Palm Beach News

After Goofy Mix-Up, West Palm Law Firm Sues A&E and Morgan Spurlock's Company for Libel

On the TV show American Takedown, which airs on A&E, camera crews follow elite police forces as they bust high-stakes criminals. It’s basically Cops on steroids. In one episode, the U.S. Coast Guard ambushed a drug-filled boat en route to Puerto Rico. In another, a sheriff’s office in Tennessee busted a massive dogfighting ring. Each episode ends with ne’er-do-wells handcuffed and slumped against a wall, their faces blurred as they ponder the string of poor decisions that brought them there. Morgan Spurlock, of Super Size Me fame, produces the show.

An episode that aired in July 2015 could end up costing A&E. The episode chronicled the Florida Division of Insurance Fraud’s attempts to track down two alleged frauds. Palm Beach County attorney Cory Meltzer and chiropractor Roger Bell had been accused of faking traffic-accident claims. They were part of an alleged scheme that worked like this: People who’d been in car accidents were told to seek treatment at specific clinics despite the fact that they frequently were not injured. The clinics would then bill insurance companies for treatments never given, and law firms would reap a portion of the payouts. When Meltzer and Bell were arrested in 2014, authorities had been silently embedded at some of the frauds’ health clinics for more than a year.

During the episode, the camera flashed to a sign for West Palm Beach law firm Meltzer & Bell, located on North Dixie Highway. “The past week, we have been establishing at their houses and businesses to try to establish a pattern of their daily activities,” the show’s narrator said. The only problem was that the show had the wrong guys.

Meltzer & Bell is owned by criminal defense attorneys Larry Meltzer, a former state prosecutor, and Stephen Bell, an ex-public defender, who say they have nothing to do with the accused. They simply have the same last names. This past April 19, the two — who mostly defend clients with DUIs — sued A&E and Spurlock’s production company, Warrior Poets, for libel in federal court. They had previously tried suing in state court.

The plaintiffs assert that the show’s producers must have known that the accused frauds — Cory and Roger — had different jobs and different offices. Larry and Stephen claim A&E knew it had the wrong guys but used the law firm’s sign anyway.

"Looking at this, how can they not have realized that Meltzer and Bell did not have a law firm together?” the plaintiff's lawyer, Jamie Sasson, said to New Times. "Everyone knows lawyers and chiropractors don’t work together.”

For once, we feel bad for DUI attorneys.

Here's a copy of the complaint:

KEEP NEW TIMES BROWARD-PALM BEACH FREE... Since we started New Times Broward-Palm Beach, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of South Florida, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Jerry Iannelli is a staff writer for Miami New Times. He graduated with honors from Temple University. He then earned a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University. He moved to South Florida in 2015.
Contact: Jerry Iannelli