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
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.
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 justice.
worldwide shipping was even included.
Judge Klein has spent 22 years
untangling landlord-tenant disputes in
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.
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 find funny.
"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."
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 are posted
on the Internet, said Hani Durzy, an
"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 Internet itself.
But Mr. Durzy said
eBay, which is the world's largest Internet retailer, even bigger than Amazon,
had never had a judge for sale before.
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,
"You're not allowed to sell human remains or human
beings on eBay," Mr. Durzy explained.
Mr. Durzy also said Judge Klein
was listed under the wrong category, maybe a small thing, but another violation
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 parody."
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
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. Durzy
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
"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 he
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?"