Junk Science And Marketeers and Legal Threats, Oh My!

Effluvia

Bloggers love it when themes collide — when a story reflects one of their pet topics intersecting with an entirely unrelated but equally important pet topic. It's like Sad Keanu or Rebecca Black getting into a fistfight with an ungrammatical kitten or one of those YA RLY owls.

That's why this story delights me. It's got everything we love at Popehat. It's got free speech, legal threats, SLAPP issues, junk science, bad marketing, and proves the familiar catchphrase "outsource your marketing, outsource your reputation and ethics." If someone in the story could just get their junk touched by the TSA and draw a disapproving comment from a blimp-riding Ron Paul, I think I would have either a stroke or an inappropriate orgasm.

So, without further ado, I'd like you to meet Marc Stephens, who wants you to think he is an attorney.

Marc Stephens, as far as I've been able to determine with some help and leads from friends, is a web designer in California, a former real estate agent, and the president of a defunct California corporation. However, as far as I can tell, he is not a member of the bar in California or Texas.

So why is he sending legal threats suggesting that he will sue bloggers on behalf of a Texas "client"?

The "client" in question is "The Burzynski Clinic" in Texas. Dr. Burzynski markets himself and his clinic as at the cutting edge of cancer treatment, and promotes clinical trials in something called "antineoplaston treatment." He has his fans and devotees and occasionally his uncritical good press in the media. But he also has detractors — including numerous science bloggers who have asserted that his "antineoplaston treatment" is overpriced junk science that has not been subjected to appropriate peer review, and who have criticized Dr. Burzynski for promoting it. I am no scientist — my knowledge of cancer treatment is from observing the ugly end of it — so I will let the science bloggers speak for themselves. Consider, for instance, Quackometer, Orac at Respectful Insolence, Cancer Research UK, and 17-year-old UK blogger Rhys Morgan at Skeptical.

I'm not here to convince you that Dr. Burzynski practices junk science, though as a layman I find the criticisms of him far more persuasive than his defenses. No, my point is about marketing and censorship. Bloggers openly questioned Dr. Burzynski's practices and the scientific basis for them. In an era in which junk scientists respond to public expressions of skepticism with libel suits, this could not stand. And so a champion — Marc Stephens — emerged, perhaps self-appointed, perhaps not.

Marc Stephens embarked upon a campaign of threatening, bumptious, berating emails against bloggers who had questioned the scientific basis for the Burzynski Clinic's practices. Blogger Josephine Jones compiled a list both his threats and the responses to them and commentary on them.

The threats strongly implied — falsely, it appears — that Marc Stephens is an attorney representing the Burzynski Clinic. For example, his threat to Quackometer implied repeatedly that he's the clinic's lawyer, as did his continuing dialogue with the proprietors of that site:

I represent the Burzynski Clinic, Burzynski Research Institute, and Dr. Stanislaw Burzynski. It has been brought to our attention that you have content on your websites http://www.quackometer.net/blog/2011/11/the-false-hope-of-the-burzynski-clinic.html that is in violation of multiple laws.

Please allow this correspondence to serve as notice to you that you published libelous and defamatory information. This correspondence constitutes a demand that you immediately cease and desist in your actions defaming and libeling my clients.

Please be advised that my clients consider the content of your posting to be legally actionable under numerous legal causes of action, including but not limited to: defamation Libel, defamation per se, and tortious interference with business contracts and business relationships. The information you assert in your article is factually incorrect, and posted with either actual knowledge, or reckless disregard for its falsity.

Once I obtain a subpoena for your personal information, I will not settle this case with you. Shut the article down IMMEDIATELY.

GOVERN YOURSELF ACCORDINGLY.

You fully understand what you’re doing, which is why you are trying to hide behind your so-called “opinion”. You have a history of lying in your articles since 2008. All articles and videos posted from your little network are being forwarded to local authorities, as well as local counsel. It is your responsibility to understand when you brake[sic] the law. I am only obligated to show you in court.

None of the previous attorneys that contacted you about defamation had documented history in the courts. We have well documented history which is on record with the court, which is available to the public. So, when I present to the juror that my client and his cancer treatment has went up against 5 Grand Juries which involved the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the National Cancer Institute (NCI), Aetna Life Insurance, Emprise, Inc., Texas State Medical Board, and the United States Government, and was found not guilty in all 5 cases, you will wish you never wrote your article. In addition, my client has treated multiple cancer patients around the world, which is fully documented by the FDA, NCI, and Kurume University School of Medicine in Japan, and has finished Phase II clinical trials with FDA approval to move forward with Phase III. I suggest you spend more time with your new child then posting lies and false information on the internet that will eventually get you sued, which will hurt you financially. I am going to pursue you at the highest extent of the law.

Marc Stephens also refused Quackometer's repeated requests to specify exactly what in the blog post was false, which as I've said before is a telltale sign of a bullshit legal threat.

Stephens made similar threats to 17-year-old Rhys Morgan, with a similar false implication that Stephens is a lawyer representing the clinic:

I represent Dr. Stanislaw Burzynski, Burzynski Clinic, and Burzynski Research Institute.
It has been brought to our attention that you have content on your website http://thewelshboyo.co.uk/2011/08/the-burzynski-clinic/ and on your Twitter account that is in violation of several state and federal laws.

This is a legal complaint regarding the your multiple twitter account posts, and article you posted online titled “The Burzynski Clinic dated August 28, 2011, by Rhys Morgan”. This correspondence constitutes a demand that you immediately cease and desist in your actions defaming and libeling my clients."

Rhys Morgan initially took his post down. But — rather cleverly — he decided to write to the clinic to determine whether Marc Stephens was actually a lawyer representing them.

Dear Sir,

I attach an email (titled Email Thread.pdf) I have received from one Marc Stephens, who claims to represent you. As you can see from the attachment, he states that he represents you, and furthermore threatens me with libel proceedings in respect of material I posted on my blog.

