As discussed in a previous post on FindLaw's Legally Weird blog, controversial TV pitchman, Kevin Trudeau, had been hit with a criminal contempt charge for encouraging his followers to overrun the email of the judge presiding over the court case brought against him by the FTC. Hundreds of ensuing emails in support of Trudeau crashed Judge Robert Gettleman's office computer and crushed his Blackberry. The contempt citation levied by the judge against Trudeau was overturned by the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals on May 20.
According to a report from Reuters, Trudeau was originally in court for allegations from the Federal Trade Commission that he violated the terms of a 2004 FTC settlement over his book, "The Weight Loss Cure 'They' Don't Want You to Know About." When that civil contempt citation was appealed, the 7th Circuit struck down the punishment of a $37.6 million fine and three-year infomercial ban, and asked Judge Gettleman to reconsider it. The the finding of contempt itself was allowed to stand.
This is not to be confused (unless you already are) with the criminal contempt charge struck down by the appeals court on Thursday. The court found that the email barrage did not actually occur in the presence of the judge during a proceeding. In fact, the court noted, Judge Gettleman actually had to reconvene court and ask Trudeau about his involvement; an action that bordered on asking him to incriminate himself, as prohibited by the Fifth Amendment.
The court's decision leaves open the possibility that Trudeau could still face criminal contempt proceedings if Judge Gettleman refers the case to federal prosecutors.
Reuters notes that Trudeau has long battled federal regulators over his marketing of "cures" for a wide range of human pain such as AIDS, hair loss, memory loss, obesity and financial distress.
Trudeau has remained free pending his appeal, and has appeared on infomercials in recent months.
- FTC v. Trudeau Full Opinion [pdf] (FindLaw)
- Email is Contemptible: Email Barrage Gets Pitchman 30 Days in the Clink (FindLaw's Legally Weird Blog)
- Consumer Complaints on Kevin Trudeau (consumeraffairs.com)
- No jail, contempt for TV pitchman Trudeau (Reuters News Service)
- Contempt (FindLaw's LawBrain)