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Thursday, March 3, 2016

Our series "Ashley Madison customers revealed" begins next week; meanwhile lawsuits are being consolidated for hearing in St. Louis, Missouri




Our series "Ashley Madison customers revealed" starts next week, shining light on professional elites from Alabama and Missouri who paid to seek extramarital affairs at the now infamous Web site. We hope eventually to be able to unmask AM customers from other states, as well. But that's not the only news shaking on the Ashley Madison front.

The Ashley Madison scandal, which broke last July, has led to a veritable flower garden of lawsuits, with complaints popping up around the country like new blossoms--or weeds, depending on your viewpoint. The lawsuits have become so numerous that they require consolidation, and the process is taking place now in U.S. District Court in St. Louis, Missouri, where the cases will be heard.

The U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation made the decision in early December to base the cases in St. Louis. How convenient, since we happen to currently be based in Missouri.

That's ironic because Legal Schnauzer is one of only two Web sites I'm aware of--the other is gotnews.com--that have provided significant reporting on customers of Ashley Madison--the extramarital-cheating Web site, with the motto: "Life is short; have an affair." Our reporting has been based on AM customer lists for the two states--Alabama and . . . Missouri--where my wife and I have lived over the past two years.

So imagine our surprise to learn that our current home state will become Ground Zero for Ashley Madison litigation. From a January 31 report at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:


Last summer’s hacking of a website dedicated to arranging romantic infidelity led to angst, embarrassment, accusations and potentially complicated litigation that is all coming here.

Lawsuits filed across the country against Avid Life Media LLC, owner of AshleyMadison.com, are being consolidated in U.S. District Court in St. Louis.

Two dozen lawyers representing Avid and current or former clients met this week with District Judge John Ross. More listened in by phone as Ross scheduled a series of motions and told the attorneys he soon will pick leaders among them to streamline handling of the case.

Here is more information about how St. Louis came to be the center of the Ashley Madison universe. Much of it has to do with geography, and St. Louis' location near the heart of the country.

The Birmingham law firm Heninger Garrison Davis has filed several class-action complaints involving Ashley Madison, mostly in California and Texas.

How much money is at stake and how wide-ranging are the AM cases? An article from thexpertinstitute.com provides some clues:

The original class action, filed by two Canadian law firms, sought to recover $578 million in damages against Avid Life Media. This lawsuit, along with four other class action suits, were centralized in St. Louis, MO, in December, 2015. The cases being consolidated stem from Alabama, Missouri, Illinois, California and Texas. There are still 13 related actions pending in eight different districts that were not included in the consolidation at this time.

How will the consolidated cases proceed? That apparently depends on how the court decides to handle a major issue--privacy. From the Post-Dispatch:

One issue will be the continuing privacy of people who signed on to the site, whose slogan is: “Life is short. Have an affair.” It has boasted of millions of clients, in 50 countries and every U.S. ZIP code.

Ross said lawyers would have to file motions by Feb. 15 to allow plaintiffs to continue using pseudonyms to press their cases. The company can then respond. Lawyers have until March 22 to file a consolidated class action complaint.

Robert A. Atkins, one of the lawyers for Avid Life, said that he expects that some of the 50 or so plaintiffs might drop out of the lawsuit if they have to reveal their real names. Roughly 40 filed as John or Jane Doe or some variation.

If Avid Life Media has its way, the cases might never see a courtroom:

And [Atkins] said a clause in the users’ agreement might put the lawsuit on hold while clients’ claims are handled in arbitration in a venue of the company’s choosing.

St. Louis attorney John Driscoll told Ross that plaintiffs’ lawyers may need some limited information from the company before they proceed, so they know which clients were covered under what versions of user agreements. He said that the arbitration requirement didn’t exist in the beginning, and he disputed whether it could be enforced against anyone.

Driscoll represents a woman from Maryland Heights who is among clients complaining that after quitting the service they paid extra to have their personal information removed but it was not done.

Last summer, hackers harvested data from the company, then released it online when the company refused to shut down the website. That stolen information included user names, emails, home addresses, messages and partial credit card information.

What legal issues are in play?

Besides complaints of breached personal information, some plaintiffs claim fraud, alleging — as some analysts have — that the hacked data showed tens of thousands of the site’s profiles of women seeking flings were merely computer-generated “fembots.” Those allegedly sent millions of messages to male customers in an attempt to garner more money.

The company has denied the claims about fembots, saying in August that the ratio of paying men to women active on the site was 1.2 to 1 in the first six months of 2015.