I have carried out some internet research, and I have not been able to establish whether or not Mr. Stephens is a lawyer; certainly he does not appear to be a member of the California Bar nor the Texas Bar in the light of my visit to the California Bar Association’s and the State Bar of Texas’s websites. Please could you confirm for me whether he does in fact represent you and, if he does, on what basis he does represent you.

In the light of Mr. Stephen’s email I attach a copy of an article (titled Burzynski Blog Final.pdf) I propose to post on my blog as well as the original blog post (titled The Burzynski Clinic.pdf) which is currently offline. Please could you tell me within 7 days what, if any, of the blogs you object to, and, in particular, whether you believe any of the blogs to be factually untrue.

Yours faithfully,

Rhys Morgan

The clinic apparently forwarded the communication to Stephens, who responded in a high fury. Note how carefully he avoids committing to whether or not he is a lawyer representing the clinic — even though the text of his response, and the fact that he responded on behalf of the clinic, is calculated to create the false appearance that he is:

Rhys,

This is my THIRD AND FINAL WARNING to you.

Please convey this message to your entire Skeptic Network, which includes but not limited to, Ratbags.com, thetwentyfirstfloor, quackwatch, etc. I represent Dr. Burzynski, the Burzynski Clinic, and the Burzynski Research Institute. I’ve attached Azad Rastegar, and Renee Trimble from the Burzynski Clinic for your confirmation.

In the following weeks I will be giving authorization to local attorneys in multiple countries to pursue every defamation libel case online, including your online libelous statements. I suggest you shut down your entire online defamation campaign about Dr. Burzynski, and remove ALL recent or previous comments off the internet IMMEDIATELY. The minute you post any libelous comments online about my client I will pursue you and your parents/guardians To the Full Extent of the Law. I have no obligation to train you, or teach you, the meaning of defamation. Google it, or go to the library and research it.

This is a very serious matter. Please confirm your mailing address, which I have on record as (my address). If you do not cooperate an official legal complaint requesting punitive damages will be mailed to that address. I will be contacting your school as well to inform them of your illegal acts.

Again, this is my FINAL WARNING TO YOU.

Regards,

Marc Stephens

For more on Stephens' campaign, check out Respectful Insolence or BoingBoing or PZ Myers. And note this, in context, hilarious line from Stephens:

Just so you know that I am very serious. I copied Renee Trimble the Director of Public Relations, and Azad Rastegar the spokesperson for the Burzynski Clinic. You and your supporters can stop asking if I am an attorney. Again, I represent the Burzynski Clinic, Burzynski Research Institute, and Dr. Stanislaw Burzynski. If your articles remain online I will pursue you in court to the highest extent of the law.

Uh-huh.

Anyway, despite his misleading and arguably fraudulent suggestions to the contrary, Marc Stephens is not, it appears, an attorney. Rather, it seems he's a web guru of some flavor, with a shop called MAS Web Design & Hosting (MAS for Marc Anthony Stephens, no doubt) which proudly displays a link to the Burzynski Clinic. His name is listed on a Burzynski Clinic patient site as representing the clinic in some capacity.

Was Marc Stephens authorized to go on his tirade? Well, the fact that the clinic forwarded Rhys Morgan's inquiry to Stephen suggests that he was. But if you ask the clinic now, they'll be quick to tell you that he wasn't, as revealed in their press release:

The Burzynski Clinic is issuing the following public statement regarding recent internet activity between U.K. bloggers who have provided inaccurate information regarding the Clinic and Marc Stephens.

Marc Stephens was recently hired by the Burzynski Clinic as an independent contractor to provide web optimization services and to attempt to stop the dissemination of false and inaccurate information concerning Dr. Burzynski and the Clinic.

We understand that Marc Stephens sent a google map picture of a blogger's house to the blogger and made personal comments to bloggers. Dr. Burzynski and the Clinic feel that such actions were not appropriate. Dr. Buzynski and the Burzynski Clinic apologize for these comments. Marc Stephens no longer has a professional relationship with the Burzynski Clinic.

That squishing sound you hear is Marc Stephens being thrown under the bus by the Burzynski Clinic.

But just because they're pushing poor, angry, frothing, rather inarticulate, possibly crazy Marc out on an ice floe, don't think they are backing down. The rest of the press release asserts that bloggers are making false statements about Burzynski's methods. (Protip: if it becomes necessary to issue a press release saying, in effect, "we don't pee on people", something has gone very badly wrong with your public relations strategy.) The press release goes on to single out U.K. bloggers (a tell that the clinic is probably contemplating the loathsome practice of libel tourism) and warns that their attorneys will be in touch. Who will represent them? Well, Rhys Morgan got a hint:

Then, on Wednesday, 23rd September – one day before the new deadline was up – I received an email from a law firm called Dozier Internet Law. They informed me they had been hired by the Burzynski Clinic to “investigate and address the issues regarding [my] blog” and respond to my questions in the email sent directly to the Burzynski Clinic.

Ah, yes. The Dozier Law Group. They are the shrewd practitioners that like to send threatening letters and assert that the letters are copyrighted and that publishing them on the internet will lead to lawsuits, in a comically stupid effort to thwart the Streisand Effect. Those guys. Burzynski Clinic, let me tell you: if your aim is to repair the damage to your reputation caused by Marc Stephens buffoonish threats, then you're heading in the wrong direction. As a public relations move, firing Marc Stephens and hiring the Dozier Law Group is roughly like firing Jeffrey Dahmer as your sous-chef and hiring Hannibal Lecter to take his place. Hannibal is far more polished, but you're not really changing the message — you're still talking about eating people.

So: it's object lesson time.

