December 22, 2004
"For Sale" Isn't Laughing
Our thanks to Carl Bernofsky, Louisiana JAILer,
for bringing this New York Times article to the attention of J.A.I.L.
We thought it was clever enough to be shared with our readers and
subscribers. Carl commented: Perhaps we should
run our own auction for judges who are for sale. Can you imagine
the volume of business the following ad would bring: "Crooked judge for
sale." There would be no shortage of
Hope you enjoy
A Judge for Sale on EBay, Shipping Included, Isn't
December 13, 2004
By JEFFREY GETTLEMAN
When Jerald R. Klein, a Manhattan housing court
judge, got a call from a reporter yesterday morning, he had no idea why
he was being bothered at home on the weekend.
He did not know that his face was all over eBay. He did not know that
he was for sale.
"What are you talking about?" he said. "Yes, I am a housing court
judge. But I'm not for sale."
According to a posting on eBay, an online auction house, the
55-year-old judge would go to the highest bidder. After four days, the
best offer was $127.50.
The eBay advertisement, titled "Judge for Sale," showed a picture of
Judge Klein sitting in a courtroom and grinning at the camera, and then
listed a number of accusations criticizing the way the judge dispenses
Free worldwide shipping was even included.
Judge Klein has spent 22 years untangling landlord-tenant disputes
New York City Civil Court. As he suspected, a disgruntled litigant was
the behind the advertisement, which had eluded eBay authorities.
That litigant is Janet Schoenberg, who is being evicted on Thursday
from her studio apartment in the East Village. She said she created the
ad after exhausting all other avenues to attract attention to her case,
which she said was being improperly handled by Judge Klein.
"In today's world, this is how people who are not celebrities can get
their voice heard," said Ms. Schoenberg.
Ms. Schoenberg, who said that she had never sold anything on eBay and
that it was "ridiculously easy" to make the ad, maintained that the
listing was intended as a joke.
"I didn't expect anybody to actually bid on this," she said. "It was
satire; it was parody."
Ms. Schoenberg posted the ad on Wednesday. By 10:18 yesterday morning,
the site had drawn 6,400 hits and 21 bids, which Judge Klein did not
"I'm outraged that eBay would post this," the judge said from his home
on Long Island. "I'd like to know their rules for this. I'd like to
know what investigation they did before they put this out there."
EBay conducted no investigation before posting the ad, according to a
spokesman, and it never does. Because of the volume of trade - there
are more than 30 million listings on eBay, with 3.6 million listings
added every day - the company cannot screen advertisements before they
on the Internet, said Hani Durzy, an eBay spokesman.
"We rely on our traders and the public to point these things out," Mr.
Durzy said. EBay is an Internet intermediary between buyers and
sellers, for everything from baseballs to Texas ranchland. Mr. Durzy
added that the company did use computer filters to identify improper
items and advertisements, but said they were not foolproof.
Strange things have surfaced before on eBay, some getting sold, others
eventually getting pulled: a grilled cheese sandwich with an image of
the Virgin Mary burned into it; a ghost; a vote from Ohio; even the
But Mr. Durzy said eBay, which is the world's largest Internet
retailer, even bigger than Amazon, had never had a judge for sale
Within seconds of looking at the ad, Mr. Durzy rattled off a list of
rules he said it violated: misleading title, misleading description,
unauthorized use of a photo, unauthorized use of a name, illegal
"You're not allowed to sell human remains or human beings on eBay," Mr.
Mr. Durzy also said Judge Klein was listed under the wrong category,
maybe a small thing, but another violation nonetheless.
Ms. Schoenberg listed her advertisement under the heading "Sporting
Goods, Archery, Arrows, Shafts."
"Shaft has multiple meanings," explained Ms. Schoenberg, who said she
once worked as a comedy writer. "Again," she emphasized, "this is
But Mr. Durzy said eBay was no place for parody.
"It's a place for people to buy and sell goods," he said.
Ms. Schoenberg countered that the judge himself was never for sale. In
fine print after the list of complaints, in which she accuses Judge
Klein of lying and breaking the law, she explained that her posting was
a "work of art" and that what was actually for sale was an
audiocassette of the
judge's proceedings, which are public record. She said the tape proved
that she was being wrongly evicted from her rent-controlled studio,
where she has lived for the past six years.
But eBay did not buy it.
Within 90 minutes of learning about the ad from a reporter, eBay
officials removed it. "It is a thinly veiled personal attack," Mr.
But before the ad was removed, it had already been posted on dozens of
Internet-based message boards, including dozens of sports Web sites,
advertising "Crooked judge for sale."
Devereux Chatillon, an expert in First Amendment law at Sonnenschein,
Nath & Rosenthal, a New York law firm, said that even though the
advertisement was gone, it could still spell legal trouble.
"It doesn't look to me like a parody," Ms. Chatillon said. "It looks
like angry commentary. And if it's based on statements that are wrong,
it could be libelous."
Ms. Schoenberg said it had never occurred to her that what she was
doing could get her into trouble.
"I really didn't think of that," she said.
Judge Klein would not comment on the potential libel issues. He said
was going to discuss with his court administrators what to do next.
"Judges are ill equipped to fight eBay," he said, clearly frustrated
yesterday afternoon, before the advertisement had been pulled. "How do
I fight eBay?"
does not require a majority to prevail, but rather an irate,
minority keen to set brush fires in people's minds.." - Samuel