There’s probably no other lawyer like Marc Randazza. He’s irreverent, outspoken, foul-mouthed, endlessly entertaining and on a hot streak. When he’s not defending the First Amendment rights of porn studios and bloggers, he might be on the beach, cooking up a tasty stingray.
In November, Randazza beat back a lawsuit filed by a Miami Law School Professor against online legal tabloid Above The Law, which he called an unimpressive “redress of foolishness.” Additionally, he successfully went toe-to-toe with Glenn Beck over a joke domain name, submitted a $100,000 gay porn offer to Levi Johnston, and his popular website, The Legal Satyricon, was named one of the ABA’s 100 best blawgs of 2009 (even though he publicly called for the American Bar Association—or as he affectionately referred to it: A “festering slop bucket of do-nothing bozos”—to be disbanded).
So after a month like that, we knew we had to talk to Randazza about his current standing in the legal community and how he went from real estate law to porn. Not surprisingly, he didn’t disappoint.
Let’s start by mentioning that this isn’t your first time dealing with us. Your old secretary won our handbag giveaway contest when she wrote a rather funny account of what it was like working for you. Details included you making her review “chubby porn” her first day, asking her if she was pregnant because “her boobs looked bigger,” and keeping a list of every stupid thing she said (and sharing it with the office). What’s your side of that story?[Laughing]
Oh boy. First, I’ve got to say, that Jessica was a really great assistant, and she has a great sense of humor. Second, I’m not an easy person to work for.
So was what she wrote true? Like the stuff about you crashing her girls’ night?
Yeah. But in my defense, the underwear in my briefcase was clean. And for the record, nobody likes the middle seat [on the plane]. That’s common knowledge. Everyone knows that. Do you like the middle seat?
Let’s try a legal question. Can you use the word “fuck” in your trademark?
Well, yes and no. You can’t get a trademark registration right now because the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has a secret list of dirty words that they won’t issue a trademark for, and apparently “fuck” is one of them. However, you can still have a common law trademark.
You ran into that “secret list” while representing Kink.com in its bid to trademark “Fuckingmachines.com.” Was that a fun fight?
It was. When you can sit and write and be proud of your research enough to say to yourself that you’d rather be working on that issue than on vacation somewhere, you’re really on the right career path.
The research and writing for the “fuck brief” was certainly out of the ordinary, and you drew on a wide range of sources from Wedding Crashers to a John Kerry interview in Rolling Stone where the Senator used the word “fuck” to describe President George W. Bush’s handling of the Iraq war. How did you decide on such a gutsy strategy?
That was the first case where I figured out that there was nothing to be lost, and lot to be gained, by being yourself. In this case, the issue was the word “fuck,” and I wanted to make the point that we all use that word. A lot of times, lawyers suppress [their personalities]. Writing like law professor doesn’t get you anywhere. Ultimately, it’s our job to tell a story.
So, what’s your story? How did you end up writing briefs in defense of “fuck,” defending porn companies and Above The Law, and become a blogger who pokes fun at Glenn Beck?
I guess I have to go back to the beginning… I started college [University of Massachusetts] in 1987. I was devoted to studying female anatomy and pharmaceuticals. I loved being in college. It was punk rock animal house. I had a lot of fun. Too much fun. I got away with that for three years, but flunked out three times… And they just kept letting me back. I’m not sure why, but they did.
The last time [they let me back], I took a class on the First Amendment for journalism majors, and that’s when the spark got lit. I got an A, and I got straight A’s thereafter.
And you went right to law school?[Laughing]
No. I spent a lot of time wondering around Europe. I worked on oil tankers in the Caribbean. Mostly, I drifted. I worked on a fishing boat in Alaska and did random journalism stuff. In 1996, [I decided] it was time to go to law school [Georgetown]. I thought I would be the guy who did the next NY Times v. Sullivan.
I got disillusioned. I started to feel like the mainstream press didn’t deserve the talents of First Amendment lawyers. [Journalism] is a lazy, unethical profession.
I looked around and said, “Who really stands up for First Amendment?” I found that there were a few types of cases where people stand on principle: KKK and Nazi cases, Jehovah’s witnesses, and porn. I’m a pretty hardcore atheist, I dislike the KKK and Nazis (although they deserve a defense), and so that left porn.
What did you think of the porn business?
The porn industry is probably one of the most ethical industries I have ever dealt with. I’m consistently stunned at how they will gamble everything on a First Amendment issue that [the mainstream media] will acquiesce on. The [porn] industry really does fight hard for the First Amendment, and I think it’s more than just business for them—it’s patriotic. I’ll tell you, I was at the AVN Awards last year and everyone was singing the National Anthem. It was very moving. You don’t see that at a baseball game or the Super Bowl. For the porn industry, the First Amendment is everything.
