, but the search engine did not stop or curtail the review, the suit says.

Mielnicki had represented the client when he was sued for alleged assault by a man who claimed that the client had punched him in the jaw. The assault plaintiff had alleged that Mielnicki’s client assaulted him for no good reason, while Mielnicki’s client claimed self-defense.

The assault suit said the assault took place at the home where the client lived with his mother. The insurer that provided homeowners insurance filed a petition to intervene that contended that it had no duty to cover the alleged assault.

Mielnicki said his client wanted to sue the man he allegedly assaulted, but Mielnicki told him that he would first have to win the suit for civil assault. He said he also informed the client that the assault plaintiff was likely represented by a contingency-fee lawyer who wouldn’t be interested in continuing the representation if there was no insurance coverage.

The client had visited Mielnicki for an initial consultation in December 2011 and paid an initial retainer, the suit says. The client fired Mielnicki in 2013 and hired a new lawyer who filed a motion for summary judgment that was denied, according to the suit. The new lawyer agreed to release the insurer of obligations in the case. The new lawyer withdrew from representation in May 2014.

Mielnicki’s suit says the client claimed that Mielnicki did not assert self-defense, even though Mielnicki argued self-defense “at every opportunity.”

Mielnicki’s suit also takes issue with the client’s assertion that Mielnicki should have gotten the assault plaintiff’s case dismissed based on a stand-your-ground defense. The suit says the former client’s accusation is based upon “some fictitious ‘stand your ground’ law” and, in any event, the new lawyer was also unable to get the assault case dismissed.

The former client also said Mielnicki’s role was to file a countersuit against the man who claimed assault. Mielnicki’s suit says it is unclear, however, what the counterclaim would be.