Lesson number one: as we say all the time in the context of criticizing lawyers who hire internet marketeers who promote the lawyers through comment spam, when you outsource your marketing, you outsource your reputation and your ethics. The Burzynski Clinic's press release seems to concede that it tasked Marc Stephens to address its bad reputation on the internet. Through a campaign of half-literate, comically legally misguided, and fatuously irritating legal threats, Marc Stephens worsened Dr. Burzynski's reputation by several orders of magnitude, to the point of getting a 17-year-old blogger a column in The Guardian, which normally would never happen unless the 17-year-old were particularly critical of Israel. Marc Stephens could not have harmed Burzynski's reputation more if he had set out on a well-funded campaign to destroy it. The lesson: manage your own reputation, and carefully monitor the people who help you with it.

Lesson number two: think and investigate before buckling to legal threats. The person threatening you with a defamation suit over the internet is sometimes a lawyer and sometimes a lunatic. Here, a young student was savvy enough to inquire, investigate, and draw his own conclusions. Be more like Rhys Morgan, who initially took a post down, but then put it back up and wrote more about it based on a rational inquiry.

[On this point: do not assume you can tell a lawyer from a lay-nut by reading a threat letter. I see many commentators have asserted that Marc Stephens was obviously not a lawyer because his communications contained grammatical and spelling errors, feckless generalities, puerile purple prose, and other hallmarks of crazy people. Anyone who says that has not had prolonged exposure to actual lawyers, some of whom write exactly like that. Always check the state bar web site.]

Lesson number three: stand up, and ask the community to help you stand up. Rhys Morgan — a 17-year-old — yielded initially but ultimately sought help, engaged in rational inquiry, and stood up against the loathsome thuggery of Marc Stephens and the Burzynski Clinic. There are many lawyers and non-lawyers who will help you if you are being threatened with a defamation claim based on what you've written. [I'm one of them. In fact, watch this space for the successful conclusion of another instance of anti-science thuggery.] Note: this is easier said that done, and we at Popehat are not in a position to throw the first stone at anyone who has yielded to a legal threat. But if you've gotten one, there are people willing to help — seek them out.

Lesson number four: this one is a special delivery, with love from Ken to Marc Stephens. Marc, you've been sending multiple communications to people on the internet. Those communications repeatedly imply that you are a lawyer representing the Burzynski Clinic. In fact, I submit that any reasonable person reading those communications would conclude that you're fraudulently posing as a lawyer. Guess what, Marc. That's illegal. It's a crime in California, where I suspect you currently reside. The Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office — which, I believe based on my research of you, would have jurisdiction over you — takes an active interest in prosecuting it. California courts define "practice of law" very broadly, and not particularly specifically, for purposes of the unauthorized practice thereof:

[A]ny definition of legal practice is, given the complexity and variability of the
subject, incapable of universal application and can provide only a general guide to
whether a particular act or activity is the practice of law. To restrict or limit its
applicability to situations in the interest of specificity would also limit its
applicability to situations in which the public requires protection.

People v. Landlords Professional Services (1989) 215 Cal.App.3d 1599, 1609.

I've taken the liberty of dropping a note to the DA about you, Marc. I encourage everyone who has gotten a legal threat from you to do the same — as victims, their complains will be more convincing.

Lesson number five: Attempts at censorship via legal threats are not merely futile in the internet age — they are disastrously counter-productive. GOVERN YOURSELF ACCORDINGLY.

Update: Marc Stephens sent a threatening email to me based on this post, and I responded.

Last 5 posts by Ken White

79 Comments

73 Comments

  1. TJIC  •  Dec 6, 2011 @2:18 pm

    Utterly excellent post, but I'm not sure I love this


    I’ve taken the liberty of dropping a note to the DA about you, Marc.

    The guy is a scum bag, but I'm not convinced that getting The State to squash him for flirting near the boundary of practicing law is wonderful.

    Two reasons:

    1) It's THE STATE. Pus-bag of illegitimate force, intimidation, and rights violation. Whatever rights-trampling evil Marc has done in his entire life, the government of California has utterly outclassed in the last 15 seconds.

    2) There's a lot of near-law that I think it is morally legitimate for unlicensed folks to practice on their own. Over the last five years my firm has probably shelled out $50k in legal fees, but we've saved even more by acting as our own representatives in small claims suits, in explaining MGL, USC, and case law to various goofballs, etc. I mean, heck, I'm 100% in favor of everyone practicing law without any credentialing from the government, but I'm not even arguing for that here – I'm just saying that shooting emails back and forth arguing over what the law says and what actions one might take next is 100% within the purview of what even "small-l" libertarians think that free people should be able to do.

    Cut down one more tree in England so the Devil can't hide behind it, and we've got one less tree.

  2. Ken  •  Dec 6, 2011 @2:22 pm

    It's a fair point, TJIC, and as you know, I'm not one to carry water for the state. But here's why I disagree:

    1. He's not merely making legal threats, which anyone can do. He's POSING AS A LAWYER to make legal threats, to make those threats more scary. I agree it's legitimate for non-legal people to do as much as possible in the legal field. It's not morally legitimate for them to pretend to me lawyers for the extra intimidation factor it gives them. If he were merely making arguments about what the law is without fraudulently suggesting he's a lawyer, he'd be a censorious douche, but not a criminal.

    2. He's posing as a lawyer in order to stifle speech he doesn't like.

  3. Ken  •  Dec 6, 2011 @2:29 pm

    By the way, I solicited Marc Stephens for a comment on this subject before posting. He never responded. Here was my email to him:

    Dear Mr. Stephens,

    I write at the site http://www.popehat.com on a variety of subjects, with an emphasis on First Amendment issues, SLAPP suits, and free speech questions. I am also an attorney with a practice including First Amendment issues, though I do not blog to promote my professional work.

    My attention has been drawn to a series of threatening communications you have sent to various science bloggers. I am preparing to write a post regarding those communications.

