One Lawyer's Mission During COVID-19: Protect the Unicorns!

By Joseph Fawbush, Esq. on March 25, 2020 | Last updated on August 10, 2021

Living through an emergency in isolation is stressful. Losing perspective is easy. Exhibit A comes from a Chicago lawyer who filed an emergency temporary restraining order to prevent the unauthorized reproduction of a client's unicorn and elf portrayals. Surely, that is worth filing for an emergency TRO, then a reconsideration, then yet another emergency motion. There are a lot of important things to worry about, granted. But we can't forget about the unicorns!

Bloomberg Law reported on the complaint. It's worth a minute of your time to read U.S. District Court Judge Steven Seeger's order, which oozes with barely contained contempt. Although considered in context, one could argue the order is admirably restrained.

Irreparable Harm

Plaintiff alleged that their company, which creates drawings of fantasy creatures, would face irreparable harm if infringing portrayals would be allowed to continue for the next couple of weeks. Arguing this qualifies as an emergency, however, is an uphill battle. As Judge Seeger noted, “one wonders if the fake fantasy products are experiencing brisk sales at the moment."

Instead, Judge Seeger continued, “if there's ever a time when emergency motions should be limited to genuine emergencies, now's the time". You know, the actual emergency that led Chief Judge Rebecca Pallmeyer to shut down the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois after an employee tested positive for COVID-19.

Further, granting the plaintiff's request to force third parties to “spring into action" to crack down on infringing unicorns would, at best, distract companies like Amazon with more important things to worry about. Most likely, the order would simply be a nullity, Judge Seeger reasoned in denying the motion to reconsider.

What Lawyers Can Do for Their Clients

While the above emergency motion is exasperating, it is difficult for lawyers, and more importantly, their clients, to navigate ongoing legal issues during this crisis. There are significant legal and financial issues at stake for many. Certainly, the line between what is an emergency and what can be delayed is often blurry. Courts have taken a piecemeal approach to navigating the current crisis, so advocating aggressively on behalf of a client to continue with litigation by whatever means possible is commendable.

However, for many parties currently in litigation, a delay is now simply inevitable. Part of being an advocate is understanding where the line is between being aggressive and being a nuisance to the court. To close with a quote from Elihu Root, which Judge Seeger included in his denial order, "[a]bout half of the practice of a decent lawyer is telling would-be clients that they are damned fools and should stop."

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