Friday, February 15, 2013

Unhappy Meal: 1st A Advocates Fret Over Judge Ordering Lawyer to Remove McDonald's Facebook Posts

English: A pile of McDonalds Chicken McNuggets...
 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Free speech advocates are worried about Wayne County (Mich.) Circuit Court Judge Kathleen MacDonald's order regarding an attorney's Facebook posts criticizing a controversial settlement in a lawsuit involving fast food giant McDonald's, the Detroit Free Press reported this week.

McDonald's reached a $700k settlement with attorneys in a class action suit that claimed one of the fast food company's franchise restaurants in eastern Dearborn sold non-halal McNuggets and McChicken sandwiches to observant Muslims that it represented as being halal, which to Islam, is akin to kosher to Judaism. The tentative agreement would disburse $25k to the lead plaintiff in the class action, $150k to the Arab American National Museum in Dearborn, $275k to a Detroit-based Muslim health clinic, with the remainder going toward attorneys' fees, according to the Freep article. Those opposed to the resolution argue the proceeds should be shared among Muslims who consumed the alleged non-halal meat in violation of the tenets of their faith.

Chief among those critics is Dearborn attorney Majed Moughni, who posted on his Dearborn Area Community Members("DACM")' Facebook page that the resolution of the suit smacked of a backroom deal, and invited supporters of his position to click the "Like" icon and share their comments. Judge MacDonald lowered the boom on Moughni, branding his posts as "materially false, deceptive and misleading," and accusing him of  "deliberate and abusive conduct which has created a likelihood of confusion of class members" that undermined the court.

Judge MacDonald ordered Moughni to remove his Facebook posts, prominently display copies of the actual settlement on Facebook, provide contact information concerning those who "Liked" his posts, and not to contact class members or putative class members about the case or the settlement. Moreover, she barred Moughni from discussing the case with the news media without first obtaining her written approval.  Her Order was in response to a motion filed by attorneys involved in the settlement who argued Moughni's posts were defamatory and clouded information vital to class members. Judge MacDonald earlier dismissed a lawsuit brought by Moughni on behalf of individuals who purportedly consumed the alleged non-halal offerings. He filed a complaint after receiving upward of 1,300 "Likes" on his site, according to the Freep.

Before Judge MacDonald's ruling, the Freep article stated that Moughni's now-dormant DACM page attracted 20,000 views weekly. It's not clear-cut that the breadth of Judge MacDonald's Order violates Moughni's First Amendment rights, because it is permissible for a court to bar attorneys from making statements that are materially false. That said, requiring Moughni to obtain her written permission before speaking to the news media about the case certainly has the appearance of  an unconstitutional prior restraint on free speech.

Not to confuse fast food franchise slogans, but Judge MacDonald in no uncertain terms has let attorney Moughni know you can't have it your way.
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