    I would like to give you an opportunity to answer a few questions before I post on this subject. My questions are:

    1. Are you the same Marc Anthony Stephens who is the registered agent for the suspended corporation MAS Acquisitions, Inc., with an address on 20th Street in Santa Monica, and with a recently expired California Real Estate license?
    2. I find no record of you being admitted to the California or Texas bar, yet several of your communications appear to imply that you are an attorney. Are you? Do you represent anyone in this matter as an attorney?
    3. What is your intent in sending a high school student a Google map picture of his house? Did you intend to convey a threat of physical harm?
    4. Can you name any of the "local authorities" to which you have reported the blog posts of which you complain?
    5. Can you name any of the "local counsel" to which you have referred your legal threats against various science bloggers?

    I would be pleased to include your answers to these questions in my post about your threats.

    Meanwhile, I am moving forward with my investigation of your activities. You might be interested in other investigative work I have recently done: http://www.popehat.com/2011/09/25/anatomy-of-a-scam-chapter-index/

    Very truly yours,

    Ken
    http://www.popehat.com

  4. TJIC  •  Dec 6, 2011 @2:29 pm

    > If he were merely making arguments about what the law is without fraudulently suggesting he’s a lawyer, he’d be a censorious douche, but not a criminal.

    Well, if "criminal" means "in violation of some illegitimate and morally dubious sentence written on a piece of paper by people who collectively call themselves 'the state of California'", then I'll agree that he's a criminal.

    Of course, the armed gang known as 'the state of California' exists in violation of SEVERAL sentences written on pieces of paper by yours truly, so I'm left unclear on why I should side with "the state" over "Marc".

    Second, in the absence of some Platonic Ideal saying "THIS is a lawyer, while THIS is a table", I'm not sure what water the argument holds.

    Now, I'm just a simple country object-oriented-programming-language fan, but I subscribe to the philosophy of "duck typing" http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Duck_typing

    If an entity puts cold metal in a forge, takes it out when yellow, then hammers on it, that entity seems to support the "blacksmith" API.

    If another entity turns wood really fast on a lathe then carves it, he supports the "woodturner" API.

    …and if a third entity says "the law is X, and I intend to do Y unless you do Z", then he supports the "lawyer" API.

    I reject the moral legitimacy of the ABA conspiring with 'the state of California' (filled with ABA members) to reduce the quantity of lawyers on the market and raise the price of law services that are available to regular people.

    …but I'm not surprised ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Public_choice_theory )

  5. Chris  •  Dec 6, 2011 @2:38 pm

    I'm with Travis here.
    Marc Stephens is a douche.

    I'm not sure representing himself as something he is not is really fraudulent though. Even though the State of California has a law against it.

    Who is harmed by his representation? He is incapable of filing the lawsuits he claims to have in the works. The blog posts went back up. You have done an incredible job of documenting his lack of skill and credentials.

    Stephens is now a joke on the internet and anyone who googles his name in the future will likely come across this post and give his threats no weight. He is for all intents OUT of this business.

    What advantage is there to having the taxpayers of California pay to investigate, charge, try, and potentially house him?

  6. Mad Rocket Scientist  •  Dec 6, 2011 @2:41 pm

    I guess that depends on whether or not the State of CA grants lawyers any special privileges or powers (e.g. Police or Medical Doctors)?

  7. Chris  •  Dec 6, 2011 @2:48 pm

    MRS,
    It certainly restricts the total number of people who practice to those who "the State Bar" deem qualified.
    A type of rent seeking no?

  8. TJIC  •  Dec 6, 2011 @3:10 pm

    > I guess that depends on whether or not the State of CA grants lawyers any special privileges or powers (e.g. Police or Medical Doctors)?

    On the bright side, government only limits one of those two professions with a maximum IQ.

    http://nyletterpress.wordpress.com/2008/02/29/police-reject-candidate-for-being-too-intelligent/

  9. Tam  •  Dec 6, 2011 @3:18 pm

    TJIC,

    I'm sorry, but, while I think cockroaches are odious and nasty creatures, if someone flings a bucket of them at me, I have no qualms about scooping them up and tossing them right back at him.

  10. JohnBerry  •  Dec 6, 2011 @3:18 pm

    Rhys Morgan is just 17? A mature, smart, and cool customer. When people wistfully shake their heads and remark about "kids these days" I think about the Rhys Morgan's of the world and reply: "Yeah, kids these days!"

  11. TJIC  •  Dec 6, 2011 @3:24 pm

    > I’m sorry, but, while I think cockroaches are odious and nasty creatures, if someone flings a bucket of them at me, I have no qualms about scooping them up and tossing them right back at him.

    Absolutely.

    I just wouldn't invite Nazis into my home and delegate the cockroach flinging duties to them.

  12. Scott Jacobs  •  Dec 6, 2011 @3:26 pm

    I see many commentators have asserted that Marc Stephens was obviously not a lawyer because his communications contained grammatical and spelling errors

    Over a decade ago I took a few Crime Scene Investigation classes, and in the list of classes were two "legal" classes. My instructor – a woman who had been DA in Los Angles during the time of the OJ trial – was very good, and actually made me enjoy these classes (though it could have been the material, as I found a latter class "The Legal Environment of Business" regarding All manner of Tort and Liability to also be quite interesting – yes I am aware that there is something wrong with me).

    However, her tests were always a collection of massive spelling errors, and not just in the bullshit Latin lawyers use to make themselves feel smarter than they are.

    So, towards the end of the semester, I asked her about them as I handed in a test. Her response was: "You know, I used to be able to spell… Then I went to law school…"

  13. Mad Rocket Scientist  •  Dec 6, 2011 @3:28 pm

    I can see the value of professional licensing via the AMA, or the bar, etc. It makes a handy signalling device that the person I am contracting with for professional services meets some minimum standard. I don't think such credentialing orgs should be able to control the supply of labor, but I don't know enough of how the bar works to know if it does (I've heard the AMA does influence the number of med school grads by controlling how many med schools have their stamp of approval).

    Still, an indicator is nice. It's not a guarantee that the professional in the phone book is not a quack or a moron, but it does limit the ability of scam artists to play the part.

