The “I’m Sorry” letter from Dallas attorney Jeff Murphrey raced around the internet last week. It raced because he had very creatively skewered opposing counsel Dale Markland for not having the decency to adjourn a deposition while he suffered the ravages of Hurricane Ike (I’m Sorry You’re A Jerk (Lawyering 101: Professionalism).
It seems that not only was property damaged, but so too was reputation. Markland, it may come as no surprise, was not pleased at being the butt of Murphrey’s letter and its wide dissemination. If you were Googling “Dallas Attorney Dale Markland” you would find a number of unflattering stories on the now famous “I’m Sorry” letter. And that’s bad if you happen to be Markland.
So how does a person you fight back and regain one’s Google reputation? Dan Solove dealt with the subject of easily ruined reputations in the digital age in his terrific book, The Future of Reputation: Gossip, Rumor, and Privacy on the Internet, which I reviewed last year. He would no doubt be interested in the path Markland is now taking to battle back.
If you’re playing a bit of catch-up here, this was some of the substance of the original letter from Murphrey after Markland demanded expenses and attorneys fees for a busted deposition:
I am sorry that a hurricane hit Houston.
I am sorry that I had no power or water at my house as a result of the hurricane.
I am sorry that I had to extend my stay out of state because of the hurricane.
I am sorry that CenterPoint energy did not bend more quickly to your desires and restore power to my home so that I could return to it sooner.
I am sorry that upon returning to my home on Monday, September 22, 2008, I discovered a roughly 50 ft. X 6 ft. swath of human excrement, used condoms and all the other niceties that come with a raw sewage leak in one’s backyard which drains into one of the main bayous in Houston.
I am sorry that I had to threaten City of Houston officials with lawsuits and local news exposure in order to get them to even agree to meet with me about cleaning up the problem.
I am sorry that these city officials chose a date that interfered with our deposition and gave me no other option.
I am sorry that the Houston Public Works Department had to use a fire hose to blow human excrement out of my yard on the day our deposition was scheduled.
I am sorry that the city required my presence at the debacle noted immediately above…
I am sorry that you are the only lawyer in this case that consistently goes out of his way to be unaccommodating and unprofessional with the other lawyers. I am sorry you are from Dallas.
This stuff then appeared not only on my humble little blog, but in far more prominent spaces including Above the Law, the WSJ Law Blog, the Houston Press and elsewhere.
So Markland has now acted, not just escalating a battle between he and Murphrey, but for a far more important reason: to reclaim his name in the event that future potential client’s Google him.
And so the Markland and Hanley website is now up, with the most prominent feature being Markland’s response to “the Hurricane letter.” In fact, this fledgling site only has those two pages (at the moment). Markland notes at one point some of the abuse he has been subjected to:
A telephone call from The Texas Lawyer asking me to respond to all of the scorn I was being subjected to on internet blogs and in emails circulating throughout the country. Not being a blogger, I was unaware of the scorn which had been directed at me by a segment of at least the lawyer populous. Directed to one particular blog site, I found bloggers, apparently some being lawyers, calling me a liar and a scoundrel.
The details of his end of the story are now up there, relying significantly on the assertion that he was unaware there even was a problem with the deposition until he was changing planes while traveling there. He writes at his site:
The hurricane in the Houston area occurred on September 12/13;
Mr. Murphrey cancelled the deposition on September 23 when I was already on my way to Fort Wayne, Indiana for the deposition;
I will offer up one bit of wholly unsolicited advice to Markland: The best way to reclaim your Google reputation is not only by creating that web site (and obviously expanding it to describe your firm and the actual lawyering that you do), but to start blogging. Why? Because by doing so you will be creating more content that will, over time, hopefully bury the hurricane story so that it is but a trifle. When people Google you in the future, you’d rather have that on page five than page one.
You’ve been introduced to blogging the hard way, but having now been forced into that sphere, you may want to make the best of it. Though you’ll have to do it well.
After posting this, others have weighed in:
- The Stars At Night; Are Big And Bright … (Above the Law)
We’re sorry Mr. Markland, but Murphrey’s original letter was funny. Beyond that, it seems like you and Murphrey need to sit down and work things out. Maybe you can even use a “telephone” and talk thing through. But if you insist on using forms of communication that can reach a wider and unintended audience, we’ll continue to do our part.
- Lawyers duke it out over post-Hurricane Ike depo (Texas Lawyer)
The upside to the situation, Markland says, is that he’s now in a better position to understand — and to advise clients on — the dangers of the Internet age.