Opinion

Rapp On This: Nothing to see here

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Rapp On This: Nothing to see here

Albany in the news! Albany author sues Chelsea Clinton! The headlines appeared mostly on second-tier, sketchy, alt-right news sites: “Author Nails Chelsea Clinton With Lawsuit”, “Writer Sues Chelsea Clinton For Stealing His Book Idea”, “Chelsea Clinton Sued For Ripping Off Idea”, “Chelsea Clinton Just Got SUED in Federal Court. She’s Screwed!” “Look Who Just Got Slapped With A Federal Lawsuit — Is It Over For Her?” I got sent an article from the New York Post.  And WNYT did a serious piece on it. Really. WNYT should know better.

There’s a reason this hasn’t been more widely reported: it’s not news because it’s a nonsensical lawsuit. Local self-styled writer Christopher Kimberly brought a pro se lawsuit in federal court in Manhattan claiming that Clinton’s new children’s book “She Persisted” ripped off a book he wrote a few years ago. Kimberly claims in his homemade complaint, such as it is, that he wrote a three-volume 48-part children’s book. One of these 48 parts contained quotes from 16 famous historical figures, including Nelly Bly, Harriet Tubman, and Anne Frank. Kimberly further claims that he sent his book directly to the now-president of Penguin Random House Young Readers division and that she passed the idea on to Chelsea Clinton. Chelsea’s book, inspired by Mitch McConnell’s description of Elizabeth Warren, contains stories about and quotes from 13 women of historical import, including Nelly Bly, Harriet Tubman, and Anne Frank.  

Even the most cursory look at the complaint reveals that there’s nothing there. No one can protect an idea. The idea of providing quotes of historic women is barely an idea, anyway. And including Nelly Bly, Harriet Tubman, and Anne Frank in your list of inspiring women, well, that’s pretty obvious, too.

I’ve had more than my share of would-be writers contact me with similar ridiculous claims. A famous author ripped off an unpublished manuscript. The manuscript was submitted to a publisher or somebody somehow related to the famous author. And look at the similarities! A protagonist named John! A car crash! An island in the Mediterranean! Really, I’ve wasted a lot of time reading bad unpublished manuscripts based on would-be clients’ claims of infringement. A few years ago I stopped even considering taking these sorts of cases. I’d OD’d on delusion.

So, why all the press coverage on what is essentially a frivolous lawsuit, a total non-story? Well, judging by the vast majority of the so-called media outlets that ran the story and the breathless tenor of the stories themselves, it’s continuing hatred for the Clintons. Facts be damned! If there’s a sliver of anything disparaging to any of the Clintons, the alt-right bullshit machine will dress it up, put lipstick on it, and send it out with a garish headline with exclamation marks. Breitbart ran with it, of course. I’m surprised the shitgibbon hasn’t tweeted about it. I guess he has his own issues these days.

But what’s WNYT’s excuse? Slow news day? Didn’t like getting scooped by the New York Post on an “Albany story”? It’s absurd to treat this as news.

It’s all too true that anybody can sue anybody else for pretty much anything — there is precious little gatekeeping at the courthouse stopping anyone from filing anything. And that’s probably a good thing, because once you start limiting access to the legal system even for thoroughly nutty cases you’re on a slippery slope to turning the justice system to the playground for only the rich and famous. So the courthouse doors need to stay wide open, even though the costs to the courts and litigants in dealing with nuisance suits can be staggeringly high.

Half a lifetime ago I clerked for Gus Cholakis, the late federal judge in Albany. We saw every kind of ridiculous pro se lawsuit, often hand-written, always rambling, some from federal prisoners, others from attention seekers and assorted crazy folk. Some were incredibly entertaining in their absurdity. But every once in a while, there would be an actual, bona-fide claim, and the case continued on.  These rare cases made all of the wading through the nonsensical claims more than worth it.

I feel sorry for Kimberly. All of this attention must have gotten his hopes up. He told WNYT that he was “shopping” for a lawyer (he hasn’t called me; if he had I probably couldn’t be writing this article), and that he can’t afford to pay one so the deal will have to be on contingency. He won’t find one, because there’s no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. There’s no rainbow! Instead, there will be a rapid dismissal of Kimberly’s claim and quite possibly an award of attorneys’ fees (which will be substantial) against Kimberly.

And when that happens do you think the alt-right and WNYT will report it? Me neither.

Paul Rapp is a local IP attorney, musician, and lifeguard who is about to re-enter the Capital Region music scene with a new band.

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