Richard Liebowitz: Disgraced Lawyer Disbarred (Find Out Why)

Richard Liebowitz is a photographer who used to be a lawyer until recently. Learn more here.
Richard Liebowitz

How often do you come across a photographer who used to be an attorney for photographers? Probably never. Well, Richard Liebowitz is exactly that.

Infamous as the “Copyright Troll”, Richard was disbarred because of his aggressive tactics. Media reports suggest that Richard used to file frivolous lawsuits which often had the opposite effect than intended.

Now, he is an entrepreneur and a photographer.

This article looks into Richard’s disbarment, the controversies surrounding him, and his current ventures:

Who is Richard Liebowitz?

Richard Liebowitz, an American entrepreneur, Broadway producer, former lawyer, and photographer, has been a controversial figure, particularly in the realm of copyright law. His career has been marked by a high volume of lawsuits against media organizations on behalf of photographers, disciplinary sanctions, and ultimately, disbarment. The controversies surrounding Liebowitz can be categorized into his litigation practices, disciplinary issues, and the impact on his law firm.

Why was Richard Liebowitz Disbarred?

Liebowitz was known for filing an exceptionally high number of lawsuits against media organizations, alleging copyright infringement on behalf of photographers. His approach to copyright litigation was distinct in that he would immediately file suit rather than pursue a settlement, and he often claimed statutory damages far over the images’ ordinary licensing prices.

This practice earned him a reputation as “the scourge of the media industry,” with media organizations and their lawyers asserting that he was abusing the legal system by overloading the courts with frivolous lawsuits.

Despite his claims that copyright law was the only tool photographers had to protect their rights, his approach was criticized for being overly aggressive and, in some cases, led to his clients being forced to repay significant legal bills.

There are multiple media reports on how Liebowitz’s methods of seeking legal recourse for his clients weren’t exactly ‘okay’. His aggressive tactics resulted in him facing multiple sanctions.

For example, a federal judge in Albany had sanctioned Richard in a case involving one of his biggest clients at the time, an advertising and marketing firm.

The judge even tossed a case because of Richard’s reputation. “Given the depth of Adlife’s relationship with Liebowitz over dozens of cases they litigated together,” wrote Judge Felipe Restrepo for a panel that also included Judges Thomas Hardiman and David Porter, “it is inconceivable that Adlife was ‘in the dark’ about Liebowitz’s reputation until November 2020.”

However, in one case Liebowitz failed to inform his client that he was not allowed to litigate the case due to his lack of admission to the Pennsylvania bar. Additionally, he did not respond promptly to the opposing party’s discovery demands, neglected to request discovery from them, did not collaborate with the other party on a joint discovery statement, and failed to promptly notify his client when the defendants filed for summary judgment.

In that same case, the 3rd Circuit was informed by Adlife that Liebowitz failed to inform the company about his June 2020 sanction of almost $105,000 by U.S. authorities. Jesse Furman, a District Judge in Manhattan, had ordered Liebowitz to file the sanctions opinion in all of his other cases. Liebowitz entered the sanctions ruling into the docket of Adlife’s case against Karns. However, according to sworn statements from three Adlife employees, including CEO Joel Albrizio, they were not specifically informed about the Manhattan sanctions opinion by Liebowitz.

There was another case that garnered a lot of attention.

In April 2019, Liebowitz missed a crucial hearing and claimed the reason was his grandfather had passed away.

However, the judge was skeptical of this claim and suspected misrepresentation. So, they asked for proof of this claim which extended the case for months. While Richard was able to procure a death certificate for his grandfather, the case prompted the judge to refer Liebowitz to the Committee on Grievances for repeated failure to comply with court orders.

The case has been dubbed as the “dead grandfather case” in legal circles.

The Disciplinary Issues with Richard Liebowitz’s Approach

Liebowitz faced multiple disciplinary sanctions throughout his career.

Media reports even say that Liebowitz has also posed challenges to the legal system itself. The extent of his misconduct is both severe and extensive. Undoubtedly, a significant portion of the extensive misconduct can be attributed to the overwhelming volume of cases that Liebowitz has handled.

In November 2020, he violated a fundamental ethical principle of the legal profession by deliberately providing inaccurate information or misrepresenting the law to a court and failing to rectify a previously made false statement of significant factual or legal importance. In simpler terms, Liebowitz was discovered to have lied during legal proceedings.

In addition, he has been convicted of counseling clients to ignore regulations, which is another significant violation.