    As for creeps like MAS, I don't think the DA should come down on him like a million-pound shit-hammer, but maybe a phone call or letter from the DA reminding him that he's busy poking a bear (the legal profession) he really does not want to be poking would be prudent.

  14. Scott Jacobs  •  Dec 6, 2011 @3:33 pm

    Also, I do believe that if, after I have asked what exactly was untrue in a post I wrote, I am greeted with more bullshit threats, I do believe my response would be "Go fuck yourself".

  15. Rick H.  •  Dec 6, 2011 @3:39 pm

    If I poke my finger from inside my pocket, letting you believe it's a gun, and threaten to shoot you, it's bit a more effective than saying "I'll shoot you" while clearly unarmed.

  16. Chris  •  Dec 6, 2011 @3:42 pm

    Rick H.
    If you do that in my presence you will die. I won't be contacting the cops to protect you.

    We (Ken) have figuratively done that to Marc Stephens here, no?

    Do we need the authorities?

  17. TJIC  •  Dec 6, 2011 @3:42 pm

    > after I have asked what exactly was untrue in a post I wrote, I am greeted with more bullshit threats, I do believe my response would be “Go fuck yourself”.

    That's been my usual approach in life.

    Not always wise, but it is, on occasion, hilarious.

    http://www.daily-nonsense.com/Blog/copyright-confusion-escalates-hilarity-ensues

  18. Chris  •  Dec 6, 2011 @3:51 pm

    MRS,
    >I can see the value of professional licensing via the AMA, or the bar, etc. It makes a handy signalling device that the person I am contracting with for professional services meets some minimum standard. I don’t think such credentialing orgs should be able to control the supply of labor, but I don’t know enough of how the bar works to know if it does (I’ve heard the AMA does influence the number of med school grads by controlling how many med schools have their stamp of approval).
    Either 1, members of the Bar pay dues which make it a professional org that is beyond the publics ability to control. Or 2, WE (taxpayers) pay and should have the ability to determine who we want to be licensed. I'm not aware of a way to vote for referenda to Bar bylaws.

    >Still, an indicator is nice. It’s not a guarantee that the professional in the phone book is not a quack or a moron, but it does limit the ability of scam artists to play the part.

    Underwriters Laboratories does this privately without the need for government funding, and doesn't demand that all products sold must contain their stamp of approval.

    >As for creeps like MAS, I don’t think the DA should come down on him like a million-pound shit-hammer, but maybe a phone call or letter from the DA reminding him that he’s busy poking a bear (the legal profession) he really does not want to be poking would be prudent.

    Keep in mind that is not how public employees work. They go after the easiest, lowest hanging fruit (see Joe Arpaio and his recent non investigation of reported sex crimes against minors, because it's too difficult). If "victims" of MAS contact a DA it will certainly get attention because it is so flipping easy. And like I mentioned earlier, he is now out of this business. No one will ever take a letter from him seriously again.

  19. InMD  •  Dec 6, 2011 @4:12 pm

    I don't see anything wrong with requiring licensing for fields like law, though I do think it's a perfectly open question as to whether or not the current approach of J.D. followed by bar exam is an effective means of ensuring any sort of minimal standards.

    Nevertheless the consequences of poor legal representation can potentially be enormous and irreversible thus making this different in my mind than libertarian arguments about licensing barbers or the neighbor who watches a few people's kids for 20 minutes while they wait for the school bus. The stressful situations that land people in the legal system combined with public ignorance of that system means that there simply isn't the same level of informed assumption of the risk when choosing an attorney that there is under more routine circumstances. Not to mention no one ever went to jail and everything that goes along with being a convicted felon these days over a bad haircut.

    I'm also not sure how effectively the ABA is at restricting the supply of lawyers in states like California. Please correct me if I'm wrong but I was under the impression that graduating from an ABA accredited law school wasn't required to sit for the bar in that state?

  20. Linus  •  Dec 6, 2011 @4:44 pm

    Perhaps I am oversensitive, but GOVERN YOURSELF ACCORDINGLY may be the most telling sign of self-important douchebaggery currently in use. Might as well end a letter with SO LET IT BE WRITTEN, SO LET IT BE DONE.

  21. Linus  •  Dec 6, 2011 @4:47 pm

    And I know, I have just offended all the lawyers out there who append it to their letters as part of the form, but seriously, it's archaic, and it makes you sound like you think you're my dad or Caesar or something.

    Which you aren't (unless you are—hi, Dad!).

  22. PalMD  •  Dec 6, 2011 @4:57 pm

    What's up with the wacko libertarians? It is actually possible that the law can protect citizens from harassment such as that of MAS. That's what the law is for, in many cases. I feel no qualms about bringing the full power of the state down on this asshole.

  23. David  •  Dec 6, 2011 @5:12 pm

    The guy is falsely claiming to have the power to bring the authority of the State down on people he doesn't like. I have no problem with the State smacking him down for it.

  24. Suzanne  •  Dec 6, 2011 @5:41 pm

    InMD, you are correct. In California, prospective lawyers may attend a non-accredited law school. They just have to take an extra exam, called the Baby Bar, while they are in school. You can even qualify to take the bar through an apprenticeship program that has you work under a lawyer for 3 or 4 years and learn on the job. (You have to take the Baby Bar for that, too.) So the ABA really doesn't have anything to do with regulating the number of lawyers in CA, they just accredit the top tier schools.

    Ken, I'm really glad you decided to blog about this. The skeptic web has been boiling over about it, but I don't know how many people outside that sphere have heard about this.

    What some here may not know is that Stephens even tried to intimidate Rhys by sending a Google map photo of his home attached to one of his emails. That's just creepy.

  25. Ken  •  Dec 6, 2011 @5:52 pm

    @Suzanne: Thanks. I noted it in the science-blog community and wanted to bring it to the attention of the lawblogger/free-speech-blogger/geekblogger/libertarianish community. Watch for a similar case with a good result soon.

    @PalMD: We prefer "non-stated persons of whack."

