The more infamous
Tiger, the one prowling golf courses and coffee shop waitresses, was tamed Sunday, finishing fourth at the Masters. But on April 8, 2010, another self-styled “Tiger,” one from the ranks of law, and a.k.a. in Spanish as “el Tigre
,” was himself subdued not by a golf course or by public opinion but by the Nevada Supreme Court. But too bad the subjugation was so limp. The Nevada Supremes only publicly reprimanded the self-described Tiger known as Anthony “Tony the Tiger” a.k.a. “Tony el Tigre
” Lopez. “El Tigre
” is a personal injury lawyer. See the Court reprimands lawyer over misleading ads.
Tony “the Tiger” a.k.a. Tony “el Tigre.”
No kudos for Lopez’s apparent lack of originality for adopting the obvious moniker of the better-known breakfast cereal mascot, Tony the Tiger
. He joins the succession of all those other “Tony’s,” like those boxers who share the same sobriquet along with that NASCAR guy, too. Happily, Tony el Tonto
is still available.
There’s something to be said for the imposition of reciprocal discipline, which punishes a lawyer in one jurisdiction for discipline imposed by another. Prior to his latest Nevada indiscretion, “el Tigre
” (the Tiger) had been previously disciplined in Arizona. In that instance in 2003, Nevada imposed its reciprocal discipline for the Arizona infraction. See (PDF Link).
In Arizona, he’ll be censured and put on 2 years probation for trust account violations if he opts to set up shop there in the future. See http://www.supreme.state.az.us/dc/2003_scanned/Agreements/Lopez_Agreement.pdf
No happy campers or campistas contentos.
The main reason for his California-imposed suspension was for neglecting to explain to his Spanish-speaking clients how that important contingency percentage split works. In other words, for specifically not telling those who “no habla Ingles” how much he was getting and how much they were netting from the settlement checks. Unsurprisingly, when his clients finally got their comparatively teeny settlement checks, minus medical costs paid, they weren’t “campistas contentos.”
A right to $15,000.00?
But what also got “el Tigre” in trouble in California were those Nevada radio advertisements, the cause of his Nevada-imposed discipline. As explained in the Cal Bar’s stipulated order, “Beginning on January 7, 2008, Respondent began airing a Spanish-language radio advertisement in Nevada which stated that”if you have had an auto accident, by law you have the right to receive at least fifteen thousand dollars for your case. Call the offices of Tony the Tiger Lopez at 366-1966, 368-1966.”
By coincidence, I was in Reno on an appointment in early 2008 when I heard “el Tigre
‘s” ad. “What the hay,” I said aloud when I heard of a right to $15,000.
Telling injured auto accident victims they have “the right” to “at least” $15,000 goes well beyond “Getting what you Deserve”
. Having a right to a minimum $15,000,
means they’ll beat a path to your door past every other personal injury lawyer not making that promise.
A public service advertisement?
In defending his advertisement, though, el Tigre
ludicrously asserted that his commercials were actually a public service. He was educating consumers about Nevada’s statutory $15,000 minimum insurance required of motorists.(1)
No one bought that tall tabby tale. Instead, referring to his advertised “right to receive at least $15,000,” in a bit of understatement, the Nevada Supreme Court said el Tigre “grossly misstated the law.”
What was the Southern Nevada Disciplinary Commission’s recommended punishment to the court? Unfortunately, the recommendation was too clever by half. Besides the public reprimand, el Tigre was ordered to spend $19,500 on legitimate public service radio announcements explaining the minimum insurance required of drivers. The $19,500 amount was what he supposedly spent on the original offending radio spots. Hardly seems much punishment since he probably earned that and more running the misleading advertisements.
Why stuff like this happens.
Despite the lip service paid to diversity, state bars tend to be ethnically homogeneous and monolingual. I’ve not been dissuaded of this by the state bars I know. So in el Tigre‘s case, but for complaints from other lawyers who claimed to have heard about “el Tigre’s” radio ads from confused clients who thought they were entitled to at least $15,000 for their cases, the Nevada Bar may never have known about it.
Consequently, some lawyers think they can pretty much say whatever they want and get away with it when marketing to the non-English speaking. After all, who’s going to know? Who’s going to be the wiser? Nevada, like other jurisdictions, does require copies of lawyer ads and a translation if they aren’t in the King’s English. But obviously, this approach doesn’t always work.
But what further insulates the duplicitous is the unfortunate reality that many non-English speakers targeted by such ads are a) unsophisticated; b) ignorant of their rights and remedies; and c) by cultural disposition or by undocumented status, reluctant to complain even if they know how and where.
Until state bars and their ethics counsel improve their self-professed consumer protections through greater educational outreach to non-English speakers and by staffing up with more ethnically-diverse administrators, they’ll have to continue to rely by exception on their accidental discovery of exploitative, misleading ethnic marketing.
(1) NRS 485.185 Insurance for payment of tort liabilities arising from maintenance or use of motor vehicle: Coverage to be obtained from insurance company duly licensed and approved; minimum thresholds of coverage. Every owner of a motor vehicle which is registered or required to be registered in this State shall continuously provide, while the motor vehicle is present or registered in this State, insurance provided by an insurance company licensed by the Division of Insurance of the Department of Business and Industry and approved to do business in this State: 1. In the amount of $15,000 for bodily injury to or death of one person in any one accident;
Photo Credits: “I’m greattttt” by Señor Codo at Flickr; Camping by Andrea Moed at amoeda at Flickr; “Paw III, The Return” by Arria Belli at Flickr