A tech Web site called anewdomain.com ran an article that includes copies of several federal complaints against Ashley Madison and Avid Life.

The notion of plaintiffs using pseudonyms to press their cases may, or may not, fly in court. It certainly will not fly here. To our knowledge, Legal Schnauzer will be the only Web site providing detailed background information--and real names--on AM customers. That many of them hold exalted positions of trust in corporations and institutions . . . well, that adds an extra layer of significance to the story.


(To be continued)

29 comments:

Anonymous said...

I'm assuming you've already contacted all these people to let them know they will be the subject of your stories?

legalschnauzer said...

I've answered that questions multiple times. If you missed it, I suggest you search "Ashley Madison" in the box at the top of blog. It will call up previous posts on this subjects, with comments that answer this question.

Anonymous said...

Gotnews at least limited itself to government officials who used it at work or those who were elected officials. Reporting on private individuals officially puts you a rung below even the trashiest gossip columns Roger.

legalschnauzer said...

Afraid you are wrong about Gotnews, @11:36:

http://gotnews.com/breaking-death-of-conservatism-author-new-york-times-editor-in-ashley-madison-data/

If that site does not want to dig as deeply into the story as I am, that is their business. Not sure why it bothers you. If you don't want to follow my reporting, go somewhere else. I hear there are several million blogs out there.

Anonymous said...

You still focused on Springfield and Birmingham, or are you going state wide?

Also curious if these people are responding to you? Have you heard from Don Gosen?

Anonymous said...

Gotnews is also linked to the neonazi and antisemitic site the daily stormer, which reposts their stories. Also not journalistic company I would think you would to keep? They outed one guy just because he seemed to do work with refugees, quite worthwhile sounding work to me actually if you're a progressive. You might ask what on earth his online habits have to do with his job helping refugees and the answer of course is absolutely nothing.

I've been peripherally following this blog for while and I find the contrast between genuinely worthwhile articles on corruption weirdly juxtaposed with a very odd focus on sex, but blog away on the sex lives of obscure company executives if it so pleases you.

Anonymous said...

@1136 probably maintains the human quality of empathy for the families you intend on destroying...something a sadistic, sociopath peice of shit such as yourself wouldn't understand.

legalschnauzer said...

Gotnews is not journalistic company that I keep. They just happen to be a Web site that has reported on a few Ashley Madison customers. There might be others, but Gotnews is about the only one I'm aware of.

Sex is part of a lot of stories in the mainstream press and has been for my 59 years on earth. It has been, and will be, part of the 2016 presidential campaign. Not sure why you find that so "very odd." Maybe you should look into your own psyche.

If all of this means nothing, why are so many customers bringing lawsuits that will be heard in St. Louis? Why are they using pseudonyms to hide their identity if they are so obscure? It's clearly a major story, whether you like it or not.

legalschnauzer said...

I've been focused statewide for quite some time, @12:26. A couple of people responded. Don Gosen was not one of them.

Anonymous said...

I've already ordered popcorn and chips and dip to enjoy while reading your unmasking of the AM cheaters. Can't wait. This is real journalism, and that's why it makes some people uncomfortable, especially those who are on the AM list.

Enjoy, folks!

legalschnauzer said...

What a thoughtful, classy comment, @4:54. This story really seems to gnaw at you deep inside. I wonder why that is.

Anonymous said...

A response to @4:54, from a former Ashley Madison user: Shuler is destroying any families. I signed up for this service and my name is out there. Shuler did not do that, I did it. It has publicly humiliated me and cost me my family, and all for nothing because I never actually used this service. I just signed up for it one day when I was in a dark depression, automatically paid $20 and then honestly forgot about it. Never used it and never cheated. Does not matter - everyone thinks I am an adulterer and the public humiliation and pain it caused me and my family is already done. This all happened before Shuler's planned publicity stunt - he did not cause it.

Where I have serious problems with what Shuler plans to do is that I am not a public person. I have a dental practice in Mobile, Alabama. Whatever journalistic interest there may be in me being publicly shamed - this time to a broader audience -- is tiny compared to the pain and grief of this experience. Shuler is a sadist, as are all the callous voyeurs who follow him (like the popcorn-eating @5:12). But shame on me for putting myself and my children in a position to be one of their victims.

Finally, to any other Ashley Madison users who read this blog: stop. You are not going to change Mr. Shuler's mind about publicly shaming you. Don't visit this site, it's not worth the suffering it causes. I know I won't be back.

Anonymous said...

