RR Auction Lawsuit Update: Court Rejects Johnson Attempt to Change Lawsuit

A trial date was set on August 26 for the Michael Johnson v. RR Auction lawsuit, two weeks after an August 12 ruling denying Johnson’s fourth attempt to add allegations of illegal bidding practices. While Johnson’s lawyers claimed in their motion that they spent six months and $50,000 extensively investigating “shill bidding” allegations, they didn’t present any evidence to the court of such practices by RR.

Santa Barbara Superior Court Judge Donna Geck also granted RR’s motion barring Johnson from conducting any further discovery related to “shill bidding,” including taking depositions. [Read more…]

Sgt Peppers Album Autographed by The Beatles Auctioning June 29 at Bonhams

A Sgt Peppers album signed by all four Beatles is being auctioned by Bonhams in Knightsbridge, London on June 29, 2016. 

Band-signed Sgt Peppers albums are very rare and highly desirable. Only 7 to 9 examples are known to exist that are accepted as genuine by leading Beatles autograph experts. The last one sold for more than $179,000 at RR Auction in January 2014.

Not only do the autographs look clearly genuine, the signing history of this album is completely verifiable. In fact, I did just that.

Last week I talked to the consignor of the Sgt. Pepper’s album, Paul Minett, who got the album signed; and two of his friends who were there the June night in 1967 when John, Paul and George signed it (Ringo signed it years later): Gordon Bryce and Lizzie Bravo, one of the legendary “Apple Scruffs.”

I’ve had the pleasure of knowing Lizzie since 2010, when she became a member of this site to join a blog we posted on authenticating signed Beatles albums:

Beatles-Signed Abbey Road Albums: What’s Real? What’s Fake?

Paul, Gordon and the album are featured in Lizzie’s amazing new book about her years seeing the Beatles in London from 1967-69, Do Rio a Abbey Road (From Rio to Abbey Road). Currently available only in Portuguese, an English version is in the works.

Paul Minett’s signed Sgt Peppers album featured in Lizzie Bravo’s new book about her days in London following the Beatles, Do Rio a Abbey Road (From Rio to Abbey Road).

John, Paul and George Sign the Sgt Pepper’s Album

I recorded my conversations with Paul, Gordon and Lizzie but these were my first attempts at recording through Skype and they’re taking a lot sound editing. The auction is next Wednesday so I didn’t want to wait any longer to tell you about the album. Here’s what Paul has to say:

“On Thursday, the first of June, 1967, my good friend Gordon and I joined half of Britain, rushing out to buy a copy of Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. We never dreamt that within a few weeks we would meet the Beatles and have our photographs taken with them.

Gordon and I were nineteen and on Monday evening the 19th of June, we were walking back to our homes in West London when we were stopped by two American girls, Patricia and Kathy, who wanted to know how to get to Abbey Road Studios. We were heading that way, so it seemed easier to take them there rather than give them directions. One of the best decisions we have ever made. We crossed the legendary zebra crossing and arrived at the studios.

Besides a couple of other fans, there was nobody else around. The four of us decided to stay for a while and wait for any sign that the Beatles might be there. In those days you could simply go through the gates of Abbey Road Studios and right up to the main entrance.

After a while we spotted the recognizable figure of Beatles roadie and friend, Mal Evans. Heartened by this, we stayed on and were rewarded by our first sighting of a Beatle. It was John, simply leaving one of the studios and crossing the corridor, but it was enough to make the wait worthwhile. A little while later Paul, too, crossed the corridor, giving an encouraging wave to us on the doorstep.

Two days later we were back and so were the Beatles. They were mixing rhythm tracks for “All You Need Is Love” in preparation for the “Our World” television link-up to be broadcast live four days later on Sunday 25th June. Word had clearly got round as there were far more people outside the studios that evening and the atmosphere was electric.

Gordon and I brought our copies of Sgt Pepper with us in the hope of getting them signed. We weren’t disappointed. Around ten o’clock John, Paul and George left the building, perfectly happy to sign autographs and pose for photographs. Not only did Gordon and I get our albums signed, but I managed to get several nice photographs.

Unfortunately, Ringo wasn’t in the studio that evening so his signature would have to wait.”

Ringo Signs the Sgt Pepper Album

And wait they did. It was 30 years before Paul was lucky enough to get Ringo’s autograph on his album.

