And worse: “Tell Allstate I am going to water board each one of their trolls that show up for [depositions] without any mercy whatsoever.”
And — this could be “hard to imagine,” attorneys for Allstate say — but the emails got even worse: “I know where you live Pete,” Hook wrote to one lawyer.
Until finally, on Monday, a federal judge in California was so appalled by Hook’s string of profane and threatening emails that he demanded the attorney resign from practicing law altogether, saying that Hook “just trashed” the profession, reported the Recorder, a legal journal. Both U.S. District Judge Otis D. Wright II and the team of attorneys defending Allstate insurance said they had never seen such behavior from an attorney.
Hook, who referred to the insurance company as a “criminal enterprise,” had argued that his profanity was just a settlement negotiation tactic.
“Tell you what, slick, this profession does not need you,” said Wright, a George W. Bush appointee in the Central District of California, according to the Recorder. “I am going to do what I can to remove you from this profession.”
Hook said he would not resign.
“Shut up,” Wright shot back, according to the Recorder. “I want you to resign from this profession.”
Hook declined to speak with The Washington Post but reiterated in a brief email that he had “no plans” to leave the legal profession. He withdrew from the case last week after his clients, a pair of homeowners, “promptly terminated” him after learning of his “repugnant” conduct, they said in a legal filing.
“I will continue to represent the interests of my clients and California consumers against the powerful interests of insurance companies,” Hook wrote in his email to The Post.
Hook, who has been practicing law for 12 years, said on a legal podcast over the weekend that his attitude toward insurance companies is rooted in the five years he spent defending them earlier in his legal career, where he said he heard verbal abuse all the time.
“It’s a business that profits from risk and fear and human misery,” he told Los Angeles attorney Mark Geragos and comedian Adam Carolla on “Reasonable Doubt.” In some ways, he said, in the profane emails he sent to the attorneys defending Allstate, “I was kind of talking to myself.”
Hook filed the lawsuit in August on behalf of a married couple whose multimillion-dollar home in Los Angeles flooded, accusing Allstate of trying to “bludgeon these elderly customers into accepting pennies on the dollar of what they were owed.” He sued for breach of contract and claimed Allstate was refusing to fully compensate the couple for repairs. According to Allstate attorneys, the parties disagreed about roughly $200,000 in costs.
But before long, Hook started demanding much more than that as a settlement.
“Attention criminal enterprise enablers,” he wrote to Allstate’s attorneys at Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton on Nov. 21, according to court documents. “Please see attached.”
Enclosed was a $125 million settlement demand. Attorney Marc J. Feldman balked at Hook’s request. When Feldman suggested an appropriate settlement would be $200,000 or less, Hook crossed into Internet-troll mode and didn’t look back.
“Haha,” he said. “F--- you crooks.” He then told the attorneys to eat a bowl of male genitalia.
And that is when the Allstate attorneys began, in the words of Hook, “stonewalling” him.
Over the next several days, Hook’s emails evolved from profanity to personal insults and even to “discriminatory slurs,” culminating “in repeated threats of violence against Allstate’s witnesses, Allstate’s attorneys, and their families,” attorneys ultimately described to Wright.
Hook threatened to “come down there and beat” an attorney, whom he called a “thief.” He said he would go “bat---- crazy” on them. He said, “I want my client’s money gay boys."
“Karma is a [expletive], [expletive],” Hook wrote in an email in which he said he knew where one attorney lived. “You are going to learn that in spades.” The next morning, he sent a message invoking the attorney’s wife and the location of their home.
Having seen enough, Allstate’s attorneys filed a motion on Nov. 26 asking the judge overseeing the otherwise routine insurance dispute to issue a restraining order against Hook, to remove him as the homeowners’ counsel and to dismiss the whole lawsuit. Allstate said that it “regrets being forced to put this language in the record” but that the attorneys had no choice, calling Hook’s conduct “shocking and even terrifying.”
“Obviously, it is not tenable for him to be participating in this case when he has threatened to ‘waterboard’ Allstate’s witnesses and to assault Allstate’s counsel,” the attorneys wrote to Wright, who agreed to suspend all upcoming depositions.
Hook has maintained in legal filings that his threats were not serious and were only intended as “bluster” or “puffery” — part of his “negotiating tactic.” He argued that his speech was protected by the First Amendment and under litigation privilege. In an interview last week with his local paper, the Daily Breeze, Hook also said he has “anger management issues and emotional problems.”
Allstate attorneys “were ignoring me, and I exploded in anger stupidly,” he said. “The worst part is that I potentially harmed my clients. Nothing that the other side did would ever justify using the type of language I used, and that is very important because it is a lesson I have learned in spades and should have already known.”
Wright, a former Los Angeles sheriff’s deputy and U.S. Marine, was not pleased with Hook’s defenses in court Monday, the Recorder reported.
Hook first drew the judge’s ire by showing up late. When Hook insisted that the Allstate attorneys couldn’t “authenticate” the emails he “allegedly” sent, Wright grew angrier.
“This is not the day to be cute, and I am not that guy,” the judge reportedly said.
Wright questioned whether Hook even went to law school when Hook insisted that his emails were protected under litigation privilege and the First Amendment, and said of Hook’s threats, “If that would’ve happened to me, I’d come looking for you,” according to the Recorder.
Wright ultimately did not dismiss the lawsuit, but told Hook that he would be on the hook for Allstate’s attorneys’ fees.
“You’re going to pay for this,” Wright said, according to the Recorder. “You’re going to write a check. That’s just the first thing. This is not going to be over.”