Business Monday: C.B. Paws defendant: ‘You’ve got the wrong guy’
A local resident accused of posting false and damaging online remarks about an Aspen retailer recently filed court papers denying he made the comments but defended their content nonetheless.
Earlier this month, the pet store C.B. Paws filed a complaint identifying Aspenite Ivan Lustig as the internet troll who allegedly used a host of anonymous, online aliases to berate the business with lie-laden remarks on the review sites Google and Yelp.
The outing of Lustig came after C.B. Paws sued “John Doe” in March in Pitkin County District Court, then gained the court’s permission in April to subpoena the two websites to collect information to help identify the person behind the anonymous postings.
Court papers filed by the Aspen law firm representing C.B. Paws, Garfield & Hecht PC, say they were able to identify Lustig as the poster by matching one of his phone numbers to one of his pseudonym accounts; as well, the surname of one Lustig’s alleged aliases, “Lizzie Gitsul,” is the defendant’s name spelled backward.
The suit’s ultimate goal is to receive a court injunction to permanently strip Lustig from “publish(ing) or otherwise post(ing) any reviews of C.B. Paws’ business to any online review sites.”
When contacted by The Aspen Times both before and after C.B. Paws named him the complaint, Lustig said he knew “nothing” about the allegations and would not comment further.
On Jan. 14, however, Lustig introduced a five-page response to the pet store’s allegations against him, insisting that “I am not the author or owner of any of the aforementioned reviews in the plaintiff’s complaint.”
Even so, Lustig, sans an attorney and representing himself, admitted that he used to work for C.P. Paws, but “the plaintiff’s theory relating the defendant being motivated by revenge is patently absurd,” he wrote. “The plaintiff’s theory plays into his agenda to silence the defendant.”
C.B. Paws’ original complaint, which was filed in March, said the poster began making the negative and false reviews in November 2017, the same month the Hyman Avenue mall store fired Lustig.
One comment, for example, reported in part: “I liken CB Paws to the finest buggy whip retailer with the internal combustion engine coming to market. Sorry, CB, my job is not to keep you in business and finance your lifestyle with your wildly overpriced products. As well, your employees should learn some manners 101. Sound familiar? Your competitors are a mere few walking steps away. Are the last two fluff reviews your relatives?”
In his court filing from mid-January, Lustig, while denying he made the comments, accused C.P. Paws’ owner Steve Fante of “using his agenda to silence the defendant’s opinion and free speech relating to pet boutique’s potential toxic and unsanitary conditions arising from the consistent introduction of animal fluids.”
Fante had previously told The Aspen Times that Lustig’s alleged online comments — some of which are similar to his defense — hurt his store’s reputation and possibly cost him business.
Whomever prevails, Pitkin County District Judge Chris Seldin, who is presiding over the case, has suggested that the First Amendment will weigh heavily in his decision-making.
“It is now well-settled that this right to speak anonymously applies to speech on the internet,” Seldin wrote in his April order allowing C.P. Paws to subpoena both Google and Yelp. “That right, however, is not unlimited.”
Seldin also noted that even if the comments were accurate, “the act of assuming multiple different identities in an effort to amplify the impact of that content is misleading and constitutes false statements. If online reviews are a person’s ‘vote’ on a business, in other words, the alleged single defendant here has committed voter fraud by casting multiple ballots.”
Lustig’s filing seeks dismissal of the suit and asks the court to “treat this case as a free speech matter issue.” Lustig also ask the court to stop C.B. from using “the abuse of blanket subpoena and refrain from further defamatory behavior relating to the defendant and violation of citizens’ rights.”
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