But wait a minute. Didn’t you begin your career as a real estate lawyer?
Yes. In my last year of law school, I went to UF [University of Florida] to study under Professor William Chamberlain. It’s kind of unusual to do your third year somewhere else, but I never really fit in at Georgetown… I didn’t like the environment. I found it to be too conformist and oppressive. I’m a hardcore left-wing guy, but at Georgetown, there was no room to dissent. And I actually found that I had more in common with the Federalist Society because they were open to different ideas (although I rarely agreed with them).
Anyway, I stuck around at UF to get a masters degree in mass communications. I learned more there about legal writing than anywhere else. I may have had a spark, but Chamberlain threw gas on the fire.
So why didn’t you go to work for a bigger firm known for doing First Amendment stuff?
This was all back in 2000, one of the best job markets law had ever seen. But when I got my masters in 2002, things weren’t as good. The job market was just mediocre by comparison, and I didn’t like those Big Firms. I don’t fit in at Big Firms. I’d rather drive a stake through my balls than work in BigLaw, where it’s all about being a billing machine and ethics aren’t important.
So practicing at a real estate law boutique was the middle ground between driving a stake through your balls and BigLaw?
Well, my choices were limited when I passed the bar. I was unemployed and living in an apartment on the beach. One day, my roommate and I were hunting stingrays.
Yeah. Stingrays are delicious. I acquired a taste for them when I was living in Singapore. What’s amazing about them is that if you cook them rare, you get one taste, and if you cook them well…just close your eyes and it’s like steak—I swear.
So, how does knowing how to cook a stingray lead to a job in real estate law?
Well, these kids came over, and we were showing them how to hunt stingray with spears. Then, all of a sudden, their moms started screaming at their dads because they were supposed to be watching the kids, who were with us. Anyway, we sorted that out, and we had a cookout with everyone. Over beers, toward the end of the evening, one of the dads asked me what I did. I told him I was an unemployed lawyer, and he said, “Not anymore.” He gave me his card and ended up hiring me.
Did you like it there?
It was like representing Del Boca Vista, except I wasn’t on Seinfeld.
My first day, I was asked to write a memo on the rights and responsibilities of a trailer park with respect to a baby that shit in their pool. That was my first assignment. I won’t go into a public pool anymore. A lot of people die every year because of shit in pools. I learned a lot of stuff I didn’t want to know.
But I had nothing but fond memories of working there. The people were great, and they taught me a lot about practicing law ethically. I loved working there. But the work did not inspire me. At end of day, I would find myself working on law review projects and things for free because I was interested in them.
How did you make that big leap from real estate law to Free Speech?
I never took my eyes off the prize. When a copyright issue came up, I grabbed the case. When a defamation issue came up (which they often did with homeowners boards), I jumped on those. I made sure to find a way to dovetail what I had to do with what I wanted to do.
It helped a lot that when it came time to transition, I could talk about something that I had done that was related to the job I wanted.
How did that transition into porn law happen?
I sent Larry [Walters] an email. I knew of his firm [Weston, Garrou, Walters, Mooney], which is a legend in the business, but I didn’t know him personally. He responded that he might be looking for an associate, and that I should reconnect with him after he got back from a First Amendment lawyer’s conference. I found out what conference he was at, went there, and basically stalked him. We talked there for about 20 minutes and seemed to hit it off. That led to me getting the job eventually.
You do well on non-interview interviews?
Yeah, I guess so. Interviews are worthless. Never underestimate the value of human interaction. You’re much better off with someone you connect with, and interviews are so contrived.
Back to the porn. Do you ever find yourself saying, “Yes, you have a right to do that, but that content is really bizarre”?
Oh, yeah. Sure. You get that Scooby-Doo moment where you do that double take. The breadth of the human condition is amazing. I mean, who comes up with transgender weightlifters having sex with Lego people? Sometimes I just have to scratch my head.
Are you ever disturbed by the content?
Yes. I worked on the Karen Fletcher case. She wrote really disturbing stories about child abuse. They weren’t true; they were pure fiction. The content was very disturbing, but I focused on the fact that a prosecutor wanted to put an American in jail for writing fiction. FICTION! Once you can focus on that, the content doesn’t matter.
To me, it’s a political issue, and it’s about living in a free society. You have to have the right to your thoughts. Look, if I were a dictator, I’d love to ban Sarah Palin’s new book—it’s dipshit Mad Libs—but I believe that the greatest crime is the suppression of thought.
How long did you work at Weston, Garrou, Walters, Mooney and what are you doing now?