  26. Scott Jacobs  •  Dec 6, 2011 @5:57 pm

    You can even qualify to take the bar through an apprenticeship program that has you work under a lawyer for 3 or 4 years and learn on the job. (You have to take the Baby Bar for that, too.)

    Really?

    Oh Ken…

  27. Ken  •  Dec 6, 2011 @5:59 pm

    ::twitch::

  28. bw1  •  Dec 6, 2011 @6:27 pm

    Ken: "It’s not morally legitimate for them to pretend to be lawyers for the extra intimidation factor it gives them."

    Because it's morally legitimate for the state to restrict that intimidation factor through guild membership? Come on, Ken, intimidation is a psychological game frequently based upon bluffing. Should the state require a license to raise in a poker game when they don't have a great hand? Should a parent need a license to threaten to disinherit their offspring? Sounds like somebody's letting his professional territorial instincts overshadow his usual skepticism about coercive government power.

    On the other hand, TJIC, is it always wrong for a libertarian to invoke a law he believes exceeds government's rightful powers? Under the current statist status quo, the government takes my money and wastes it trying to clean up the lives of those who use drugs – is it necessarily a betrayal of libertarianism if I report a drug law violation to delay/prevent someone's embarking on the drug use path for strictly fiscal reasons?

  29. Peter Bowditch  •  Dec 6, 2011 @6:33 pm

    Add me to the list of threatenees. I could even have been the first (October 28), but it took Burzynski 11 years to find out that I think, make that "know", he's a crook and a quack.

    http://www.ratbags.com/rsoles/comment/burzynski.htm

  30. Scott Jacobs  •  Dec 6, 2011 @6:41 pm

    ::twitch::

    What, you don't want to mentor me?

  31. SPQR  •  Dec 6, 2011 @7:00 pm

    I'll mentor you, Scott.

  32. Scott Jacobs  •  Dec 6, 2011 @7:09 pm

    *In best Cartman voice*

    Sweeeeeeeeeeeeet

  33. SPQR  •  Dec 6, 2011 @7:33 pm

    Exactly what kind of mentoring you looking for there, Cartman? Some Sandusky mentoring?

  34. Scott Jacobs  •  Dec 6, 2011 @7:34 pm

    You know what, I think I changed my mind…

  35. Ken  •  Dec 6, 2011 @7:34 pm

    Great. Just great. Now all the nice sciencey people who are visiting us think we're a pack of extremist libertarian pervs.

  36. Hal_10000  •  Dec 6, 2011 @7:46 pm

    One of your best posts, ever. I too am a little uncomfortable turning Stevens over to the State. However, having followed this since he began threatening Rhys, I'm in a good place with it. The e-mails he sent to a 17 y/o blogger were vicious, nasty and frightening. That of kind of bullying should not be tolerated.

  37. Scott Jacobs  •  Dec 6, 2011 @7:52 pm

    Now all the nice sciencey people who are visiting us think we’re a pack of extremist libertarian pervs.

    The ABA folks will be especially impressed, I'm sure…

  38. Shay  •  Dec 6, 2011 @8:20 pm

    The implied threat that Stephens left for another blogger mentioning his child would be reason enough to sic the DA's office on him. Let's hope the DA responds.

  39. TJIC  •  Dec 6, 2011 @9:03 pm

    > Great. Just great. Now all the nice sciencey people who are visiting us think we’re a pack of extremist libertarian pervs.

    I wouldn't join any pack that would have me.

    No objection to the terms "extremist", "libertarian", or "perv", though.

  40. Carli  •  Dec 6, 2011 @9:05 pm

    Dear Scott Jacobs,

    Ya, but oh well… :)

  41. Andy  •  Dec 6, 2011 @9:52 pm

    According to PalMD (whitecoatunderground), Stephens has, on at least one occasion stated "I am an attorney if that helps you sleep at night."

  42. Josephine Jones  •  Dec 7, 2011 @3:53 am

    I think that Marc Stephens has not only implied that he is an attorney – he has actually claimed to be one, in an email to the Genomic Repairman (@genrepair on Twitter).

    As a result of this, @genrepair took down his post (http://www.labspaces.net/view_blog.php?blogID=304) but reinstated it on 27th November.

    Shortly after this, he commented on my Stanislaw, Streisand and Spartacus post, mentioning that Stephens had claimed to be an attorney: http://josephinejones.wordpress.com/2011/11/25/stanislaw-streisand-and-spartacus/#comment-638

  43. Damon  •  Dec 7, 2011 @5:46 am

    Ken, You're a god!
    Loved the article. I'm about as hard core anti state as you can be but, in this case, oh how I'd love to read about several hammers comming down on this douche.

    I long to hear the squeals of pain and "the lamentation of de womenz". :) Keep up the good work.

  44. JLI  •  Dec 7, 2011 @8:11 am

    I agree that MAS deserves hars treatment for his behaviour towards bloggers and cancer patients participating in public fora
    But I am not convinced that it is his responsibility alone. In the press release, the clinic admits that he was an employee of theirs, hired to (among othere things) suppress criticism. It is hard to see how they would imagine he could do that without abusive behaviour – since they know he is not a lawyer.

  45. Tam  •  Dec 7, 2011 @8:39 am

    "Nevertheless the consequences of poor legal representation can potentially be enormous and irreversible thus making this different in my mind than libertarian arguments about licensing barbers…"

    Even barbers that offer shaves with straight razors?

    I find myself unmoved from my whackjob libertarian viewpoint by this argument.

  46. Matt  •  Dec 7, 2011 @8:39 am

    For what it's worth, the only thing he wrote (and you quoted) that would make me nearly 100% confident that he's not a lawyer was the "stop asking whether I'm a lawyer" bit. A lawyer would probably answer that question, if at all, with "of course I'm a lawyer, you moron!" or the like. Replacing "yes" with "stop asking" implies some consciousness of the fact that actually impersonating a lawyer is illegal, even if he doesn't share Ken's (or, most likely, the California judicial system's) interpretation of where the boundary is.

