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Santa Rosa lawyer’s racy video draws attention, ire

In the world of huckster lawyers promoting their services on YouTube, a video of a Santa Rosa attorney chatting up a raunchy doll in a mock interview stands out as one of the more bizarre clips.

The 2½-minute video, lampooned on late-night TV, is proof of an industry that has moved beyond advertising on billboards and phone book covers but still struggles with matters of taste.

In it, defense lawyer Michael Fiumara pretends to question a stuffed “Miss Naughty” doll seated on his lap about a supposed charge against her. She answers in a breathy, recorded voice, “Oh baby! It’s so big!”

Fiumara feigns shock as the doll responds in risqué fashion to a second question. He cuts short the interview, saying the legal code of ethics prohibits him from having sex with clients.

He has since defended the video, first posted last month and aired last week on Comedy Central’s “@Midnight,” saying it was a stab at humor after recording hours of serious videos about prostitution law.

“We needed something funny,” Fiumara said. “Everything was so dry in this recording session. This was a real break from it all.”

But some viewers said the video, in which Fiumara props the doll on his lap and invites her sexual remarks, is inappropriate and lacks dignity befitting the profession. One YouTube commenter said it was evidence that American standards had sunk below others in the western world.

“Sad,” was another response.

Some members of the local defense bar agreed.

“That’s sick,” fellow Santa Rosa attorney Stephen Turer said after watching the video. “The idea that he would suggest he has a client that does and says those things is offensive and disgusting.”

Still others defended his right to post it.

“Dude, you’re awesome!” a YouTube commenter said. “Thanks for the laughs.”

Offbeat ads have been a favorite with lawyers since the Supreme Court in the mid-1970s found unconstitutional a ban on lawyers’ advertising their services.

The ruling in Bates v. State Bar of Arizona led to a surge in print ads and TV commercials. The creative come-ons, a fixture on late-night airwaves, entice people by promising big money for car crashes and product liability claims.

Websites and, more recently, YouTube videos have made it cheaper for lawyers to promote their businesses, especially important with more people entering the field.

“Lawyers have to find a way to get their piece of the pie,” said Bruce Budner, who teaches ethics at UC Berkeley School of Law.

While restrictions remain on deceptive advertising, there is nothing on the books prohibiting lawyers from engaging in “bad taste, if that’s what you want to call it,” Budner said, referring to Fiumara’s video.

“It’s certainly not an ad I would have run, but different people have different approaches to achieving the goal of increasing their public profile and gaining publicity,” Budner said.

A spokeswoman for the State Bar of California wouldn’t comment Tuesday on the video but urged anyone with a complaint about an attorney’s advertising practices to contact her agency.

Many local lawyers have their own websites, where they post YouTube videos.

Among them is Windsor attorney Evan Zelig, who said the recordings are indispensable for attracting business in the age of smartphones and instant access to information.

Like similar spots from other lawyers, Zelig’s video tells potential clients about the legal process and concludes with contact information.

“It’s an absolute must,” said Zelig, who noted a rise in the use of social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook. “You should have some video advertising services.”

Fiumara has more than a dozen YouTube videos on a range of subjects, but none has approached the popularity of the doll video, which had more than 13,000 views as of Wednesday.

It was envisioned as a satire about people who come from different walks of life, seeking his assistance, some of whom behave inappropriately, he said.

The doll itself was a leftover gag gift for a friend who got married, he said.

He broke it out and made the video in one take, he said.

“My videographer was laughing so hard,” he said. “In my business, I need to laugh. That’s the best medicine you have.”

A portion of his video was played on “@Midnight,” a kind of game show with comedian contestants. Host Chris Hardwick introduced the clip by saying it was important for a lawyer to give off an air of professionalism and sophistication.

“On the other hand, you could take a tip from Michael A. Fiumara, who recently made this video advertising his legal cervixes,” he said to audience laughter.

Contestants were then urged to “out-crazy this guy” and come up with “an even more inappropriate pitch.”

But Fiumara said response to the video has been mostly positive, although people he called “cyberbullies” have attacked it. He compared it to satirical cartoons from the French magazine Charlie Hebdo, which was the target of terrorists.

“They don’t even know me,” he said. “They are spewing hate.”

Plans are in the works for a sequel, he said.

“A little humor in a good way can get a message across even better,” he said.

You can reach Staff Writer Paul Payne at 568-5312 or paul.payne@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @ppayne.

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