Why is Alex Jones' former "lawyer to the trolls" now repping this fast-growing craft brewery?
Notes on Sycamore Brewing's controversial First Amendment attorney, Marjorie Taylor Greene's favorite Bang flavor + more
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As Stone Brewing Company maneuvers for attorneys fees and treble damages in its surprise victory against Molson Coors, it’s preparing to defend itself in another lawsuit from a North Carolina brewery that’s being represented by a right-wing First Amendment lawyer with a lengthy disciplinary record who has previously represented everyone from Star Trek fans, to Bang Bus, to neo-Nazis and the Satanic Temple. Let’s get right into it!
Earlier this month, North Carolina’s Sycamore Brewing Co. sued Stone alleging trademark infringement on “Keep It Juicy,” a phrase that both breweries (unfortunately) use to market their various hazy IPAs. If this seems stupid and spurious and a little bit embarrassing to you: yes, correct, same, but as the San Diego brewery itself proved at its own
day three weeks in court, that doesn’t mean a jury will agree. And the products do look fairly similar.
Anyway, this week a judge granted an injunction against Stone to make it stop selling products that bear the phrase while the courts hash this out, which is mildly interesting. Much, much more interesting, though, is the professional resume of the guy who Sycamore hopes will help in said hashing out: Marc Randazza, a controversial right-wing First Amendment lawyer who was deemed, as journalist Luke O’Brien put it, “too unethical to represent [InfoWars’] Alex Jones” in the conspiracy theorist’s Sandy Hook-related legal defense. The attorney, who is licensed to practice in Arizona, California, Florida, Nevada, and Massachusetts (but NOT North Carolina) has no apparent experience in alcohol law, and a long and checkered history of alleged bribery, bankruptcy, and ethics violations. In a thorough December 2018 exposé, O’Brien, HuffPost’s disinformation and extremism reporter, laid out the professional life and times of the so-called “lawyer to the trolls” (emphasis mine):
While working as the in-house general counsel for gay pornographers a few years ago, he solicited bribes, embraced conflicts of interest, relied on ill-gotten privileged information to gain a legal advantage, made misrepresentations about his fees to various courts and despoiled evidence of his treachery, according to an arbitrator’s findings, sworn statements in legal proceedings, interviews with opposing counsel, Randazza’s own admissions and thousands of pages of court records.
In the story (which is long but worth reading for the sheer volume of insane details therein), O’Brien also showcased how Randazza had begun adopting the extreme right-wing politics of many of the odious clients with which his First Amendment defense work necessarily involved him. “Unlike most First Amendment lawyers, he’s willing to brandish the plaintiff’s knives for them and carve out space in the legal system for their political agenda,” wrote the journalist. A few months later, a Connecticut judge rejected Randazza’s pro hac vice application1 to represent Alex Jones in the state’s Superior Court proceedings over the conspiracy theorist’s alleged defamation of Sandy Hook mass shooting victims’ families. Shortly thereafter, Jones fired Randazza.2 In the three years since, the attorney seems to have veered further to the right, and his Twitter feed these days is the standard menu of culture war/grievance politics bullshit currently churning through the Republican media ecosystem.
Randazza is a politically charged figure with an unusual amount of easily googleable baggage. What is he doing representing a fast-growing but otherwise unremarkable and seemingly apolitical regional craft brewery in a routine trademark dispute? It’s true that Sycamore has a fairly trolly corporate persona, having produced a few deliberately lewd beer labels in the past, but their punkish pranks are child’s play when compared with Randazza’s legal and political tangoes with the American far right. Fingers contacted both Randazza and Sycamore to find out what… uh… what brought them together on the latter’s Stone suit, but did not hear back before publication. I’ll update this story if/when I do.
In the meantime, the case marches on, and despite Stone’s best efforts, Randazza marches with it. According to court documents reviewed by Fingers, and first reported by Beer Business Daily last week, Randazza filed another pro hac vice application to appear on Sycamore’s behalf in North Carolina earlier this month—the same type of request that Connecticut courts slapped down. Upon receipt of the application, Stone’s lawyers objected to Randazza’s admission:
Their objection (excerpted above) specifically noted Randazza’s rejected application in the Sandy Hook trial. But unlike his cloaked counterpart on the Connecticut bench, Judge Frank Whitney of North Carolina’s western federal district decided to grant the controversial attorney’s pro hac vice request, meaning (as far as I can tell) he will be allowed to continue representing Sycamore in the trademark suit so long as Sycamore’s local counsel literally signs off on everything Randazza submits to the court and makes himself “accountable for the substance of such submissions.” Which, given Randazza’s track record, seems potentially significant! Keep it juicy… man, they weren’t kidding.
📬 Good post alert
💥 Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Bang Energy)
On Friday, QAnon wingnut/Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene testified in court in a hearing to determine whether she’s constitutionally fit to run for reelection given her role in inciting the violent insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on January 6th, 2021. Your fearless Fingers editor did not expect a beverage angle to the proceedings, but your fearless Fingers editor was wrong. As reported by The New Yorker’s Charles Bethea and Travis Nichols of the NGO Stand Earth, Greene delivered at least part of her testimony clutching—that’s right, baby!—a can of “Rainbow Unicorn”-flavored Bang Energy.
Newcomers to the boozeletter may consider this a harmless coincidence—after all, Greene is on the record as a shameless CrossFit fan (much to CrossFit’s corporate chagrin) and as fitness journalist Casey Johnston pointed out on Twitter, Bang is extremely popular amongst those silicone wedding band-wearing maniacs. But Bang Energy has an indirect tie to the embattled congresswoman’s constituents on the American far right via its chief executive, stem cell-injector and alleged trademark violator Jack Owoc, who has donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to MAGA causes. With that context, you have to wonder—or at least, I have to wonder—if MTG’s choice to hang with Bang during her day in court3 was an intentional wink to the hardcore base. White Claw : Proud Boys :: Bang Energy : allegedly seditious federal legislators? Hmm!
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This is a request for permission to practice law in a jurisdiction where the requesting lawyer is not technically licensed. O’Brien:
“Judges routinely sign off on these applications. The Connecticut judge, however, swiftly rejected Randazza’s application, citing ‘serious misconduct’ by the attorney. ‘Permission to appear pro hac vice is a privilege, not a right,’ the judge wrote, ending Randazza’s aspirations to take the stage in one of the highest-profile First Amendment cases in the country.”
Despite eventually finding an “untainted” free-speech lawyer to represent his interests, Jones’ time at trial has not been going well!