I just believe people have a right to a private life. If they stand for election or take public moral stances then they voluntarily give away some of those rights.

Don't you believe people have a right to a private life Roger? Do you think we should be able to do things online with an expectation of privacy or are you someone who believes constant surveillance is OK?

If you believe in privacy and don't believe in constant surveillance then your reporting here is not compatible with that principle.

The real story here is a loss of privacy online, not outing users, which is the way the mainstream press is covering it.

I would wager there is not a single person alive who would be comfortable having their whole life story published online, including private thoughts and writing including 5:12 PM and Roger.

Anonymous said...

If its only you and a disreputable rightwing trolling blog Gotnews maybe that should be indicating something?

They were vindictively going after people who stood for things they didn't like, twitter executives as they had been banned from twitter for trolling, people who work with refugees because they don't like refugees. Nothing to do with the individuals themselves at all, just what they stood for. Its the same here.

Anonymous said...

Roger, I am again confused by your motivation here.

There are several reasons why the press and everyone else in the country has not published this information.

First, it is unreliable. Emails are not validated. Anyone can use a gift credit card and use any name and address they want to pay for the site. The data is a mess.

Second, and most important, this is personal, very private information about private individuals. You can claim they are "elite professionals" all you want, but they are not public figures and you will have little legal protection when you slander and defame them.

I should add that many of the individuals that you defame and shame will not react as might a public figure. I can tell you with certainty that you have thousands of eyes watching you on this.

Roger, you're going to be sued again, or worse. I'm warning you because you are about to needlessly hurt yourself and others. I think some part of you knows this. Please, take a step back and get some support for what you are going through.

legalschnauzer said...

I will repeat what I wrote above:

"If all of this means nothing, why are so many customers bringing lawsuits that will be heard in St. Louis? Why are they using pseudonyms to hide their identity if they are so obscure? It's clearly a major story, whether you like it or not."

A number of AM customers have filed lawsuits around the country. We don't yet know who they are, but that brings this story into the public sphere. A lawsuit, in taxpayer-funded courts, is a public proceeding, so the "this involves private people" argument does not hold water. In my view, it never has held water because I've seen the kinds of jobs many of these people hold, and they have huge influence in the public realm.

I give @6:10 credit for making a show of taking responsibility. But he refers to me as a "sadist" and readers as "voyeurs," so he's still blaming others for his own shortcomings.

As for @10:04, there is no reason to be confused by my motivation. It's the same as it's always been--to report legal-related news in a way that the MSM often won't, or can't, tackle.

Multiple tech experts have helped me on this story, and they say the paid data is reliable. As a backup, I am attempting to contact everyone I write about in advance of publication. If their contact information can be found, they will have an opportunity to explain their side of the story.

To repeat: This is not a private matter; it has been brought into federal courts. That is a news story, and if you don't understand that, you need to brush up on journalism fundamentals. If I were afraid of being sued "or worse," I wouldn't write a blog at all. I wouldn't comment on Facebook or anywhere else.

You say you are warning me. If you want that to be taken seriously, contact me at rshuler3156@gmail.com or (205) 381-5673, and we will discuss. A warning means something when I know who it is coming from.

Anonymous said...

If you can't find a real email for these people, then they are not worth the time for a story. Anyone that is big enough for you to feature should have an easily identifiable email. If not, just lazy journalism.

legalschnauzer said...

I've addressed this issue umpteen times, and I'm sorry you can't grasp it. Lazy journalism is ignoring this story, which is what you seem to advocate. If you think e-mail is easily identifiable why don't you try finding them for heads of several Alabama corporations, financial institutions, etc. If you think such outfits easily give out executive e-mails over the phone, give it a try and see how easy it is. I will do what I've said multiple times--make every effort to contact anyone who is featured in my reports. The truth is this: If people don't want to make themselves reachable, or they are determined to be unresponsive, they can do that. But they will have an opportunity to respond. If they don't take it, that's their decision.

Again, you are welcome to contact me personally, and we'll discuss. But you obviously are afraid to do that, which makes your credibility paper thin.

Anonymous said...

No one is saying its not a story, just that the aggregate is the story. To my mind the story is the loss of privacy, incompetence of the company etc.

What I'm asking you is whether people should have a right to any privacy online or in their life. That includes the privacy to do things some may find distasteful (but not illegal). Do you think we should have privacy Roger and 5:12 PM? Do you want privacy for yourself or you wife? Or would it be OK for all your emails, letters to be published and conversations recorded?

If you would not be comfortable with that then why invade these peoples privacy?

