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Lawyers out to lasso Maverick

The biggest reaction to a parody video comes from a law firm it mentions, which threatens to sue the tiny Tampa company.

By SCOTT BARANCIK
Published May 4, 2006


Bill Stark hoped his music video parody of corruption icons like Jack Abramoff and Enron would bring his tiny Tampa company fame, consulting deals and gratitude from the country's fourth-largest law firm.

But just about the only attention his $75,000 sendup has gotten since its Internet debut last month are some harshly worded legal threats from the mammoth law firm he meant to flatter, Cleveland's Jones Day.

Stark, the 52-year-old founder of management consultant Maverick LLC, says the origins of the video are innocent. Personally disgusted by recent corruption scandals and eager to boost his firm's brand and ethics practice, he decided to create a one-minute parody.

The project quickly expanded. Unlike animated videos produced by Internet satirists JibJab and others, Maverick's would feature seven human singers and actors, footage partly filmed inside a Tampa jail, and a song, co-written by Stark and the video's lead singer, that melded Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young's Our House with a Madness tune of the same title. The end product, 3½ minutes long and launched at www.maverickllc.com, is a clever if overly long swipe at high-ranking corporate and political crooks and their moves from big homes to the Big House.

As an aside, Stark says, he decided to give a shoutout to Jones Day, thinking it might publicize the law firm's white-collar criminal defense practice, boost the stature of a Jones Day/Paris lawyer he previously worked with, and maybe even earn Maverick a juicy consulting deal.

In the end, Jones Day was not only mentioned in the video's first verse but visually referenced in the first scene. Its corporate logo is featured on a digital background shortly after Enron's and Arthur Andersen's.

"I'll shred the files," the first verse begins, "you place the lawyers on the case we retained at Jones Day."

Feedback so far has been limited. A Connecticut insurance executive said he will recommend that the video be shown at his state insurance association's ethics classes. A prominent Washington, D.C., management consultant wrote to express his compliments.

But undoubtedly the biggest reaction came from Jones Day, which swiftly threatened to sue Maverick LLC for trademark violations, tortious interference and false light publicity if it didn't remove all company references from the video immediately. Though Jones Day's lawyer never specifically said so in her e-mails, it appears the firm feared guilt by association. In fact, Jones Day has no known involvement with Enron, Arthur Andersen or any other recent scandal icons.

Stark, whose company offers psychological evaluations of clients' key personnel as part of a broader consulting package, doesn't see how anyone could misunderstand the video's treatment of Jones Day. Weeks after the law firm made its displeasure known, he continued to offer hundreds of free copies of the video for distribution to Jones Day's own offices and top corporate clients. "They will undoubtedly enjoy the humor," he said in an e-mail to Jones Day associate Meredith Wilkes.

On Tuesday evening, Wilkes upped the ante. In tersely worded phrases, she gave Maverick 24 hours to pull the video off the Internet, destroy all hard copies of it and remove any reference to Jones Day before submitting the edited version to her for approval. Otherwise, Jones Day would sue. Attempts to reach her Wednesday evening were unsuccessful.

Stark, who has yet to hire a lawyer, says he's waiting "for the first stone to be thrown."

He says his own novice research suggests that Maverick could develop a strong defense from sources such as parody law and the First Amendment.

As of Wednesday evening, the video was still available on Maverick's Web site. It's a matter of ethics, Stark says. And to a lesser extent, comedy.

Jones Day has "no danged sense of humor about themselves," he says.

Times staff researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Scott Barancik can be reached at barancik@sptimes.com or 727 893-8751.

[Last modified May 4, 2006, 07:19:07]


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