“Finally, for my 50th birthday in 1997, a television producer friend of mine, who knew I had a Sgt Pepper album with John, Paul and George’s signatures, said “I’ve got a birthday present for you. Terry Oates, Managing Director of Eaton-Oates Music (Ringo’s publishers) is a good chum of mine and has offered to ask Ringo to sign your album.”

I took it into their offices near Sloane Square and sure enough, Ringo signed it.”

I spent more than two wonderful hours listening to Paul and Lizzie talk about those days and Paul’s Sgt Pepper album. Lizzie didn’t actually see Paul and Gordon get their albums signed, but she saw them at Abbey Road Studios the night they did and knew about the albums.

Two days later I enjoyed an equally fascinating 40-minute call with Paul and Gordon, talking about getting the albums signed and life as an up close Beatles fan back in the late 1960s.

The provenance of Paul’s album is rock-solid.

What about Gordon’s Sgt Pepper album, you ask? He lost track of it and most of his mementos from those days long ago, sadly. We can only hope it still exists and he or someone else will find it someday…and convince Ringo to sign it!

Go to the Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album’s page at Bonhams to read more about the album and zoom-in for a close-up look. It’s lot 238.

If you don’t plan to bid on it, be sure to share it with all the Beatles collectors you know. It could be many years before another one is available.

Beethoven Letter, Reagan and Magritte Archives, Rare Autograph Letters, in Profiles in History’s April 18th Auction

Beethoven Twice-Signed Autograph Letter

 

Profiles in History has a very interesting historical document auction on Monday, April 18, starting at 11 a.m. PDT. Joe Maddalena and his staff have assembled one of the finest collections of historic documents they’ve ever brought to auction. It’s an extraordinary catalog featuring 197 lots of rare and desirable, fascinating material.

The auction takes place at Profiles in History in Calabassas, Calif. on Monday at 11 a.m PDT. You can bid in person, by phone or online.

A few of their offerings:

The auction features Lincoln, Freud, John Quincy Adams, Mark Twain and other highly sought-after names. Many of the lots have notably desirable content. It’s a catalog you’ll definitely want to view if you’re an historic autograph collector.

A reminder: The auction is this Monday, April 18 at 11 a.m. PDT, so take a look at it now.

Review the catalog on Invaluable.com. You can bid online there, too.

View the printed catalog online at Profiles in History.

Register and view all your options here.

Remarkable Ronald Reagan archive of over 350 photographs (majority unpublished) and 128 letters - 92 autograph letters signed and 35 typed letters signed.

Remarkable Ronald Reagan archive of over 350 photographs (majority unpublished) and 128 letters – 92 autograph letters signed and 35 typed letters signed.

 

An important unpublished archive showcasing the intimate correspondence between René Magritte and his wife, Georgette Berger

An important unpublished archive showcasing the intimate correspondence between René Magritte and his wife, Georgette Berger.

 

You can email Profiles in History about the auction at info@profilesinhistory.com

Or call them at 310-859-7701

RR Auction Sues rrauctionlawsuit.com Owner for Defamation, 14 Other Counts

New Hampshire-based auction house RR Auction filed a lawsuit in Federal Court on Tuesday, June 2, against Michael Johnson, owner of rrauctionlawsuit.com. The complaint charges 15 counts, including business defamation, abusive litigation practices, false light invasion of privacy, interference with contractual relationships, misappropriation of RR Auction’s marks and trade name, breach of implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing, and cybersquatting.

The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of New Hampshire. Johnson resides in Bakersfield, Calif. RR Auction also has an office in Boston, Mass. The Boston Globe reported the suit on June 3: “Cybersquatting law could be tested in N.H. court case”

Johnson filed a lawsuit in California against RR Auction in 2012, claiming that RR Auction sold him forgeries and refused to honor their guarantee of authenticity. RR Auction claims that even though they believe that the autographs are genuine, they tried to refund Johnson’s money, but he would not return the autographs to them. They claim that Johnson is the first customer to file a lawsuit against them for failing to honor their guarantee in the company’s 39-year history.

RR Auction claims that Johnson registered rrauctionlawsuit.com in 2013, a domain that misappropriated RR Auction’s trade name, and began populating it with misinformation to harm their business in order to force them to settle his lawsuit against them. They say that by registering at least 13 domain names using RR Auction or the personal names of RR employees or owners in the title, Johnson has tried, and been successful, in coopting the attention of clients or potential clients. They claim he referred to his lawsuit as a class action lawsuit, but that despite soliciting 400 RR clients in California to join him in a class action, no one did and the California court wouldn’t certify a class.

