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"Badass lawyer" loses tweeting challenge

26 May 2016

The Michigan Court of Appeals has dismissed an appeal by lawyer Todd Levitt over an imposter Twitter account set up by a student which appeared to parody Levitt's own tweets.

In Levitt v Felton 19 May 2016, the Court of Appeals heard that Levitt was an attorney and former adjunct professor at Central Michigan University (CMU).

He used his Twitter account to market his law practice, representing himself as a "badass lawyer". He also posted tweets which reference marijuana and alcohol use. One tweet states that "Mr Jimmy Beam just confirmed a guest appearance in class next week".

Other tweets reminisced about his days as a student at CMU, stating that he "tore it up" in the 1980s, and warning students not to "jump [while] drunk" in the elevators at a university dormitory.

One tweet posted an ode to "mommy marijuana" who "always puts me at ease".

The tweets appear to have caught the attention of CMU students, and in April 2014 Levitt became aware of a Twitter account called "Todd Levitt 2.0@levittlawyer" which included a photograph of him and a logo used by his law firm.

Levitt later discovered that the "imposter Twitter account" had been set up by Zachary Felton, a CMU student at the time. 

Some of the tweets on the imposter account were:

"What's the difference between the internet and my tweeted legal advice? A: none, They're both 100% accurate!"

"Buying me a drink at Cabin Karaoke will get you extra [credit], but it's not like that matters because you are guaranteed an A in syllabus."

"Partying = Defense Clients[.] Defense Clients = Income[.] If I endorse partying, will my income grow? It's like a Ponzi scheme for lawyers!"

Upset at the tweets, Levitt deleted his own Twitter account "to prevent further damage to his reputation" and took to the courts for redress. He alleged that Felton had attacked his credibility as an attorney and as a professor by posting the tweets.

Levitt claimed that he could not continue as an adjunct professor and had suffered loss of income. He claimed false light, intentional infliction of emotional distress, tortious interference with business relations, defamation, business defamation, and unfair competition. Levitt also sought immediate termination of the imposter Twitter account.

In response, Felton admitted responsibility for the imposter Twitter account, saying it was a "parody", and noting some of the tweets he had posted had shown this, including "A gentle reminder to potential seekers of Todd Levitt: This is not him. This is a parody account. You can find the real Todd(ler)@levittlaw."

Levitt was not successful at the first instance court, and has now failed on appeal as well. The appellate judges found that when read in context, Felton's tweets were a parody and could not reasonably be interpreted as coming from Levitt, an attorney and college professor.

"When the challenged tweets are read in the context of Levitt's own tweets, a reasonable person would see defendant's tweets as attempting to ridicule and satirize Levitt's tweets about alcohol and marijuana use," they said.

Last updated on the 16th September 2019