    I mean yes, he's quite conclusively proven that he's a crazy person. But no one with experience with lawyers would ever conclude that this means he mustn't be one.

  47. SPQR  •  Dec 7, 2011 @8:41 am

    Damn, another protege lost.

  48. Tam  •  Dec 7, 2011 @8:42 am

    PS:

    "Not to mention no one ever went to jail and everything that goes along with being a convicted felon these days over a bad haircut."

    Whoever is responsible for Justin Bieber's hair shouldn't be allowed within a hundred yards of a polling place.

  49. Davey  •  Dec 7, 2011 @8:53 am

    Dear Burzynski Clinic:
    Remember the Hollywood mantra – "There's no such thing as bad publicity…" and have a nice day!

  50. Ken  •  Dec 7, 2011 @8:57 am

    Marc Stephens has sent me what he apparently intends, to the best of his ability, to be an intimidating email. Will blog it when I return from court.

  51. Badly Shaved Monkey  •  Dec 7, 2011 @11:03 am

    Here's the link to the whitecoatunderground page quoting Stephens as saying, “I am an attorney if that helps you sleep at night.”

    http://whitecoatunderground.com/2011/12/01/when-did-the-burzynski-clinic-start-harassing-bloggers/

  52. Dan Weber  •  Dec 7, 2011 @12:31 pm

    Although I may think that the world would be better off by abolishing the legal guild and letting anyone practice law, as long as that standard exists we should not let people falsely claim to be part of it merely to intimidate others.

    I guess it all comes down to fraud. I wouldn't mind if someone provided legal services to others while stating upfront "I am not a lawyer" but would mind if they implied they were licensed as one. The same thing goes for sending legal threats to others.

    Speaking of legal threats, are we going to get a follow-up on the scammer? I eagerly type "popehat" into my browser hoping to see the next chapter of that. Sell it as an e-book in ePub format and I'll buy it.

  53. InMD  •  Dec 7, 2011 @2:36 pm

    Tam-

    I have two responses. First I'd say that weighing the risks and rewards of chosing a barber are very straightforward in a manner that they aren't when chosing an attorney. It's something that is well within the competency of the average person, and indeed even the average imbecile. Conversely even very basic legal concepts are often perplexing to the average litigant (and in my experience even moreso to the average criminal defendant).

    Additionally, the courts are public institutions charged with protecting the rights of individuals. There is thus a substantial public interest in maintaining policies which ensure at least a minimal level of justice is done. I'm certainly open to arguments that our current approach is failing at that, but I have trouble seeing how letting any person, no matter how incompetent, represent others will improve it and can easily see how such a policy might increase injustice in the court house. I also think the fact that one can represent oneself pro se significantly undermines the argument that there is a major restriction of liberty at play here. If a person is hellbent on embarrassing him or herself in court the system still allows for it.

    Regarding Justin Bieber, I concur.

  54. Aaron Worthing  •  Dec 7, 2011 @2:59 pm

    Check the rules of the relevant jurisdiction. In D.C. for instance, unauthorized practice of law is defined, in part, as holding yourself out as a lawyer in D.C. when you are not admitted to the D.C. Bar. I may have missed a detail or two in the post giving me enough info to know which jurisdictions are in play, but that shouldn't be hard for you to figure out.

    And yes, a good satisfying troll stomping. And maybe that is enough, except bluntly this guy is using the false claim he is a lawyer to accomplish more than he could with ordinary threats.

  55. PalMD  •  Dec 7, 2011 @4:09 pm

    I still don't get the wacko liber….er…unstated persons of whack argument here. The state exists. The law exists. The US is very much a nation of laws. Is it a sort of anarchist "well, this guy is an intimidating, law-breaking douchebag, but we shouldn't let the law protect people from him" thing? Isn't that a bit of baby/bathwater?

    Does it help you undermine the State you dislike to allow a criminal to roam free?

  56. SPQR  •  Dec 7, 2011 @8:19 pm

    Look guys, I'm an attorney but I understand the libertarian argument against the government saying who can and who can't call themselves an attorney.

    But I respectfully suggest that there is not really a way to defend Stephens' behavior.

  57. Tam  •  Dec 7, 2011 @8:28 pm

    PalMD,

    Understand that part of being a whackjob libertarian is that we are morally obligated to argue from a Best Of All Possible Worlds viewpoint: In Tamaratopia, the .gov would be forced to stay out of this, I'd clunk Marc over the head with a tire iron, and then me and Ron Paul would fly off on the magic pony that I can talk to with my mind.

    Sadly, in real life, I have to dispense with the tire iron and settle for the LA District Attorney…

  58. TJIC  •  Dec 7, 2011 @9:07 pm

    @PalMD

    > I still don’t get the wacko liber….er…unstated persons of whack argument here. The state exists. The law exists. The US is very much a nation of laws.

    "The US is very much a nation of laws" – SNORT, ,

    Good one.

    If you believe that, I've got a Big Three car company I want to sell you.

    …as soon as I override the bankruptcy law, hand a few hundred million in pension benefits to my favorite unions that I first steal from the bond holders, and quickly execute some ex-post-facto "claw back" provisions against bankers I don't like.

  59. Tam  •  Dec 7, 2011 @9:23 pm

    TJIC,

    "If you believe that, I’ve got a Big Three car company I want to sell you."

    I see what you did there.

  60. PalMD  •  Dec 8, 2011 @5:50 am

    I'll take Ford. I like Ford.

  61. TJIC  •  Dec 8, 2011 @6:36 am

    @SPQR
    > I understand the libertarian argument against the government saying who can and who can’t call themselves an attorney.
    >
    > But I respectfully suggest that there is not really a way to defend Stephens’ behavior.

    Absolutely agreed.

