In case you don’t know by now, many lawyers — maybe even you — enjoy writing cease and desist letters in a foreign language called legalese. This exotic tongue often contains Latin phrases, SAT vocabulary words, and various here-and-there words (e.g., herein, heretofore, hereinafter, hereunder, thereof, thereto, therewith, thereunder, therefor, thereon, and therefrom).
A person unfamiliar with legalese may become frightened and run to another attorney for help in deciphering this mystical language of lawyerly legend. The lawyer who has been tasked with translating legalese to English may then become annoyed, and issue a scathingly funny letter in return.
For an example of how to write a great response to a cease and desist letter, keep reading…
Jake Freivald, a resident of West Orange, New Jersey who once ran for town council and lost, started westorange.info, a rudimentary website that provides basic information about the town, like “places to talk [online]” and “places to get news.” It doesn’t look like a site that’s sponsored by West Orange in any way, shape, or form — unless the town hired middle schoolers to create its online presence.
That said, not long after he started the site, Freivald received a demand letter from Richard D. Trenk, the township attorney for West Orange (and an alum of my alma mater). Here is Trenk’s cease and desist letter (retyped online by Freivald, who added sics where necessary to indicate errors in the original):
Dear Mr. Freivald:
I am the Township Attorney for the Township of West Orange (“Township”). It has come to our attention that, on or about May 13, 2013, you registered and began to use the domain name “westorange.info” (the “Info Domain”). The Township interprets this action as an effort by you to confuse and conflate the Township’s official domain name and Web site with the Info Domain that you maintain.
The use of the Township’s name is unauthorized and is likely to cause confustion [sic], mistake or to deceive the public and may be a violation of the Township’s federally protected rights. The Info Domain falsely creates the impression that the Township is associated or affiliated with the Info Domain. At a minimum, this action has been taken with constructive knowledge of the Township’s name and Web site, and constitutes bad faith use of the Info Domain.
Accordingly, the Township demands that you cease and desist from use, ownership and maintenance of the Info Domain. The Township further demands that, within ten (10) days, the Info Domain be withdrawn from the current registrar, and that you cease all current and future use of the Info Domain, or anything else confusingly similar thereto.
The Township reserves all rights and remedies.
Please be guided accordingly.
Very truly yours,
Richard D. Trenk, Township Attorney
We hope you didn’t get “confusted” by that. Freivald’s lawyer, Stephen B. Kaplitt — formerly of Weil Gotshal, Cadwalader, the U.S. State Department, and Beacon Financial — wasn’t, and it looks like he was “guided accordingly” (don’t you hate that phrase?) when he penned this fantastic response (for a larger view, click here):
Stephen B. Kaplitt
Member of the Bar in New York * New Jersey * Maryland * District of Columbia (inactive)
1271 Avenue of the Americas
New York, NY 10020
June 17, 2013
VIA EMAIL ONLY
Richard D. Trenk, Esq.
Township Attorney for the Township of West Orange
347 Mount Pleasant Avenue
Suite 300 West Orange, New Jersey 07052
Dear Mr. Trenk:
I am pro bono counsel to Jake Freivald and write in response to your “cease and desist letter,” dated May 13, 2013, regarding his domain westorange.info. Obviously it was sent in jest, and the world can certainly use more legal satire. Bravo, Mr. Trenk !
Not that we didn’t get the joke … but since Mr. Freivald had not previously encountered a humorous lawyer, he actually thought your letter may have been a serious effort by the Township to protect its legitimate interests. Rest assured, I’ve at least convinced him that it was certainly not some impulsive, ham-fisted attempt to bully a local resident solely because of his well-known political views. After all, as lawyers you and I both know that would be flagrantly unconstitutional and would also, in the words of my 4-year old, make you a big meanie.
