"They don't like what they read so its time to censor me. I guess the truth hurts." Michael Lissack June 21, 1996
This page represents independent opinion and as you have no doubt surmised is not authorized by Smith Barney or Travelers Group in any way. Its purpose is to provide insight into unethical and potentially illegal activities by both Smith Barney and Travelers.
By Michael Utley
06/21/96 The Bond Buyer
Michael Lissack's war with Smith Barney Inc. is heating up. Lissack's ex-employer is now threatening to sue him for trademark infringement because of his derogatory use of Smith Barney's name on an Internet Web site that he has maintained since shortly after the firm fired him last year.
Additionally, settlement talks over Lissack's wrongful-termination arbitration dispute with Smith Barney have broken down, and both sides now appear to be farther apart than ever.
In the past two weeks, Smith Barney's legal team has sent three letters to Lissack demanding that he "immediately remove" all references to Smith Barney trademarks contained in his Web site, titled "Municipal Bond Scandals." The Internet site is a self-described educational and archival resource dedicated to exposing the "scandals and problems affecting the municipal bond industry in the United States." Smith Barney is featured prominently on Lissack's site, located at http://lissack.com.
There is even a dedicated area at the site called "The Smith Barney Page," where viewers can find newspaper and wire service stories about the firm's alleged involvement in cases of securities fraud, sexual harassment, and other questionable activities.
Since leaving Smith Barney, Lissack has alleged that many Wall Street firms - including his former employer - commonly cheat municipal governments out of millions of dollars on complex securities transactions. His accusations have caught the attention of the financial press, as well as federal securities regulators.
Lissack's Smith Barney Page is topped with a corporate logo that is similar to but not exactly the same as the firm's actual logo, and includes a cartoonish sketch of a thief pick-pocketing another man's wallet. Next to the cartoon, a caption reads: "Smith Barney Making Money the 'Old Fashioned Way,"' an apparent spoof of the firm's chief advertising slogan. It is this page that has sparked the ire of Smith Barney and its parent company, Travelers Group Inc., according to the three letters recently sent to Lissack and his attorney.
"Travelers recently learned that you are operating a home page on the World Wide Web called 'The Smith Barney Page,"' begins one of the letters, signed by Peter Bucci, an attorney with Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe, which is representing the two firms. "Your actions violate Travelers' rights by infringing (on) Travelers' (trademarks) and are intended, no doubt, to damage Travelers' business reputation," the letter continues. "We demand that these violations of Travelers' rights cease at once."
Lissack said in an interview yesterday that he will not remove the references to Smith Barney or Travelers from his Web page, although he said he has altered the company logos and advertising slogan. Lissack admitted to previously using the original trademarks on his Web page, and said he changed them simply to "avoid any further conflict."
"This is not a trademark dispute, it's a First Amendment issue," Lissack said. "They are just upset that I'm using the Smith Barney and Traveler names in conjunction with such words as fraud, scandal, unethical, and illegal."
The letters from Orrick Herrington say Travelers will consider taking further legal action against Lissack if he does not comply with their demand to remove the trademark references. Smith Barney spokesman Bob Connor confirmed the authenticity of those letters yesterday and said, "We are pursuing the issue."
In February 1995, Smith Barney fired Lissack from his job as a managing director in the firm's public finance department after he publicly accused the firm of cheating Dade County, Fla., out of millions of dollars on a complex interest rate swap. He has since made public several other allegations involving Smith Barney's business dealings in Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Orange County. After he was fired, Lissack filed a $75 million wrongful termination claim against Smith Barney, and the firm filed a counter-claim for $15 million accusing him of "disseminating derogatory documents and misinformation ... in order to damage the firm." The arbitration case is currently pending before the New York Stock Exchange.
Lissack said in an interview last week that he offered to drop his claim and "walk away" if Smith Barney would do the same. The firm refused.
Attorneys specializing in intellectual property rights said yesterday that Smith Barney may have a good case if it decides to file suit on the trademark issue. "The content is one thing - that's protected by free speech," said David Kelly, a partner at Finnegan, Henderson, Farabow, Garrett & Dunner in Washington. "But the use of the Smith Barney name could certainly be a problem, especially if it confuses readers about who is running the Web page."
By Daniel S. Levine, DisGruntled Magazine