Mr. Johnson also posted a scathing document online that he refers to as an “affidavit,” which he claims was written by a former employee, Karen “Kay” Burris. According to court documents, Burris was terminated in 2008 after it was discovered she embezzled what turned out to be $455,000 from RR Auction. Burris committed suicide shortly after RR Auction went to law enforcement with their discovery. The court in California excluded the document, referring to it as “hearsay,” “lack[ing] foundation,” and observing that “the content of it remains speculation.”

Preliminarily, RR Auction says that they will ask the Court shut down Mr. Johnson’s Internet domains that incorporate RR Auction’s mark and trade name and intentionally divert clients and potential clients to “this misinformation.”

Representatives at RR Auction”s law firm, Burns & Levinson LLP, released this statement:

“Rather than post websites riddled with salacious and outrageous accusations, we will let our court filings do the talking.  The law and facts are, we believe, firmly in our favor, and we are hopeful that the Court and any jury that may review this case will agree.

“When a dissatisfied former customer takes it upon himself to turn litigation into a platform to escalate a personal dispute beyond reasonable limits, highly respected companies like RR Auction are not obligated to sit back and take body blows indefinitely.  Too many people”s jobs, too many collectors” faith in the memorabilia industry, and the integrity of the judicial system are at stake.  We look forward to assisting RR Auction in this litigation.”

“We have built this company for almost 40 years with a guarantee, like no other auction house in this industry and we have ALWAYS honored that guarantee,” states RR Auction president Robert Eaton. “We hope that RR Auction’s customers, after months of hearing Mr. Johnson’s account, will pay equal attention to this litigation, and decide for themselves who they can believe: RR Auction, a trusted name in memorabilia auctions, or one man who has litigated three years over a handful of items totaling a few thousand dollars in value – items for which he was offered a full refund but refused.”

Johnson was served with the lawsuit June 3. Autograph will be covering this story on an ongoing basis as Johnson or his attorneys release their statements or file their responses.

RR Auction Prevails in Class Action Lawsuit Attempt by Michael Johnson

Boston memorabilia house RR Auction emerged victorious from a Santa Barbara, California courtroom Friday, when an attempt to bring a class action lawsuit against the company failed the basic tests; including that no one wanted to join the lawsuit.

Superior Court Judge Donna Geck shot down the attempt by Michael Johnson and his lawyer, Dugan Kelley of Christman Kelley & Clarke, to certify the class action in a tentative ruling posted two days before. Johnson’s lawyers didn’t object to the Court’s ruling during the March 13 hearing that lasted only a few minutes.

RR Auction VP Robert Livingston said they spent 2 1/2 years defending themselves against a man Livingston calls a serial litigator who filed a frivolous lawsuit. Someone he claims was once looking to set up a competing autograph business.

Prior Law Firm Sued

Johnson is also suing the first law firm that represented him in this case for malpractice, McCarthy & Kroes, alleging negligence, breach of fiduciary duty, declaratory relief and financial elder abuse.

Among Johnson’s allegations in the suit against his former law firm is that “…the Defendant [McCarthy & Kroes] pled causes of action that were frivolous, untenable, and contrary to California law (e.g. unjust enrichment) thereby driving up the costs, fees, and adding further delay to a case that should have proceeded expeditiously.

“That’s one thing Johnson and we agree on,” said Livingston.

$130,000…or $9,610?

Johnson claims that over $130,000 in autographs he purchased from RR were not authentic, although in his January 30, 2015 declaration he lists only 12 signed items from RR that he sent to authenticators and were rejected, for which he paid $8,008 plus 20% commission ($9,610). Johnson claimed that based on those 12, the authenticator, PSA/DNA, determined that all of the autographs he purchased from RR were forgeries.

Autographs Not Returned

In their filings, RR claims that they were ready to honor their lifetime guarantee of authenticity and refund Johnson’s money, even though they believe the 12 items are actually genuine. But Johnson did not return the autographs to RR so they could issue refunds.

Johnson does not dispute that. In Paragraphs 14 & 15 of his March 6, 2015 declaration, Johnson states:

14. Also, Defendant claims that I somehow did not meet a condition of the guarantee because I allegedly did not return the items to RR Auction. But this argument is also misleading. RR Auction’s “guarantee” between 2008 and 2012 did not state a buyer had to return an autographed item that was found to be a forgery to RR Auction before a refund is due. Nor did the RR guarantee between 2008 and 2012 require a buyer who purchased an autographed item from RR Auction that was later found to be a forgery to send the item(s) first to RR Auction before that buyer could get a refund. Instead, the RR Auction guarantee stated that RR Auction, “may ask the buyer to provide documentation” from the third party authenticator who deemed the autographed a forgery.