District Court of the Southern District of New York said that Liebowitz has engaged in “conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation,” “conduct that is prejudicial to the administration of justice,” and “conduct that adversely reflects on his fitness as a lawyer.”

Courts repeatedly disapproved of his approach to legal practice, imposing sanctions on him or his clients for what was considered frivolous litigation.

Notably, Judge Jesse Furman concluded that Liebowitz lied about his compliance with court orders, violated multiple court orders, and suggested that no sanction short of disbarment would prevent further misconduct.

In 2020, the Grievance Committee of the Southern District of New York suspended him from practicing law in the district, pending the outcome of his disciplinary charges. This suspension was followed by an immediate suspension by the New York Appellate Division, Second Department, in 2021, and ultimately, disbarment in 2024.

Considering how Richard had only begun practicing law in 2015, his legal career was quite eventful.

When imposing sanctions on Richard, Judge Furman said, “There may be no sanction short of disbarment that would stop Mr. Liebowitz from further misconduct.”

Darrell M. Joseph, Acting Clerk of the Supreme Court of New York wrote, “Under the totality of the circumstances, including the considerable pattern and practice of failing to comply with court directives and making false statements to the court, we find that a disbarment is warranted,” 

How Richard’s Disbarment Affected Liebowitz Law Firm

Despite his suspension and disbarment, questions arose regarding the continued operation of the Liebowitz Law Firm. It was noted that another attorney at his firm was still using the firm’s name, raising concerns about the misleading impression that Richard Liebowitz was still part of the firm. The firm had to navigate the challenges of ensuring that clients and potential clients were not misled into believing they were hiring Richard Liebowitz.

Richard Liebowitz media coverage

In summary, the controversies surrounding Richard Liebowitz revolve around his aggressive litigation tactics, significant disciplinary actions culminating in his disbarment, and the challenges faced by his law firm in the aftermath of his legal troubles.

These issues have sparked discussions about the ethical boundaries of copyright litigation and the responsibilities of law firms to their clients and the legal system.

The disbarment of Richard Liebowitz has significant implications for his clients, particularly those who sought his services for copyright infringement cases.

Liebowitz, known for filing thousands of lawsuits on behalf of photographers, was disbarred due to misconduct across multiple cases, which included lying to courts and failing to comply with court orders. This disbarment impacts his clients in several key ways:

  1. Representation Disruption: Clients who were actively represented by Liebowitz at the time of his disbarment would face immediate disruption in their legal representation. They would need to find new legal counsel to continue their cases, which could lead to delays and additional costs.
  2. Financial Implications: Liebowitz’s approach to litigation, which often involved seeking settlements for copyright infringement, means that his clients were engaged in potentially lucrative lawsuits. With his disbarment, these clients might find it challenging to secure another attorney with a similar approach or willingness to take on their cases on a contingency basis. This could affect the financial outcomes of their cases.
  3. Reputational Damage: The extensive media coverage and the negative portrayal of Liebowitz as a “copyright troll” could have reputational repercussions for his clients. Being associated with a disbarred attorney known for questionable litigation practices might cast doubt on the legitimacy of their claims, potentially affecting their standing in current and future legal battles.
  4. Strategic Shifts in Litigation: Clients may need to adopt different litigation strategies under new representation. Liebowitz’s aggressive approach of filing lawsuits to extract settlements might not be the strategy of their new attorneys, who may prefer negotiation or other forms of dispute resolution. This could lead to a shift in how these copyright cases are handled moving forward.
  5. Potential Legal and Ethical Complications: For cases where misconduct was identified, clients might face additional legal and ethical complications. Courts could scrutinize these cases more closely, and there might be repercussions for cases where Liebowitz’s misconduct directly affected the proceedings.
  6. Awareness and Caution: The publicity surrounding Liebowitz’s disbarment and the reasons behind it serve as a cautionary tale for clients seeking legal representation. It highlights the importance of due diligence and the potential risks of engaging with attorneys who employ controversial or aggressive litigation tactics.

Conclusion

Richard Liebowitz is certainly a controversial figure. His methods of seeking justice for his clients were a bit unusual and they eventually led to the demise of his legal career.

There have been many lawyers who use unethical means to achieve their goals. However, Richard was different in the sense that he was able to create a loyal client base as well.

Now, he has become a freelance photographer and a Broadway producer.

What are your thoughts on Liebowitz? Do you think his disbarment was justified? Let me know in the comments.

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