Published Monday, June 19, 2000, in the Miami Herald

Miami lawyer seeks cyber slanderers

Latest case focuses on fall of Fort Lauderdale CEO


From some misty mousehole in the Web, ``1 Quiz'' teases a prowling legal cat, Bruce Fischman. He is a Miami lawyer with an unusual expertise: Internet defamation.

``1 Quiz'' is a cyber nom de plume, identity unknown. He -- or she -- hides in anonymity, taunting and hounding Fischman's client, Broward millionaire J. Erik Hvide.

Erik is the son of the late Hans Hvide, a sturdy Norwegian who, beginning in 1958, built a Fort Lauderdale tug-and-tanker business, Hvide Marine Co., into a mighty global fleet of 274 vessels.

``1 Quiz'' accuses Erik of running Hans' company aground on the shoals of mismanagement. Whoever ``1 Quiz'' is, he seems intimately familiar with Hvide family history, personally resents Erik's legacy of privilege, and is dementedly humorous and a bad grammarian. ``The days of being ego-spoon-fed . . . chauffered [sic] BMWs and the lucky sperm club are coming to an end,'' he typed into a Hvide Marine message board.

Hvide claims such messages caused stockholders to flee Hvide Marine Co. like rats from a sinking tanker. He says they caused Hvide's board of directors to make him walk the plank last summer, firing him as CEO, just before Hvide Marine slid into bankruptcy.

So Hvide sought out Fischman, whose name he found in a Wall Street Journal article last year after Fischman tracked down another anonymous CEO torturer.

That's what Fischman does for a living. In the last two years, half the caseload of the Fischman, Harvey & Dutton firm is flushing out Internet defamers.

Outside the office, Fischman, 49, is all doting father, a devoted stable boy in servitude to his two horseback-riding daughters, Geri, 17, and Jenna, 13. To interview him about the Hvide case, WAMI-Channel 69 had to send a news crew to a Devon, Pa., horse show where the girls were competing.

Inside the office, Fischman cultivates a touch of lawyerly spookiness. Before meeting with The Herald, he compiled a dossier on his interviewer -- including story clippings, a photo, and a character analysis based on the clippings.

He says his firm has developed cyber-sleuthing techniques similar to those used to track the Internet Love Bug creator to an apartment in the Philippines last month.

Among other things, he practices what he calls ``cyber fingerprinting,'' analyzing phrases and idioms to profile a defamer as a knowledgeable insider, vengeful ex-spouse, or just a 12-year-old with a wild imagination.

But his most effective weapon remains litigation. Thus, on May 25, he persuaded a Miami-Dade circuit judge to give Yahoo and AOL 20 days to reveal the identity of ``1 Quiz.'' The ACLU came to Yahoo's defense.

Later that evening, ``1 Quiz'' posted a chastened response: ``The Quiz and the ACLU did not have a good day in court.''

``He's not scared of us,'' says Fischman. ``He's coming right at us.''

So any day now Fischman may get a paw into the mousehole. After chasing ``1 Quiz'' for a year, he yearns for vindication, hoping ``1 Quiz'' turns out interesting -- a venomous competitor, an embittered family member, or a greedy stock manipulator.

He hopes ``1 Quiz'' is nothing like the defamer who harassed HealthSouth CEO Richard Scrushy, who boasted of sleeping with Scrushy's pregnant wife.

When Fischman finally got his man, he discovered . . . a mouse. No stock manipulator. No ruthless competitor. Just a likeable, former $35,000-a-year food-service manager at a HealthSouth hospital in Pennsylvania who had hounded the CEO as a prank.

The mouse brought his own pregnant wife along when Fischman took his deposition. He said he had been reduced to finding work as a burger cook.

``It was a bit of a letdown,'' Fischman says. ``He wasn't what I expected.''

Fischman and Scrushy hardly knew what to do. So they made him agree to tutor illiterate adults. And they took his computer.

Please, ``1 Quiz,'' for Fischman's sake, be more rat than mouse when he snags you.