    I'm not trying to defend him ; I'm just questioning whether getting the government involved to enforce speech codes ("you, citizen, are not ALLOWED to talk about the law, and lawsuits, and legal remedies … not without this government-issued permission slip!").

    Surely arguing against government run compulsory fat farms doesn't mean that one is in favor of people weighing 900 lbs?

  62. Al  •  Dec 8, 2011 @7:00 am

    Wow, an honest to goodness Godwin in the wild? It's been a long time since I've seen one of those.

  63. SPQR  •  Dec 8, 2011 @8:27 am

    TJIC, you know there is a related one that I think quite beneficial: under Federal FDCPA, a debt collector cannot represent themselves as an attorney/lawfirm if he is not, and that violation is punished with a fine. And I happily report that violation when I see it without feeling at all like I've committed a libertarian sin.

  64. Ignatius  •  Dec 8, 2011 @8:54 am

    I am picturing the devilish glee with which you assembled this, and it gladdens my heart. I also clearly see the sweating, red-faced, hair-raised, righteous fury induced in this Stephens character when questioned about his "misstatements." Reminds me that there is room in the GOP for one more candidate.

  65. mojo  •  Dec 9, 2011 @2:34 pm

    I understand the Bar tends to frown (yea, mightily) on shysters…

  66. NoWay  •  Dec 28, 2011 @7:16 pm

    Wake up and smell the science you guys – the treatment us legit – regardless of whatever lose cannon tried to sabotage this doctors efforts – which makes sense – the FDA failed to stop him, PhRMA failed t stop him – so maybe you guys can try! NOT! When you cure cancer, it's sort of hard to stop people from life and death. We know you guys at Popehat love to see people suffer and die – that is a given, but stick to your Hitler books, leave the scientists alone.

  67. Ken  •  Dec 28, 2011 @7:20 pm

    You seem a little uncomfortable, NoWay. Would you prefer if I brought out a 17-year-old for you to shout at?

    When you cure cancer, it’s sort of hard to stop people from life and death.

    Well, it's . . . difficult to argue with that.

    So: is it now going to be the pro-Burzynski theory that Marc Stephens was some sort of Big Pharma/FDA plant sent to sabotage the good doctor?

    We know you guys at Popehat love to see people suffer and die – that is a given, but stick to your Hitler books, leave the scientists alone.

    Truly, you Burzynski supporters do not disappoint.

  68. grayAgent  •  Dec 28, 2011 @9:22 pm

    I am a supporter for Burzynski's treatment getting a fair-shake at FDA approval (among other health organizations) which it has never gotten.
    Previous attempts were performed in such a way that *suggests* some people may have been attempting to distort the findings so that they made the treatment appear virtually-impotent.

    When reviewing Burzynski's results of his own treatments, they are far more successful than any others that are widely-used today, and have very few side effects.

    There are also many instances of people appearing before multiple grand jurys to defend Burzynski and testify to the effectiveness of his treatments based on first-hand accounts.

    With that said, this Stephens character is most certainly a douche. That's all I wanted to say.

  69. Scott Jacobs  •  Dec 28, 2011 @9:59 pm

    When reviewing Burzynski’s results of his own treatments, they are far more successful than any others that are widely-used today, and have very few side effects.

    A shame he's not actually done any proper, scientific studies…

  70. grayAgent  •  Dec 28, 2011 @10:32 pm

    agreed. It's very reminiscent to the story of Hydrazine Sulfate.

    I don't believe Burzynski so much as I feel the jury's still out on this one. I've found (as with most other controversies) mounds of trash trying to be passed as "fact" on both sides of the argument. I do appreciate the skeptics, except *most* aren't really skeptics. *Most* have already decided that Burzynski is a thieving quack (as if that makes him different from the people who make up the FDA and the National Cancer Institute) and anyone who doesn't believe his claims is automatically intelligent.

    That isn't skepticism. It's closed-mindedness masquerading as objectivity.

  71. grayAgent  •  Dec 28, 2011 @10:32 pm

    whoops! forgot to close my block quote. sorry.

  72. Wyn  •  Dec 29, 2011 @2:34 am

    It is inconceivable that 'big pharma' would not be all over Burzynski's treatment like a rash if it worked.

    "Here's a $billion Burz. Now sod off to Bora Bora while we make hay".

    Really? Case histories and posters, incomplete phase 2 and non reported studies do not make good evidence. If Burzynski really has found an effective treatment for hard-to-treat/terminal cancers (especially paediatric brain tumours) then why does he make it so hard to get it?

    It's only in Texas, USA. Where a peculiar loophole makes it possible to offer this treatment as 'experimental' status – for the last 30 years. You have to wonder why no where else in the world – especially those countries where regulation is more lax?

    Why charge? Literally a life's worth of savings. How much does it really cost to produce a batch of antineoplastons? Patients' families and friends and well wishers raise hundreds of thousands of dollars/pounds/euros to pay. That does not feel right, especially when some of the patients come from the UK where treatment is free for anything that actually has evidence of working.

    Doesn't it strike anyone as odd that if Burzynski's regime actually worked that the NHS in the UK would definately pay for it because it would certainly cost less than the current crop of oncology medicines? Why do I say that? It's been out 30 years, there'd be no patent protection and NHS UK (including NICE) is no friend of big pharma for sure and would love to stick one up them.

    As a scientist, I really hope that Burzynski is onto something in cancer treatment. As a dad, I would grasp at the same straws in the same situation.

    As a doctor, Stanislaw Burzynski, would offer his treatment to the world for free if it really worked. He would be legend and be on the same lists as Salk, Bernard, Fleming, Crick/Watson, Pasteur etc for all time.

    There's no conspiracy. Sadly, there is no evidence of efficacy either.

    Shame on you doctor.

  73. Paul Morgan  •  Dec 29, 2011 @5:44 am

    Dear grayAgent,
    How can you claim to have reviewed Burzynski's results when @) he's published nothing since 2006 and b) no data has been submitted to clinicaltrials.gov ?

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