Friday, December 12, 2014

Harvard Professor vs. Less Slanty-Eyed Menu reported on an EMail exchange between Harvard Business School Professor Benjamin G. Edelman and Ran Duan an operator of a Boston Chinese restaurant Sichuan Garden.

Professor Edelman ordered a take out from Sichuan Garden. Later he noticed he was charged more than the online menu of the local shop, by $1 for each main course, $4 in total. The restaurant first dismissed the discrepancy as an honest error of lacking resource to updating the online menu being a local Mom and Pop store, then offered to settle by a refund. Professor Edelman then attempted to extort $12 from the restaurant by boasting his personal connections to Boston 'authorities' and misinterpreting a clause 93A in Massachusetts General Law. The Professor then lawyered up his demand to half of the meal, or $26.5.

The email exchanges in its entirety were published by, and became viral. Other lawyers and law professors weighed in to point out that what Professor Edelman did bordering between being unethical (threatening criminal/administrative punishment for private civil gain) and criminal (misrepresenting law to an unrepresented party and extortion).

The story made its way to all major news outlets left and right including The Washington Post, CNN, Fox News and as far as Guardian, Telegraph, Daily Mail, Le Monde, Die Welt, and Stern, just name a few, in a matter of hours. Jewish community was upset because Dr. Edelman's "behavior plays into every anti-Semitic stereotype about us -- that's we're greedy, power hungry, self centered, etc." and makes "all of us Jews look bad". At an online Jewish forum, one commenter quickly pointed that Dr. Edelman was "not observant -- he ordered shellfish". The other commenter responded, "thankfully, it is playing out differently, that he makes Harvard professors look bad".

In public, Professor Edelman offered this 'apology' on his personal website:

My Emails with Sichuan Garden

December 10, 2014

Many people have seen my emails with Ran Duan of Sichuan Garden restaurant in Brookline.

Having reflected on my interaction with Ran, including what I said and how I said it, it's clear that I was very much out of line. I aspire to act with great respect and humility in dealing with others, no matter what the situation. Clearly I failed to do so. I am sorry, and I intend to do better in the future.

I have reached out to Ran and will apologize to him personally as well.

Out of public's eyes, following three consecutive messages were sent to the Yahoo account of the restaurant operator, a second generation Chinese American, Mr. Ran Duan.

Email No. 1:

Ben Edelman Today at 3:54 PM
To me

Hi Ran,

I want to call and personally apologize for how I approached my interaction with you. Can we set up a time to talk? What number should I call?

Ben Edelman

Email No. 2: Today at 5:09 PM
To me

You may have won the battle Duan, but at least we can agree your menu is a little less slanty-eyed.
Thank you

Email No. 3: Today at 5:23 PM
To me

I sincerely apologize for that previous message just moments ago. I was intending to make light of the situation to a small group of students by typing a jovial response via your contact form but hadn't realized that pressing 'enter' would actually send the message as your website clearly has a button that must be clicked on. Nowhere does it state that pressing 'enter' will also be the same as clicking.

I trust you understand this & will not make this private correspondence, public.

Thank you

Blogger Luke O'Neal twitted "Edelman tells me that this was 'not a genuine email' from him. So someone has apparently hacked him in order to send racist slurs."

There are some problems with Luke's twitt. 1) You don't have to 'hack' anyone at all to send a message by any name. Even if the Luke O'Neil knows nothing about the Internet, the Harvard Professor must remember some basic concepts in CS 50 (the most popular course at Harvard, with 818 undergraduates enrolled in Fall 2014, btw), and thus 2) It makes the second sentence less slanty-eyed to having been crafted by the professor himself.

If all the professor can legally offer on the racial slur was quote and unquote, 'not a genuine email' from him, then I would be unsure about whether this is an HLS's way of denial in technicality or flat admitting of guilt.


This was obviously not the first time Dr. Edelman ran afoul of Asian restaurant. Reading the story online, a former sushi store manager provided an equally sensational email exchange to the In that incident, Dr. Edelman was not happy a Groupon coupon he bought did not apply to a dish the shop considered a special offer (to be excluded from using currently with the coupon). The sushi place subsequently shut down.

Extended Reading: What Other Lawyers Wrote in Their Spare Time Of course, as a licensed lawyer and a Harvard Law School alum Dr. Edelman is not alone. As another lawyer lamented, Dr. Edelman was only one of the "95 percent of lawyers who makes the rest of us look bad". So what did other lawyers wrote in their spare time?

George J. Atis, an outsourcing and technology transactions lawyer, wrote in the team agenda on Kayla Watkins, 12, the only girl on his son's hockey team,

"It is now 14 games into the season and I have noticed that Kayla's play has not improved. It is at the point where many of the team members do not want to play on this team if this situation is not addressed." Atis then details two possible options for consideration, either moving Kayla from defence to forward and keeping her off of power plays and penalty kills, or playing her every second shift on defence and again keeping her off special teams "until her skating and shooting improves." "If Kayla is NOT amenable to the above options, the coach should find Kayla a new team to play on - commensurate to her skill level - for the balance of the season," the agenda reads.
Kayla was cool about the agenda, only annoyed that Atis was offering a professional judgement while not even a member of the coach team. Apparently Mr. Atis is quite proud of his accomplishment. At one point, his own business website reads (which has since been removed):
As a sole practitioner in this area, you can imagine that my reputation is everything – and I never compromise it for any one client. I wont back down from bullying a 12 year old girl if needed to reach my goal.

In another place at another time, an unnamed lawyer who hired a photographer to shoot his own wedding at $3,800 sent a threat of $300,000 to the photographer afterwards, demanding extra work and extra money for 'no picture of the buffet (they had at a Las Vegas hotel)'.

It was a long story, but the highlights are:

  1. the lawyer's demand:

    So, if you don't comply with our demand, it's a NO WIN SITUATION. You only get to decide how much you want to pay. I will summarize your options again:

    1. Pay $18,800 to Karen. All this goes away....

    2. Do nothing. You will get sued; I will get my judgement for $300,000. I will file a Writ of Garnishment with all your employer and banks, place a lien on your houses, Subpoena you to court for Supplementary proceedings to find out what assets you have, and pursue the matter until all $300,000 is paid in full. If failed to appear in court, I will have the judge issue a bench warrant for your arrest. Then, next time you get pulled over, the cop will arrest you.

    I am a partner at this firm; that means I have - ZERO - out of pocket expenses for suing you. It costs me NOTHING. I will subpoena you out to court to get your testimony under oath of perjury..

    EVEN IF the jury agrees with you, (by some miracle) how much do you think you will need to spend on paying a lawyer? I guarantee you, by the time this gets to a jury, it will cost at least $50,000 in lawyers fees. YOU WILL NOT GET THESE FEES BACK, EVER.

  2. The photographer's work for this particular wedding was deemed excellent (90% percentile judged by one expert photographer), by many prominent wedding photographers, including Robert Evans, who shot the weddings for Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt.
Amazingly, the Washington State Bar refused to disbar this gadfly. After all, the WA Bar is probably a club house for HLS alums.

No comments: