“You are known by the company you keep” – Aesop’s Fables
As lawyers, we are often judged by prospective clients based upon the quality of our past or existing clients. If you represent a large, rich, powerful corporation, the message that sends to a prospective client is – if he or she is good enough for them, that’s good enough for me. And so it is that we lawyers are known by the company (or clients) we keep.
California lawyer Svitlana E. Sangary understood the importance of the company she kept. Her law firm website included a montage of photographs of Svitlana in the company of some of the most powerful, recognizable, and famous people in the world.
And she seemed to be everywhere, all the time.
Look here – there is Svitlana at the Academy Awards, posing with the likes of A-List stars Bradley Cooper, Ellen DeGeneres, and Brad Pitt, among other members of the Hollywood glitterati. Just in case you did not know, Sangary is the smiling blond woman in the front row, just to the left of Ellen. Still not sure who she is? Take a look at the name tag she holds nonchalantly, which reads “Svitlana Sangary.” Not too subtle.
Look here, Svitlana is posing again, this time one on one with Ellen. Cool! Other photographs on her website included Svitlana seemingly with the likes of Arnold Schwarzenegger, Antonio Villaraigosa, George Clooney, Paris Hilton, and Bill Maher.
But Svitlana did not limit her photo ops. to just televison personalities and movie stars. On the contrary, another photo on her web site shows her cozying up with President Barack Obama.
How cool is that! She must be a “Super Duper Lawyer” to be friends with the Prez. And she also must be a pretty special lawyer, based on the company she keeps.
Indeed, Svitlana did not discriminate across party lines — another photo shows her mugging it up with “The Donald.” She also was show in photographs with Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton, and Al Gore.
Lawyer to the Stars, however, she was not. As it turned out, Svitlana’s photos were not what they purported to be. They were fakes.
Ms. Sangary’s pictures were the product of photoshopping herself into the photographs of others. For those of you who are not familiar with the term, “photoshopping” simply means using digital image-editing software in a way that distorts reality (as for deliberately deceptive purposes).
Ms. Sangary made liberal use of photoshopping software to give the misleading and deceiving impression that she was someone she was not–an attorney who keeps company with rich, famous, and powerful friends. Someone might very well be persuaded to hire Ms. Sangary based on the company she claimed to keep. Or so thought the disciplinary authorities in California.
Ms. Sangary was charged by the California Bar with, among other things, false and deceptive advertising based on her fake website photos. After a disciplinary trial, the State Bar Court of California, in its recommendation and opinion (click here), made the following findings with respect to Ms. Sangary’s website:
Respondent has a website that features a large number of “Publicity” photos. Each of these photos shows Respondent with at least one other celebrity or political figure, including Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton, Al Gore, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Antonio Villaraigosa, George Clooney, Paris Hilton, and Bill Maher, to name a few. At trial, the State Bar elicited credible and persuasive expert testimony, and this court finds, that many, and perhaps all, of these photos were created by taking original celebrity photos and then overlaying Respondent’s image in order to make it appear as though Respondent was in the presence of that celebrity. These photographs were part of an advertisement and solicitation for future work, directed by Respondent to the general public through her website, and they were false, deceptive, and intended to confuse, deceive and mislead the public.