15. Nor did RR Auction’s guarantee state between 2008 and 2012 that RR Auction or any of its employees or owners had to physically see or inspect the items first before a refund was given that buyer. Similarly, RR Auction’s guarantee did not state that Defendant had to “determine” or “verify” that the forged item the buyer was requesting a refund on was purchased from RR Auction as a condition precedent to honoring the guarantee.

He is the first person in RR’s history, the company says, to demand a refund while also refusing to return the goods in question.

Johnson set up a website for the lawsuit last fall, rrauctionlawsuit.com, to try to get other California clients of RR to join the class action. He posted the deposition videos of R&R managers, something rarely done in active lawsuits, and an ever-growing list of people whose video depositions he threatened to take, including Autograph magazine’s publisher and community manager of Autograph Magazine Live, Steven Cyrkin.

Johnson’s pleadings claimed that at least 1,000 Californians purchased autographs from RR between 2008-2012 and were potential members of the class. It turns out there were only 393. Twelve of them had contacted RR with authenticity concerns during that period. All 9 who asked a refund under the guarantee got one.

In February Things Got a Little Weird

On February 6 of this year, Johnson’s lawyer Dugan Kelley started to email settlement demands to R&R attorney, Keith Attlesey, threatening to go to the national press, including The Boston Globe, ESPN and The New York Daily News, if RR Auction didn’t settle for $1,250,000 within a week.

The settlement demands escalated weekly, and were scheduled to increase to $5 million before the March 13 hearing to certify the class action.

In a February 24 email to Attlesey, stating that the then-settlement demand of $2,750,000 would expire in three days, Kelley wrote “I have recently come into information bearing on criminal activity as well.”

Livingston calls the emails “litigation by extortion.”

On March 6, Kelley filed a 119-page declaration that entered as evidence hearsay statements from a 2008 affidavit by former RR employee Karen Burris accusing RR of fraud. What Kelley didn’t reveal was that Burris wrote the affidavit after R&R fired her when they discovered that she and her husband, William Burris, had embezzled what would turn out to be more than $450,000 from the company between 2004-2008. R&R filed a police report within a few days after her firing.

Karen Burris committed suicide shortly thereafter. RR Auction eventually settled their lawsuit against Burris’ husband and the police ended their investigation after he paid back a portion of the money.

In the same pleading, Kelley also attached a New York Daily News article about William Boehm, an IT specialist hired by RR to maintain their software. Boehm recently pled guilty to lying to the FBI while employed at an unrelated company, Mastro Auctions, in Chicago. Kelley also added 64 pages from that case into evidence.

“It mattered little to Dugan Kelley that his “information” didn’t supply a scintilla of evidence that RR had engaged in criminal behavior, beyond the hearsay, inadmissible allegations Karen Burris made as a bargaining chip after she was caught,” said Livingston.

Livingston calls the whole lawsuit a set-up. “Johnson clearly wasn’t interested in just a refund.”

Johnson has filed nine different civil actions over the last 25 years, including suing his sister and brother-in-law.

While he could continue the lawsuit against RR on his own, Johnson has lost the ability for it to be class action. Judge Geck ruled that even if there were other aggrieved parties, each memorabilia item is different and authenticated differently, and therefore it would be up to individuals to file suit. A class action needs a similar product and a similar problem to go forth.

RR’s attorney filed objections during the hearing to the Burris and Boehm pleadings, in expectation of a Johnson appeal.

Asked about the outcome, one of Johnson’s other lawyers, Matthew Clarke, expressed disappointment but said “Mr. Johnson is dedicated to the case.”

The law firm later sent out a press release, stating that “In spite of the Court’s ruling on class certification, Mr. Johnson and his attorneys, Christman, Kelley & Clarke PC, are moving forward with Mr. Johnson’s lawsuit against R&R Auction.”

But RR Auction was relieved after hearing Judge Geck’s ruling. A troublesome chapter in its history has ended.

“We’re very pleased with the outcome,” said Keith Attlesey after the decision. “It puts to rest a lot of attacks that Johnson and others have made against RR Auction’s sterling reputation.”