NAPABA Statement About Racist Law Firm Ad
December 9, 2013
Dear NAPABA members, friends, and supporters:
About two weeks ago, bloggers on Angry Asian Man and Above the Law reported on a law firm video advertisement that presents racist caricatures of Asian Pacific Americans. The ad, which was produced by Definitive Television and attributed to Alabama law firm McCutcheon & Hamner, P.C., is offensive and has no place in the legal profession. We condemn these kinds of racist depictions of Asian Pacific Americans and people of all races.
Since this story first emerged, NAPABA has followed the media coverage and has looked into the origins of the ad. Factual questions remain about the production of the ad, which Definitive Television claims was created at the firm's request and for which McCutcheon & Hamner deny any involvement. In looking into this matter, I consulted with NAPABA members in Alabama and spoke to the parties involved. Below is a summary of what I discovered during the course of our investigation, which I am sharing with you so that you can more fully understand NAPABA's involvement in this matter.
On the same day that the story broke on Above the Law, I spoke with Joel Hamner of McCutcheon & Hamner, P.C., who stated that the ad was created and released without the firm's knowledge or consent and that he and his partner learned about the ad only after receiving a complaint following its release by Definitive Television. The narrative that Hamner provided to me was consistent with an interview he gave to the American Bar Association, as summarized here. Hamner also told me that the firm had sent a cease-and-desist letter to Jim DeBerry of Definitive Television, which DeBerry later denied. In addition, prior to our call, Hamner left me a message that "a disgruntled employee" had been behind the ad, although he later distanced himself from that position during our phone conversation and claimed to have no knowledge about the ad or its origins.
I also spoke to Jim DeBerry, who is the Area Vice President for Tennessee & Florida for Definitive Television, the production company that created and posted the offensive video ad. DeBerry explained that he uses a third-party service to find clients for Definitive Television and that a person using the named AC Gee and purporting to be acting on behalf of the company contacted him through this service to order the video, requesting that the specific character be used and providing a script. DeBerry sent me copies of screenshots of online conversations between him and someone using the screen name "AC Gee." The screenshots alone do not show that "AC Gee" was acting on behalf of the firm. According to DeBerry, the firm paid for the video through the third-party service and he posted the video on the Definitive Television YouTube channel as he does most client videos. DeBerry would not show me any proof of payment, citing concerns about involving the third-party service. DeBerry also told me that he spoke to the two partners of the law firm earlier that week. He told me that he initially suggested to them the possibility that a disgruntled employee might have been involved and offered to provide the name of the person who had placed the order but the partners allegedly told him that they did not need that information.
During my call with DeBerry, he told me that he had never received a cease-and-desist letter or any other legal documents from the firm. Afterwards, I called Hamner to ask to see a copy of the letter and was told that he could not provide a copy to me.
There is no one named AC Gee listed on the firm's website although someone using the name has a publicly-accessible Facebook profile that includes many posts about the law firm. This person also left a review on the firm's Facebook page stating, "appreciate your help."