I was there about five years. I left to work as an in-house lawyer for Corbin Fisher, which is a gay porn company. It’s great working for them because the work is interesting, and I can have a solo practice on the side (mostly pro bono work) where I can take cases that appeal to me, and Corbin Fisher really supports that.
Like the Glenn Beck case?
Yeah. I really liked that one.
In that case, Glenn Beck sued, demanding the rights to your client’s website with the URL GlennBeckRapedAndMurderedAYoungGirlIn1990.com. The URL was part of a joke, commonly known as a meme, and in your brief, you wrote, “Only an abject imbecile could believe that the domain name would have any connection to Glenn Beck.”[Laughing]
Yeah, that was me.
Well, is Beck an abject imbecile or is he just without a sense of humor?
He’s obviously not an imbecile. He’s made himself fabulously wealthy and powerful by playing on the fears and insecurities of imbeciles. I don’t think you’d call Hitler an imbecile. I’m not comparing Beck to Hitler . . . well, actually I am. Like Hitler, Beck appeals to that lowest common denominator, and he uses divisive language to spread hate and fear.
You used a lot of humor in the Beck brief. Partially because of the humor, and partially because it was so relevant to the Internet, the brief got a lot of attention. Do you think you wrote the world’s first viral legal brief?[Laughing]
I thought the FuckingMachines brief was viral, and that came first. But I knew this was pretty viral when I got several emails from lawyers who forwarded the brief to me saying, “You’ve got to look at this.” They didn’t know that I was the author. So, I wrote back, saying, “Take a look at who signed it.”
But I knew it was really big when lawyers who had turned me down for jobs started forwarding the brief to me.
How did that feel?
It was really sweet.
Was it a good idea to tell so many jokes in the Glenn Beck brief? Like when you wrote, “Woosh . . . That’s the sound of this joke sailing over the heads of Beck and his lawyers.”
It’s not always appropriate [to use humor], but it worked here, probably because we were arguing about a joke.
But overall, I think legal writing could be improved a great deal with some humor or at least some humanity. You have to know when to play the [humor] card, but it really does help you connect with the reader.
Law school doesn’t teach you how to write very well, and it seems to attract some of the worst personalities we have. If there isn’t a stick up your ass already when you enter law school, they try to pound one up into it. And all that does is produce people who can’t think about the fact that someone has to actually read what they wrote. We produce a lot of garbage that way.
One of the striking things to come out of the Glenn Beck case is that your client won, and he decided to give Beck the password to his site. It now seems that Beck has taken the site down, and there’s a site chronicling what happened in this silly saga. So, ultimately, your client did it to prove a point. How did that make you feel?
I’m very proud of him for it.
I remember watching The People v. Larry Flynt and saying, “That’s who I want to be.”
The lawyer, not Flynt?
Right. I love it when the client is the romantic, patriotic one dragging me along. And in the Beck case, I felt like it was very similar to Flynt and [Rev. Jerry] Falwell, except that we were arguing over an Internet domain. But basically, we had a reviled public figure [Beck], who had made a career out of championing the First Amendment, but [he did so] in a very cynical and dishonest way, and we were able to expose that.
Recently, you were rather briefly involved in defending Above The Law in a suit filed by a Miami Law Professor who didn’t like what was written about him after he was arrested for allegedly soliciting a prostitute. That case was dropped almost as quickly as it was filed after a lot of legal blogs sided with ATL. What’s interesting is that the blogosphere helped ATL vindicate its rights a whole lot cheaper and faster than the law could have. Is that a good thing for the First Amendment?
I think it is. Public opinion made my job easier. With the legal blogosphere, we are back to open courts. In the 1800s, people went to court for entertainment. You could make all sorts of claims, but they had to stand up in front of your friends and neighbors. In a way, that’s what is happening now. If you file a case like that, and the legal blogosphere gets wind of it, be prepared for the fall out.
But I’ve got to say this: I have a lot of respect for the plaintiff here for turning around and dropping the lawsuit. That’s pretty rare, and it takes a lot of balls to walk away from that so quickly. A lot of plaintiffs are more cowardly, and they waste everyone’s time, waiting for a court to toss out a case everyone knows is a loser.
What’s been your best moment in the law?
I don’t think there’s one “best moment.” Honestly, I live for the moments when I get a call from small blogger who has a really terrifying issue, and you can tell that there’s a real sense of panic on their voice. When I get those calls, and I’m able to help, those are the best moments.
What’s been the worst moment?
Realizing that a lot of judges really don’t care, and they let lawyers get away with dishonest work.
Want to hear about other remarkable lawyers, usually doing stuff other than lawyering? Read other Bitter Lawyer exclusive interviews