Standing up to bullies, redux

Tales from a software engineer and geek

Standing up to bullies, redux

Previously, Standing up to bullies

One of my favorite stories to tell is the time I exposed a Dental Group in Santa Clarita for their audacious behavior. The basics of the story are: my (at the time) fiancé went to a dentist near our house in Newhall. It had been some time since she had seen a dentist, and was well aware that some work would need to be done. The dentist used some high pressure sales tactics, lying by telling her she needed a great deal of work done and stating that insurance wouldn’t cover any of it. She came home in tears, wondering how we were going to afford procedures that were in the tens of thousands of dollars. After such an awful experience, she got a second opinion, learned that the dentist lied, and left a negative review of the business on Yelp.

The dentist didn’t care for that, and sent a threatening letter. It stated that they had never seen her as a patient, adding that they would file a lawsuit if the review wasn’t removed within 24 hours. I laughed. Literally, I laughed, and the fiancé didn’t care for that. She was legitimately afraid that the dentist would sue her. I told her to ignore it, and move on.

Some time later, she received another letter; this one explained that there was new management, and they’d like an opportunity to correct the poor experience that lead to the negative review on Yelp. Further letters came in the form of typical advertisements, trying to get her back into the office. It was clear the dentist wasn’t going to drop it, so I began looking into them.

The dentist had a history of threatening lawsuits over negative reviews. Beyond that, a former employee was afraid of her, but was courageous enough to give me specific examples of blatant insurance fraud. Additionally, some reviews on Yelp and other sites had been buried; reviews that describe the same sort of behavior the fiancé experienced. I also looked at her lawsuit history, and the lawsuit history of dozens of other dentists in the Los Angeles County area. This dentist had a disproportionate amount of malpractice lawsuits against her; lawsuits which described the same course of conduct experienced by the fiancé.

At this point, I was incensed. Here we had a clear bully who took advantage of regular people, lying to and bilking them out of money. To me, this was clear theft. I decided to take action, but given the dentists legal threats I took steps to mask my identity and started a website of [name of dentist]sucks.com.

You’ll note that I’m leaving the name of the dentist out. Almost a year after I started the site, they decided to abuse the legal system, and attempted to get a restraining order against me, and an injunction to get the site taken down. After the hearing in which the judge remarked “this isn’t a restraining order issue, do not bring this back here,” our attorneys discussed the matter. They asked what it would take for me to remove the website. At this point, I was a couple months deep into a divorce (a story for another day), and had lost interest, so I opted to settle the matter. In exchange for an apology letter sent to my now ex-wife, I agreed to remove the website and never mention the dentists name in public again.

I deeply regret the decision to settle. If I could go back, I would refuse.

Unable to recover their Google search results after I thoroughly exposed their borderline criminal operation, they decided to change their name and move across the street. I recently took another look at them, and it appears they are still up to the same old tactics.

The restraining order system is egregiously abused all the time. It is simply a cost effective way to shut down or punish people for speech that the petitioner doesn’t like. Defamation cases are lengthy and expensive. Plus, in order to defame someone you have to first make statements that aren’t actual facts or statements of opinion. The website I had created listed out all of the facts I found, as well as some opinions based on disclosed information.

The restraining order system is meant for abusive exes, family members, former employees, or genuinely psychotic people who demonstrate an intent to cause harm, or seriously harass people to no end. Saying true things on the internet doesn’t qualify, no matter how much you’d like it to. By abusing this system, the dentist unequivocally stated that “true statements on the internet that I don’t like” are precisely the same as “my ex came after me with a knife,” which disgusts me.

Ken White at popehat.com said it best:

I say this over and over: the system is broken, because it allows people like this dentist and Bogus Betty to silence people like Bob by making low-risk threats and filing low-risk lawsuits. Most people can’t afford to hire a lawyer to resist. The California anti-SLAPP statute is great, but it requires a capable lawyer up front.

There’s only one way under the current system that people of modest means can be protected from thuggery. That way is the generosity and service of capable lawyers like David Casey and Adam Steinbaugh, as well as concerned non-lawyers like Nicholas Weaver. Thanks, gentlemen. You rock.

Will you answer the call?

Not only will I answer the call (and have answered it in the past), but I’ll take it a step further: I vow to fight this type of thuggery tooth and nail, down to my last penny if need be. This is unacceptable behavior in a civilized world, and I won’t stand for it.

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