Todd Levitt (centre, in sunglasses), who does not take kindly to jokes about him online, singing a karaoke version of "Sweet Caroline" with some Central Michigan University students. (Screenshot via YouTube)
If you or I found someone making fun of us on Twitter, we might laugh or have a moment of brief rage before moving on with our lives; if we were feeling particularly pissed off we might send the jokester a message telling him to knock it off. We would almost definitely not tweet about how the person making fun of us should “grab some Vaseline” because we were going to send him to prison, then sue him for damages in excess of $25,000 (£14,700). That is because we are not, and will never be, Todd Levitt.
Levitt is an attorney who’s a well-known character on the campus of Central Michigan University, where until May the CMU alum taught a popular marketing class. His various social media accounts portray him as a self-promoting bro’s bro who sings karaoke in college bars, who films himself nodding along to “Bad to the Bone” in his car, and who loved it when a website compared him to Saul Goodman, the sleazy lawyer character on Breaking Bad.
By all accounts, he was much chummier with the college's kids than most teachers are. The self-proclaimed “badass lawyer” defended numerous students against DUIs and other drug-and-alcohol-related charges, served as the academic adviser to a frat he later provided with legal counsel when it faced accusations of sexual harassment, gave kids free car rides one Valentine’s Day and even filmed a pilot for a reality TV show called In Todd We Trust.
Earlier this year, Levitt got even more attention for himself when he defended Rachel Harrison, a CMU student who had threatened a cop with a knife and was sentenced in May to six months behind bars. That case was pretty big news in the sleepy college town of Mount Pleasant, said Ben Solis, the editor-in-chief of CMU’s student newspaper CM Life – and the paper got criticised by at least one reader for giving Levitt additional publicity.
“I remember having someone ask my why were reporting on him again,” Solis said.
The response to the articles about Levitt on the CM Life website show what sorts of emotions the lawyer stirs up in those who know him. “Todd is a very nice person who gives a lot of free advice to students and to anyone. He has a young soul and is super fun to be around and goes far out of his way to help a lot of people,” reads one comment on the story about his reality show.
“This clown is literally the joke of Mt. Pleasant. As a CMU alum, he is a total EMBARASSMENT [sic]! He tries so hard for attention,” wrote another anonymous reader. “Perhaps national attention on Mr. ‘I Wear My Sunglasses At Night’ will help students realized [sic] how pathetic a married man their parents’ age hanging out & drinking with college kids all the time really is,” wrote a third.
Unsurprisingly, Levitt doesn’t listen to the haters. “I was a nontraditional adjunct professor with students fighting to get a seat,” Levitt told me in an email exchange. “Jealous professors have wanted me out for years.”
It’s that spirit of jealousy, Levitt claims, that led Zach Felton, an IT worker at CMU, to start up Todd Levitt 2.0, a parody Twitter account that publicly mocked the fratty lawyer, with references to weed, binge drinking and Levitt’s alleged love of partying.
One of the tweets that so enraged Levitt
As of this writing the account had a scant 130 followers and only 72 tweets, but it’s mere existence prompted Levitt to publicly freak out, saying over a series of since-deleted tweets that the “CMU profs and their loser kid who works in IT” would need to “grab some Vaseline where I”m sending them”.
“Who did you think you were fucking with? You have no idea who I am,” Levitt wrote at one point during his rant.
I asked Levitt if he had any regrets about his aggressive response to the parody account. “No comment,” he replied. (He shut down his Twitter account in response to Felton’s tweets, according to his complaint.)
He wasn’t all talk, however, as he’s now suing Felton for damages in excess of $25,000 and claiming that the parody caused him to lose clients. Levitt “received dozens of phone calls from concerned clients, potential clients and parents who were all distressed” that Levitt was actually tweeting about getting high and boozing it up, according to his lawsut, which also claims that Levitt was “told by two potential clients” that they wouldn’t hire him because they thought Felton’s tweets were an “accurate representation of (Levitt’s) character”.
Levitt – who told me he was “raised by a single mother, no father, no child support. I never forgot where I came from” – certainly has his admirers, and they agree that the attorney is a victim of a concerted campaign that goes beyond mere mockery.
“The tweets posted about Todd were defaming to both his character and his business,” CMU student Tyler Webb said in a lengthy email extolling the attorney’s virtues. “The account was made with malicious intent, no doubt in my mind.”
Some of Levitt's now-deleted tweets
Levitt claims that this intent goes beyond Felton, whose father teaches at CMU’s business school. “We believe there are numerous individuals who participated that teach at CMU,” he told me. “Through the court process we hope to expose these individuals from the top down.”
While Levitt is brashly outspoken about nearly everything, he wouldn’t tell me why he’s no longer employed by the university, though Felton’s attorney, Gordon Bloem, said that Levitt had quit his part-time teaching gig before the parody account was even created. The lawsuit implies, but doesn’t specifically state, that as a result of Felton’s tweets “[Levitt] could not continue as adjunct professor.”
Even though he isn’t working at CMU anymore – and even though he is suing one of its employees in a lawsuit that seems bizarre, to say the least – Levitt told me he still cares deeply about the school’s students.
“If you took the time to know me you would learn that all I do is try to help people, be it students with careers or assisting clients and parents thru [sic] the legal system,” he emailed me. “People look to me to represent their voice and fight for justice. That's who I am and will always be. I'm not just a litigator I'm an Advocator brother.”
He added, “Peace out.”