Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Monica Bachner, appointed by Governor Gray Davis, signed an order earlier this month allowing the legal team for former Crispin Porter & Bodgusky Chief Creative Officer Ralph Watson to serve subpoenas to the social media site, Instagram, in an effort to discover the identity of the account managers behind Diet Madison Avenue (DMA). In May, Watson sued DMA claiming defamatory statements that were posted to the account led to his wrongful termination from the agency. DMA exists to expose sexual harassment and discrimination in the advertising world.
In response to the filing, on May 25th, Diet Madison Avenue began a GoFundMe page asking for $100,000 to “defend our team members and volunteers against false accusations,” according to the website. Page administrators indicated that the fund would be used solely for legal purposes with any surplus in funds to be donated to the Time’s Up Legal Defense, an organization administered by the National Women’s Law Center Fund which sheds light on workplace inequality and injustice.
The last donation to GoFundMe was made a couple of months ago, and the total profits received were just shy of $2,000. A more recent message posted on the Instragram page came from an individual who attempted to fund that account, but said the fundraising effort was no longer active. The following message accompanied the post: “Hi fam, we actually closed it down a while ago because we have awesome representation via Times Up Now. We are all well doing great. All funds donated will actually be refunded by GoFundMe and whatever you choose not to get back will be donated to the Times Up Legal Defense Fund. For the time being, we do not funds (sic) because we have a great team in place. But thanks for the love.” Later, the post was revised to read, “for the time being we do NOT need any funds.”
The purpose of the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund is to connect clients who have experienced workplace sexual misconduct to attorneys willing to help. It supports some legal and public relations costs in certain cases. Attorneys can either apply for funding through the site or accept pro bono cases or those at a reduced price.
A spokesperson for the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund said, “The Times’ Up Legal Defense Fund is supportive of individuals coming forward and speaking out about sexual harassment at work and in their careers; we aren’t prepared to talk about funding at this time.”
Watson’s attorneys could choose to ask the judge if they can subpoena the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund and the organizations funding and supporting it next if they are unsuccessful obtaining the names of those behind Diet Madison Avenue. Brooklyn Law School professor Jonathan Askin said, “I imagine the judge would be reluctant to allow subpoenas to issue to third-party legal defense funds, opening up a hornet’s nest of potentially profound Constitutional and judicial process issues, without a compelling chance of success on the merits of the underlying claims. Instagram would still seem the more likely source to obtain the names of those behind Diet Madison Avenue.”