Friday, May 27, 2016

What's Going On with The Diamond Doctor?

Don't worry, Cat, I'm not going to slam the good Doctor.

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I wonder if any Confessor was as startled as I was to be traveling on the Dallas North Tollway and suddenly seeing this flash on one of those big digital billboards:

Huh?  The diamond purveyor to everyone on The Ticket?  They all must head over there after they get their foundations tuned up by All-Pro Foundation Repair.

Before I go any further, I should say that there is no original reporting here.  This is all from the ether that is the Internets, including filings in some of the litigation involved.  I don't know The Diamond Doctor -- one David Blank -- and I have never visited his store.

When you go to that website (HERE) -- it looks pretty lurid.  Too lurid, but I'll get to that in a minute.  The website appears to be sponsored by Cumming Manookian.   That is a two-person law firm based in Nashville.  The person of interest here is Brian Manookian.

I'll get back to that "lawsuit" website in a second, but I do want to note at this point that in 2015, Manookian pleaded guilty to one count of violating the Food, Drug, and Cosmetics Act relating to a scheme to distribute an FDA-unapproved substance called Melanotan II, which had been advertised as an injectable tanning product, one that could reduce the risk of skin cancer to boot.  He was sentenced to a year's probation and fined a grand.  

Another thing you need to know early on is that Manookian has not actually filed any lawsuit against The Diamond Doctor on behalf of any client, or his own behalf.  Nor does he or his firm seem ever to have had much genuine interest in doing so, despite all the talk of lawsuits and compensation and similar lawyerly formulations.

What's his beef?  As you can see from the website, he is accusing TDD of overgrading diamonds.  I'm not going to go into detail on this, but the gist of the accusation -- and it is only an accusation -- seems to be that TDD doesn't use the reputable Gemological Institute of America (GIA) to certify his diamonds as of a particular grade for the various qualities one desires in a diamond (clarity, color, etc.), but instead uses certifying organizations that routinely (and, at least by implication, knowingly) overgrade diamonds, and issue certificates that are then shown to consumers. 

Manookian has conducted his campaign against TDD with multiple websites, Facebook and other social media, YouTube, and, of course, that lurid billboard.

Now that website:  It says lots of things, but one thing it doesn't say is that Cummings Manookian wants you as a client or will file a lawsuit on your behalf.  There is also a popup that appears when the website loads -- actually, sometimes the popup appears, and sometimes it doesn't -- that says:  "DIAMOND DOCTOR AND ITS OWNER, DAVID BLANK, WERE SO PANICKED THAT YOU'D SEE THIS SITE  .  .  .  they filed an emergency lawsuit asking a Dallas Court to order it taken down.  The Court not only immediately rejected their lawsuit, it actually ordered Diamond Doctor's lawyers to prove why they themselves shouldn't be reported for professional misconduct!"  Well, that is interesting, so let's click on the link that says "VIEW THE COURT ORDER" -- but no court order appears. 

But Your Plainsman went a-digging, and found the court's order.  The popup is correct.  TDD did sue Manookian in Texas state court to try to enjoin Manookian's harassment, and the state court judge did deny TDD a temporary restraining order.  The judge doubted that he had personal jurisdiction over Manookian and also had First Amendment "prior restraint" concerns.  He also observed that TDD's lawyer had forwarded copies of his complaint to Tennessee bar authorities, which the judge viewed as a possible violation of Texas ethical rules forbidding using accusations under rules like that in order to gain an advantage in a civil matter, and did indeed call TDD's lawyer to account.  Shortly thereafter, TDD voluntarily dismissed the state court lawsuit.  It wasn't a good effort.

Cummings Manookian's "diamond lawsuit" website has other problems.  Near the bottom, it charges that "David Blank buys known inventories of inferior quality EGL-International diamonds [EGL is apparently one of the accused overgrading certification organizations] from regular wholesalers that he then dumps on unsuspecting Texans.   Shocked?  Listen to David Blank admit it in his own words in a long series of audio recordings."  But there is no link to any such recordings -- none that I could find, anyway.

Having struck out in his first effort to use the courts to fight back, TDD has hired some very prominent Dallas trial lawyers -- I mean, a bunch of them, and not cheap -- and has filed suit against Manookian in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Texas in Sherman.  (Dallas is in the Northern District.  It would be interesting to know why TDD's lawyers decided to file in that district.)  The voluntary dismissal of the state court suit does not affect the new federal court suit.  The amended complaint in that suit, filed last month, is extremely detailed and its allegations are as lurid as the red on that billboard. (And, in fairness, these are allegations.)  