Anonymous said...

I don't know why you think I have ever brought this up before now. I just simply know that you don't have to call a corporation to find out an email address. Go to any corporate website and look for investor relations tab, or contact us section. Under it you will see how the company's email nomenclature is set up. For example-first name.lastname@companyx.com. With 95% certainty, you will be able to get to the person. Trust me, I work for a marketing company who does that very thing.

So, put down the gun aimed at me. I'm trying to help your stories come to life with the other side of the story. And that's what you want, right? Lazy journalism had nothing to do with the content of the post...rather the reason why you may not be able to email anyone.

legalschnauzer said...

I don't know who you are, @12:51, but the issue of subjects being contacted has been brought up numerous times in comment section. Whether you participated in those discussions, I don't know. But I've explained multiple times that I will do everything in my power to contact subjects and give them a chance to respond. You don't need to explain the contact us business to me. I've done that many times. But you admit that is only 95 percent accurate, and I would say you are overstating it quite a bit. I've practiced journalism for 35-plus years, in the digital era and before that, and any reporter will tell you that people can make themselves unreachable if they want to--especially if they know their name is part of a story they don't want to be a part of.

legalschnauzer said...

There are multiple angles to this story, @12:41, not just the aggregate one you mention. The most important angle, in my mind, is that an astounding number of high-level, elite professionals fell for such a digital con game--and that they were actively trying to cheat on their spouses. That, in my view, is a major story re: our current society.

These people certainly have a right to privacy, as described by law. But I also have a right to publish material that has entered the public sphere. These people made the choice to engage with a company that was both morally bankrupt and sloppily run. That's unfortunate for them, but it's still a story.

Anonymous said...

@12:51 again...just a point of clarification. The 95% means that if you use the methods I describe, 95% of the time you will get a good business/government email address for the individual. Whether they reply or not is obviously no where close to the figure. And, you're right, some individuals will change their email nomenclature just because of anonymity.

Carry on. Didn't know this was such a beaten up subject.

Anonymous said...

You say morally bankrupt, a more empathetic person would say many of these people were in a bad place in life. The dentist above said he was suffering from depression, and probably spent a tiny amount of time browsing a website whilst fantasizing about a different life. I say poor guy, this event has amplified a minuscule human failing into a life changing event. This is a damaged person who needs help and empathy which anyone who is Christian should recognize as the correct response. Your absolutist morals are not mine and your black and white view of these people is lacking in any nuance. To me people, relationships, life, is complicated and I prefer not to judge or to impose values on others.

A name on a list; are they a wanton philanderer, or a person suffering from depression, or a generally decent person who made a lapse in judgement. Your coverage leaves no room for any subtly.

e.a.f. said...

The former customers of A.M. are suing the corporation?????? Why draw more attention to yourself? By suing people are in fact advertising they used the service. much smarter to say something along the lines of": some one used my name. wasn't me.

If nothing else this has been humorous. You wanted an affair. some one found out. told the world and now you want to be compensated. There is something wrong here.

If politicians, public officials are perporting to be religious, ethical, moral, etc. and they're looking for an affair at the same time, consider this whole thing pay back for having double standards.

didn't any of these men think for one minute some one might hack the site???? Didn't they think a black mailer might find this type of site a source of income. Most likely the men thought they were so smart, no one would ever catch them.

Word of advise. If you are doing something which you don't want to be caught at, don't tell any one, don't use anything electronic, don't put it in writing. There are now research companies who have the research typed on old style manual type writers. they are the only "safe" method. papers are then kept in a vault.

legalschnauzer said...

The outcome of these lawsuits should be very interesting, e.a.f. Will the plaintiffs, at some point, have to come out from behind pseudonyms? That is one big question.

legalschnauzer said...

I would suggest, @10:41, that you read my 3:43 comment again. I said the company, Ashley Madison, was morally bankrupt (and sloppily run). I didn't say the users were morally bankrupt.

Anonymous said...

We do not need Ashley Madison here in Auburn. We have Mazola and Key parties.If you want to join us, do not bring GMC keys.The mayor drives a GMC.None of the women will pick them. Rumor has it that he has "SHORTY" tattooed on his equipment. My date got stuck with them one night.I called her Sunday to ask about her night with SHORTY. I heard her giggle, and then she replied, actually the tattoo reads "Shorty's Bar and grill Chattanooga Tennessee"

legalschnauzer said...

Thanks for providing a good belly laugh, @10:47. You've certainly enlightened us on the "other side" of life in "the Loveliest Village."