Nonetheless, to further allay my client’s concerns, will you kindly forward to me copies of the prank cease and desist letters you have no doubt also sent to the owners of the following domains:
westorangeinfo.com (don’t tell me you overlooked this one … ?)
westorangenj.net (now that sounds like a Township website !)
westorangebassanglers.com (my personal favorite)
westorangemassagetherapy.com (hopefully not a euphemism, suggest you investigate)
Oh, and just to play along, had you intended for your letter to be taken seriously, even in some small measure, we would have sent in response something along the following lines:
* * *
Dear Mr. Trenk:
1) The suggestion that Mr. Freivald’s website is “likely to cause confusion” or “falsely create the impression” of association with the Township is farcical. As is evident from the attached home page snapshots, the Township’s website is a “virtual” masterpiece developed by Icon Enterprises, Inc., d/b/a CivicPlus, at a cost to West Orange taxpayers of $35,000 (plus $5,000 per annum for hosting and maintenance). By contrast, my client’s rudimentary website (cost: $3.17,1 free hosting) is so minimalist that it arguably qualifies as modern art.
2) To date, all ICANN rulings in this area have held that geographic domain names, by themselves, are not protected marks – especially when claimed by government or municipal authorities.2
3) I can’t believe I really have to explain this, but here goes … after nearly a century of First Amendment jurisprudence, it is well-settled that content-based restrictions on free speech by the government3 are subject to “strict scrutiny”, and will only be upheld upon a showing that such restrictions “promote a compelling [governmental] interest” and are the “least restrictive means to further the articulated interest”. See, e.g., Sable Communications of California, Inc. v. Fed. Comm. Commission, 492 U.S. 115, 126 (1989), and about a kajillion other U.S. Supreme Court free speech cases.
4) Will you kindly explain exactly which of its “federally protected rights” the Township believes my client “may” have violated.
5) So that I may properly counsel my client, please also explain what in Sam Hill’s name you meant by “anything else confusingly similar thereto.”
6) Last but not least, will you kindly provide to me the specific legal basis or bases for the Township’s demand that my client cease and desist from “use, ownership and maintenance” of his domain. To paraphrase the bar exam instructions, feel free to cite any authority you consider relevant, including Federal, state or local laws, rules, regulations, ordinances, etc. (even those voluminous Township playground rules no one pays attention to). Since New Jersey Rule of Professional Conduct 4.1(a)(1) prohibits a lawyer from making a “false statement of material fact or law to a third person”, surely you must have persuasive authority for the Township’s extraordinary demand that my client relinquish private property lawfully purchased and owned by him.
If you manage to produce supporting authority that even remotely passes the laugh test, I will donate $100 in your honor to the American Civil Liberties Union – NJ Chapter. I plan to make the donation online, assuming the State of New Jersey has not shut down aclu-nj.org.
* * *
But of course, only a humorless suit would have sent such a response to your literary gag gift.
Stephen B. Kaplitt
P.S. Off topic, but as long as we’re chatting, I hereby demand from the Township a refund in the amount of $28,763.22 for excess property taxes levied on 74 Terrace Avenue since my acquisition of ownership on August 9, 2010. Detailed calculations and legal authority available on request.
P.P.S. Wait, I have a better idea. I just learned that westorange.gov is still available and any state or local agency can license it from the U.S. General Services Administration for only $125 per year. Since the whole refund thing might trigger a stampede if word got around, instead how about if I form a limited liability company to conceal my identity, and then use it to license westorange.gov from the GSA – I’ll just need a letter from Mayor Parisi designating my LLC as an authorized Township agent – and then my LLC will sublicense it to the Township for a paid-up royalty of $28,763.22 ! Pretty clever, huh ? Krakoviak will be a hard sell, but Sayers should like it. Just something to consider …
 Jake swears that was his actual cost. Looking at his website, I believe him.
 See, e.g., City of Dearborn v. Dan Mekled d/b/a ID Solutions, FA 99602 (Nat. Arb. Forum Nov. 12, 2001)(insufficient evidence that “City of Dearborn” is a protected common law mark); City of Myrtle Beach v. Information Centers, Inc. FA 0112000103367(Nat. Arb. Forum March 8, 2002)(“The City of Myrtle Beach is a geographical place. There is insufficient evidence that the name has acquired any secondary meaning [to create a protected trademark interest]”); and City of Salinas v. Brian Baughn, FA 97076 (Nat. Arb. Forum June 4, 2001)(insufficient evidence that “City of Salinas” mark acquired secondary meaning such that the City of Salinas may claim the exclusive right to use as a trademark).
 Yes, that includes the Township of West Orange. See Herbert v. Lando, 441 U.S. 153, 168 n. 16 (1979).