Boiling TDD's allegations down for the Confessor:    TDD is one of many diamond merchants who has suffered the Manookian accusations of overgrading and harassment campaign.  The most startling part of the story is that TDD, desperate to stop the harassment after the failure of his state court lawsuit, tried to pay Manookian to lay off by attempting to "retain" the Cummings Manookian law firm.  (TDD's pleading actually presents this as TDD's idea, which he seems to have gotten from other diamond merchants who had dealt with Manookian, at least one of whom paid.)  Manookian wanted $5 million; TDD bargained him down to $25.000 a month for ten years -- $3 million.  The idea here was that if TDD "hired" Manookian, the anti-TDD campaign would be a conflict of interest.   However, the deal fell through when, among other things, Manookian allegedly refused to do any actual legal work for TDD.  When those negotiations broke down, Manookian resumed his campaign, and the current federal lawsuit was the result.

[Wait for it, wait for it, the Ticket connection is coming.] 

TDD's position on Manookian's charges, according to the amended complaint, is that there is no single standard for grading diamonds, and that there are many reputable grading organizations, including GIA and EGL.  It concedes variability in diamond grading.     He also asserts that he discloses the variability in grading to his customers and offers a money-back guarantee (25 [?] days).  He vigorously disputes that he has cheated any customers or engaged in criminal activity as repeatedly and loudly charged by Manookian.

And in his allegations that TDD's business has been harmed, we find these passages:

     --   "On March 4, 2016, Manookian unsuccessfully tried to buy advertising on a popular Dallas radio station 1310AM."

     --   "A listener to the above-mentioned radio station, 1310 AM, contacted four hosts of its various radio shows, commenting that the listener 'can't listen to [D]iamond [D]octor [advertising] spots without thinking of fraud charges he's facing.'" 

(Fun fact:  TDD's lead attorney, local powerhouse Don Godwin, used to head up a firm called Godwin Gruber with -- yes, Michael Gruber's father, Michael Gruber.  They have since parted company. [Don and Michael pere, not Michael and Michael.])

The amended complaint candidly describes TDD panicked willingness to pay $3 million to "retain" Cummings Manookian, portraying it as a last resort after the failure of of the Texas state court lawsuit.  Still, it's curious.  Perhaps it is because -- as the amended complaint also seems to suggest -- diamond grading is a somewhat  .  .  .  imperfect science.   Sometimes information of that nature is not comforting to the gem-buying public.

Just two weeks ago, TDD's lawyers filed a second lawsuit -- this one in Texas state court in Dallas County (the court is called "County Court at Law") reviving his request for an injunction.  It's clever:  It argues that the negotiations for Cummings Manookian to represent TDD had created a "fiduciary relationship"  -- a relationship of heightened duties of care and loyalty -- between TDD and Manookian, and that his subsequent actions violated that duty.  

On balance, I would have to say -- advantage, Diamond Doctor.  It is unfortunate that he chose to seek counsel at the outset from his co-victimized industry colleagues rather than sophisticated attorneys and to try to make a deal with Manookian, but he seems to have hove to and triced up, strategy-wise.  I'm sure a campaign like Manookian's was (still is -- it's happening now) terrifying to a merchant who believed himself defenseless against the publicity onslaught.  Just based on what I've seen in the public record and websites, if TDD can get past his own willingness to pay off Manookian -- and assuming there isn't some nod-nod-wink-wink industry scheme to overgrade diamonds as Manookian has charged -- TDD should be able to put this terror campaign in his rear-view mirror with his top-flight new legal team.  

However, Manookian also has very fine Dallas lawyers.  He has filed a motion to dismiss the federal case.  Contrary to Blank's contention (set forth in his letter below and elsewhere), the motion emphasizes the fact admitted in TDD's lawsuit that TDD pursued Manookian to "retain" him to stop the harassment, and not t'other way around.  Nevertheless, I'll predict that Manookian's motion to dismiss will fail.

I think the Rock Doc David Blank should have the last word.  Here is his letter to his customers appearing on The Diamond Doctor website (HERE).

We have significantly grown in that time based on our core values of fairness, honesty and transparency.  We value the solid reputation we have achieved and thank you for your trust in our company.  

That reputation is now being threatened by an aggressive propaganda campaign, led by a Nashville law firm, that is intended to disparage and defame our company.  The lawyers are harassing our company through extensive use of Internet advertising, fake social media accounts and door-to-door flyers to imply, without evidence, that The Diamond Doctor takes advantage of its customers. 
We want to set the record straight. 

What’s behind this campaign of harassment is a law firm whose apparent goal is to extort millions of dollars from us and other retail jewelers. In fact, the law firm offered to stop the harassment campaign against us in exchange for hiring them at a price of $3 million.

The Diamond Doctor refused to fall prey to their scheme and filed a civil RICO lawsuit in Federal court to stop the harassment. In the lawsuit, we detail evidence demonstrating the law firm’s efforts to systematically and relentlessly victimize The Diamond Doctor and other retail jewelers through a pattern of racketeering, including attempted extortion, mail and wire fraud, business disparagement and defamation, among others.

More importantly, their implication that The Diamond Doctor takes advantage of its customers is completely and totally unfounded.  The Diamond Doctor sells only high-quality, certified diamond jewelry at a fair and competitive price.

Our philosophy and practice is to stand behind the products we sell. Our doors are always open to answer and discuss customer concerns, if any. The Diamond Doctor offers each customer a money back guarantee for 25 days or a lifetime right to trade-in for a diamond of equal or greater value.

We will continue to fight the Nashville lawyers’ campaign to prey on a successful, small businesses for their personal gain.  With your support I am confident that we will prevail.   

Thank you for allowing me to share the real story and for continuing to be a valued customer. Should you have any questions, please feel free to call me at 972.342.6663.

David Blank
Diamond Doctor Owner

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

(1) Crap; (2) Cool; (3) Click

CRAP:  I was waiting for the report on the intra-Ticket contretemps involving shots at George, but as the ads were winding down someone walked into my office and closed the door to solicit my confidential wisdom on proper plains management.  So I missed almost all of it, just picked up a bit near the end.

So Justin M is taking shots at George, I guess.  I've heard some of that banter on the Monty + The Machine showgram, but I always thought it was just a bit, the pygmies nipping at the heels of the giants for laughs.

But perhaps not.  I did hear Sean report that M+M is suspended for this coming weekend.

Can anyone fill in some details?  I guess it has something to do with the e-Brake?  M+M upset about weekend shows not being nominated?  Something like that.

By the way -- Gordon's bits frequently tease Justin, not in a harsh way, but there's clearly some (what I thought was friendly) friction there.

Perhaps Justin will stop by, or maybe I'll hear from one of my network of local industry sources who know some Ticket guys  .  .  .  .

COOL:  I was proud of The Little One in The Musers' and The Hardline's handling of the Odor/Bautista incident.  Balanced, interesting.

Odor's attack was colossally stupid, if emotionally satisfying.  And we didn't get any homerism from either show.  The visceral pleasures of the encounter were honestly acknowledged, but the bad optics and bad strategy were identified with precision (which is to say, I agreed).

I did not hear Norm or Dan/Bob -- can one of you fill us in on how they saw it?  I saw some Bob tweets but I have a hard time deciphering his Twitter attitude sometimes if I'm not following his thread or paying close attention to his Tweet-tormentors.

CLICK:  I've missed me some Ticket lately because I turn off the radio -- not just turn it down, turn it completely off -- within 1.6 seconds of the beginning of that Meador "Hidden Cost Motors" ad. Meador has hugely overestimated its appeal and persuasiveness.  It's running way, way too often on The Ticket.

You hear it once, you've heard all the jokes, unclever to begin with, then you hate it every other time it appears both because it's instant boredom and it goes on for a WHOLE MINUTE and the actor sounds like Gordon after a pack of unfiltered Camels.  It's a yuk-free bit and it goes on and on.

And really, Mr. Meador General Manager Guy who comes on and asks "have you ever had that experience?", no one has sold new cars like that since -- hell, I've never had that experience with any of the many new cars I've bought.  And you telling me Meador won't try to sell you an extended warranty and shine protection? 

And in all that airtime -- even the people who don't shut the damned thing off (1) don't hear the name of the dealership, and (2) don't hear the brand of cars being flogged until Mr. MGMG comes on, by which time people have already decided they will never, ever buy a car from whoever is inflicting this ad on them. The time would be better spent telling people how to spell "Meador".  (I assumed it was Medder or Metter -- never heard of it and thank Jah that Google searches phonetically.)

Meador is spending an enormous amount of money to drive people away from its dealership.


Monday, May 16, 2016

Hey, Craig "Junior" Miller -- Do This

There is almost nothing wrong with The Musers.  Let me take that back.  There is nothing wrong with The Musers.  If the show were on a New York station, or syndicated, or even promoted a little, The Musers would be considered a legendary, historically important show.  As it is, it will be remembered forever by those of us fortunate enough to be able to tune in every day.  Talent, prep, pacing, tone, yuks, not afraid to steer from time to time into the mist of intellectual anarchy.  Can't beat it.

But there is something missing.

I rise on the plains at about 5:15, and by the time I feed the dog and find a handful of stale Chili-Cheese Fritos to kill off the overnight hunger, it's time for the epic Ticker by Sean Bass, formerly offered by the legendary Rich Phillips.  Nice intro for a day of sports-related broadcasting, if not actual sports broadcasting.

Some days I shave, some days I don't.  Some days I wear jeans, some days I put on a suit.

But every day, as I apply Jack Black Epic Moisturizing MP10 Nourishing Oil to my leathery puss, I ask myself:

What is the weather going to be today?

And why aren't the Musers telling me?

Why indeed?

So, Junior, here's a suggestion:

Give us some weather in the morning, maybe between 6-7, with one-sentence updates throughout the morning.  It doesn't have to be a composed bit every day.  You don't have to do your (pretty skilled) TV weatherman imitation.  Just a minute, maybe less, maybe more, depending on the circumstances, of what we can expect.  You can crib off Accuweather,, Weatherspark, Weatherbug, WeatherUnderground, NOAA forecasts.   You can look at the radar and make your own forecast.  You can accept weather observations from texting, tweeting, emailing, or calling P1s.   You can interview professional meteorologists, academics.  You can do bits; or you don't have to.  You can be as unpredictable as the very weather gods themselves.

And best of all, Cat:  It can be sponsored.

I like Becca and her cut-through-the-phelgm vocals, but Junior, don't let her grab the glory that should be yours when it comes to giving us the weather.

Wow, it's been a long time since I advised The Ticket on how to do radio.  Felt good.

I'll be looking for my commission check.  Still waiting for the one for my advice to put The Ticket on 96.7 in the frequency modulation.

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Saturday, May 7, 2016

Campound Postscript

I have visions of hosts and minions from ESPN and The Fan tuning in to the Campound broadcasts, whereupon they immediately plotz.  What must it be like to know that you have to compete with stuff like that?  And can't?

Craig "Junior" Miller combines seamless broadcasting choreography with a totally unhinged perspective on nearly everything. Including, notably this time around, harmless tiny dangling spiders.  As Danny Balis has observed, Junior is the craziest mother on The Ticket.

Dan shines come Campound time. Might be fun to do some ad hoc White Elephants of him on other shows, doing more fill-in for absentees. 

Mike loosens up even before he's likkered up.

And Corby -- sorry, critics, the guy does make me laugh disproportionately to his percentage of time on the air.

Good stuff all around.  Congratulations on another successful extended bit.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

That Amazing Draft Coverage

I think I write a little something about this every year, but it's still true:  The Ticket's draft coverage is just terrific.

It's not so much that it goes wire-to-wire, which is pretty amazing in and of itself.  It's the quality and entertainment value of the commentary.

Norm, who remains very knowledgeable, has more or less settled into the role of an amiable master of ceremonies.  Oh, he offers substantive commentary and seems to know the draft class extremely well, but as the years have gone by, Bob Sturm, David Moore, and David Newbury have taken over more of the heavy lifting as to What It All Means.  At least that's the impression I have from the slices of the coverage I'm able to grab over the multi-day extravaganza. 

I really enjoy listening to Bob and it's great to see his profile in Cool Metro continuing to grow with his Dallas News writing and other coverage.  The best moment I heard from the weekend, though, was from The Boomtown. I think it was Saturday afternoon.  Norm had thrown the show to David & David, who were giving their thoughts on the state of the Cowboys' draft.  They spoke carefully and very persuasively without being bombastic.  I loved Newbury's point that all the best drafting teams "know who they are," and that the Cowboys don't seem to.

I swung by Ben & Skin's coverage and just had to shake my head.  There's an argument to be made that Ezekiel Elliot was the best pick, but B&S's over-the-top jubilation and insistence that it was the most amazing best-ever pick just sounded ridiculous after almost every Texas-based analyst was at best confused, and at worst appalled, by what the Cowboys had wrought.  (Although SI gave Dallas's draft an A-.)  Like their year-end Cowboys coverage last year consisting of how tremendously excited they were about 2016 after 4-12, the homerism seemed pretty apparent.  I don't like to ascribe motives to people I don't know, but man.

Having said that, I do ask myself this question and invite the Confessor to set me straight:  If Elliot really is a can't-miss offensive force that can replicate what DeMarco Murray accomplished a couple years back and more, is it possible to argue that in addition to more reliable scoring, his presence will extend drives both through his own skills and occupying defenders who would otherwise by smothering Dez, and in that way keep our shaky defense off the field?  And thus, with this single pick, the Cowboys have not only increased their offensive potency, they may have reduced the other team's offensive possessions, elevating (if only constructively) the entire Cowboys defense.  Whereas Jaylen Ramsey would only have improved one facet of the defense.

I think it's a dubious theory -- addition to the defense by subtracting defensive draft picks.  But thought I'd toss it out there in fairness to Ben & Skin.

In deference to Confessors who view this site at their workplaces and don't want to see babes pop up on their screen when the site flashes on, today's ginger will appear at the end of this deathless prose.

"Which tent is Mike's?"

I try to cover Campound coverage to the extent possible, but my listening has been spotty the last few weeks and that may continue for a bit.  Please weigh in frequently and in detail reporting on the best of our lads out in the forest primeval.