Kevin Trudeau At It Again


By Jeff Coen

Tanned infomercial pitchman Kevin Trudeau has pushed cures for everything from obesity to cancer, but he appears unlikely to have a magic potion to soothe the anger of a federal judge whose e-mail account he flooded with unwanted messages from supporters.

A furious U.S. District Judge Robert Gettleman gave Trudeau three hours’ notice to show up in his federal courtroom Thursday and then found the Internet host in criminal contempt of court for the e-mail attack.

Trudeau sat with a bit of a deer-in-the-headlights look on his face as the normally mild-mannered Gettleman lectured his lawyer about the e-mail onslaught — all the while being interrupted on the bench as new messages continued to hit his inbox.

“Just got another one,” said the judge, who earlier had turned his computer screen so attorneys in the case could see the incoming barrage for themselves. “Every time you hear that little bell.”

On his Web site Wednesday, Trudeau had asked followers to write Gettleman in an attempt to convince the judge that he’s not selling snake oil. Gettleman, who is presiding over a civil lawsuit brought by the Federal Trade Commission, previously held Trudeau in contempt of an earlier court order for using deceptive practices in some of his advertising and ordered him to pay a fine of more than $37 million.

Gettleman said that next week he’s likely to impose time in custody for Trudeau and another fine as punishment for the e-mails. In the meantime, he ordered Trudeau to come up with $50,000 for bail by Friday and surrender his passport.

“Unlike Mr. Trudeau, I do not wish to act hastily or improvidently,” said the judge, who has the authority to impose a prison term of up to six months. “I want to think about what an appropriate sanction would be.”

Trudeau, a convicted felon who spent two years in prison for credit card fraud, had little obvious reaction to the prospect of having to spend more time behind bars. As he left court wearing a distinguished gray fedora, Trudeau said he would say nothing “until the proceedings are done.”

Gettleman said the deluge of hundreds of e-mails began late Wednesday after Trudeau posted a message on his Web site saying “Kevin needs your voice.” The posting went on to ask supporters to e-mail Gettleman, listed the judge’s e-mail address and asked that followers tell the judge how Trudeau had improved their lives.

The judge said the result was his e-mail and BlackBerry were “literally clogged” with a collection of messages — some from people who were angry and others who “said they are watching,” a vaguely threatening note that prompted Gettleman to ask the U.S. Marshal Service in Chicago to assess if any of the messages amounted to a threat.

Judicial security has taken on heightened levels in Chicago since an enraged litigant killed the husband and mother of U.S. District Judge Joan Lefkow five years ago. In the wake of the Lefkow tragedy, marshals set up a working group to respond quickly to any inappropriate communication or threat to a judge, said John O’Malley, chief deputy marshal in Chicago.

Gettleman had previously found that Trudeau, known for his seeming omnipresence on late-night TV infomercials, had used deceptive advertising as he marketed his book “The Weight Loss Cure ‘They’ Don’t Want You to Know About.” The FTC noted in one court filing that infomercials for the book were broadcast 32,000 times in the U.S.

The judge said Thursday that he had considered referring the case to federal prosecutors for criminal investigation even before the e-mail avalanche.

Trudeau had appealed Gettleman’s $37.6 million fine, and last fall the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the contempt finding but directed Gettleman to do more fact-finding to justify the hefty fine, lawyers in the case said.

Gettleman was to make those findings in the coming weeks but had closed discovery — the sharing of evidence. The e-mail onslaught amounted to Trudeau encouraging improper communications from others, the judge said in finding that as a basis for the criminal contempt.

Gettleman said Trudeau’s method was meant to “harass the court and interfere with my processes.”

Experts said it doesn’t appear that the judge’s decision raises significant First Amendment issues.

Donald Craven, counsel for the Illinois Press Association, said free-speech rights have limits, including time, place and manner, pointing to the famous example of shouting “fire” in a crowded theater. A judge has the authority to limit what he or she considers in the context of a case.

“I have never known anybody to win that fight, especially in U.S. District Court,” Craven said. “If a judge says, ‘I don’t want to see it or hear it,’ you’d best stop. Judges are absolutely entitled to control the development of a court record in matters that are in front of them.”

DePaul University law professor Jeffrey Shaman said he wouldn’t be surprised if Trudeau claims the e-mailers were engaged in a “speech activity.” It may be that Trudeau, not being a lawyer, wouldn’t necessarily know about a ban on “ex-parte communication” — when only one party in a case communicates with a judge, Shaman said.

“I would think the proper remedy for when a party does (make such a misstep) is for the judge to let them know he will not accept the communication and not read it and give notice to the party that he’s doing something wrong,” Shaman said. “Trudeau might not know about the rule against ex-parte communication.”

As for a quick fix to try to keep Gettleman’s e-mail account from being buried in missives from supporters who think Trudeau is a force for good, the pitchman’s lawyer told the judge another message had been posted on his Web site Thursday saying the call for the e-mails was in error.

“Please do not under any circumstances communicate with the court or Judge Gettleman,” the message on the site read. “I apologize for this mistake. Yours in Health, Kevin.”

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: