We all know the drill. Somebody’s done somebody wrong or is threatening to do so — maybe a landlord refusing to make a repair, maybe a creditor unleashing bill collectors for an imaginary or unjust debt, maybe a neighbor defying neighborhood covenant — and a brushback pitch seems appropriate. So you go to that friend or relative who has a law degree and ask her or him to send a letter full of legalese threatening unspecified litigation if the malefactor doesn’t come around. It’s amazing how often this gambit works.
It is not, however, the sort of thing you expect to see someone try to pull under the bright lights of an incredibly high-profile case, like the Washington Post’s (and at least one subsequent accuser’s) allegations of predatory behavior by Alabama Supreme Court chief justice and GOP Senate nominee Roy Moore. But there it is, in a letter from one Trenton R. Garmon JD MA (it’s unclear why he left off the BA for his undergraduate degree) from the firm Garmon and Lidden (“Attorneys for the People”) to attorneys for the Alabama Media Group, the company that owns three Alabama newspapers and the digital site al.com, that is the go-to source for most non-Alabama folk about Alabama politics and other items of interest from the state. The first paragraph tells you all you need to know about the threat letter and the care with which it was prepared:
Please allow this to serve as notice that our firm has been retained to represent the Foundation for Moral Law, it’s president Kayla Moore and Chief Justice Roy Moore. We also represent Roy S. Moore and Kayla Moore individually. We do, therefore, alert you to the duties and notices provided herein for your client the Alabama Media Group operating as al.com. This letter is provided in anticipating of our firm preparing and filing a lawsuit against your client and its agents.
The letter goes on, with incomplete sentences and other assaults on grammar and usage, to describe al.com’s straight reporting of the allegations raised by the Post and the “fifth woman” who accused Moore of a sexual assault against her when she was 16 as “false reports and/or careless reporting.” Garmon (JD, MA) also claims his target “carelessly [a really unfortunate adjective for him to use so frequently in this letter —Ed.] and perhaps allowed general libel and scandal” by quoting locals from Gadsden who said Moore had a creepy reputation back in the day.
Other than its (or should I say: “it’s”) abundant if inept presentation of legal jargon, the only real indication that it was drafted by an actual lawyer are references to al.com acting “maliciously” and “with knowledge that the matter published are false.” These are allusions to the standard for libel suits against public figures set out in the landmark Supreme Court case of New York Times v. Sullivan. Interestingly enough, that case also arose in Alabama when a Montgomery councilman got an Alabama jury to award him a half-million smackers in damages because an ad published by the Times alleging (correctly) that the arrest of Martin Luther King for perjury was part of an effort to protect segregation had some factual errors. SCOTUS unanimously struck down Alabama’s libel law on grounds that even false statements about public figures were protected by the First Amendment absent malice or reckless disregard for the truth.
Whether or not the various allegations against Moore are true, they were collected just like news organizations collect any other information, best we can tell. And so the idea that somehow al.com acted maliciously in reporting them is as far-fetched as some of Moore’s counterarguments against his accusers. And Garmon presumably knows that. So yes, this is an intimidation letter. But its recipients are not the local landlord or a harassing creditor or an obnoxious neighbor, but the attorneys for a major media company who surely got a big belly laugh out of Garmon’s letter. That the aggrieved client in this case is the chief judicial officer in Alabama gives the comedy a tinge of tragedy.
It gets worse, though: Garmon has gone on two major media networks and shown that his communications problems are not limited to letter-writing. The Hill has one story:
“Yeah, man it’s great to be on here Don, appreciate it,” lawyer Trenton Garmon said at the beginning of his appearance on “CNN Tonight.” “I hope that I’d be able to give you the name ‘Don Easy Peasy Lemon Squeezy,’ right? You’ll take it easy on me.”
Lemon did not address the nickname at its first mention, but continued to push Garmon about the recent accusations leveled against Moore. Garmon then repeated the nickname. “But hey, Don Lemon squeezy, keep it easy. Here’s the thing, man —” Garmon said.
But Lemon cut him off, saying his name is just Don Lemon.
Think Progress has another howler from an MSNBC appearance by Garmon:
In a rambling interview on Wednesday morning, Roy Moore’s attorney, Trenton Garmon, tried to explain and defend the way Moore is responding to various accusations of sexually abusing young girls. When hosts Ali Velshi and Stephanie Ruhle asked why Moore would need to ask a girl’s parents for permission to date her, Garmon suggested that Velshi comes from a “diverse background” and could not understand Alabama culture.
“Culturally speaking, obviously there’s differences,” Garmon began. “I looked up Ali’s background there, and wow, that’s awesome you’ve got such a diverse background. It’s really cool to read through that.”
It’s reasonably clear Garmon wasn’t using “diverse” as a compliment.
Before he could continue, Ruhle pounced, demanding to know what Velshi’s background has to do with dating 14-year-old girls.
“In other countries, there’s arrangement through parents for what we would refer to as consensual marriage —”
“Ali’s from Canada,” Ruhle countered.
There’s an old saying that anyone who chooses to represent himself or herself in court “has a fool for a lawyer.” But it might have been a better tack for Moore. And the thing is, he should have known better. Garmon’s law license was suspended in 2014 for 91 days for what sounds like a rather egregious case of ambulance-chasing. While the action was recommended by a disciplinary panel of the state bar association, it was actually ordered by the Alabama Supreme Court, whose chief justice is one Roy S. Moore.