The FJ vs. H lawsuit thread.



  • SiDanielsSiDaniels Posts: 277
    ...and maybe Christopher Walken as Jonathan's attorney.
  • Bill,

    I, too, assumed that H and FJ were partners, but that's no more than an assumption. As I alluded to earlier, a creative entity (a D/B/A) is not the same as a corporate entity, though it can have some standing. There are a myriad of companies that conduct trade on names that are not their own, which they acquired in one way or another. Everyone here seems to get hung up on that, but it may not be the crucial fact you think it is. What if it had been a real partnership, all properly signed, but with a 90-10 split? And what if the complaint had been based on the 10% partner's claim that the split, which he had signed onto fifteen years earlier, was unfair?

    I think what has us hooked by this story is that H&FJ seemed to be like the Yankees of old, highly valued stars who hit home runs with uncanny regularity. Now it appears to have been a house of cards, flaky at best and dishonest at worst. But the team is one thing and the players are another. It shouldn't change our opinion of their work, itself. Good type, like good art, creates its own value independent if its creators. It has never been a guarantee of moral behavior or even of sanity. Both parties are wonderful craftsmen, truly among the best, and I don't want to make comparisons between the two. We don't know how much each participated in the work of the other.

    I can't speculate about how it will all play out (except in fun), but one thing I think I do know is that the story of how this much-praised duo went up in smoke will become part of type lore for ages to come, somewhere after the (non)burial of John Baskerville.
  • No name brandNo name brand Posts: 11
    edited January 2014
    How many people posting here have first-hand or even second-hand experience with Tobias and/or Jonathan? Those who answered "yes" would be able to share their insight into what the two men are like as individuals and can tell you a little about how they conduct their business.

    I am inclined to believe both Tobias's complaint and HTF's statement. Tobias, and everyone else in the world of design, regarded "Hoefler & Frere-Jones" as a bona fide partnership, where two leading type designers decided to combine their talents in a new entity, building on their individual successes. In Tobias's complaint, we read the sad story of a man who thought he had an agreement, and who tried multiple times to legally bind that agreement, only to be repeatedly rebuffed and eventually shut out. In HTF's statement, we read that the partnership was never a partnership at all; Tobias was mistaken, as was everyone else. Tobias was merely an employee of HTF, even though his name was on the door, the website, and every bit of marketing for the foundry.

    There are likely dozens of people all over the world going back to old magazine articles and interviews, TypeRadio recordings, earlier statements by HTF, etc. finding all of the instances where the partnership of H and F-J are chronicled. I am inclined to think that these amateur researchers will gather some strong evidence for the equal partnership claim.

    In this whole scenario I am most saddened by the plight of the employees of HTF -- under whichever dba it might be doing business as -- who make good work and are good people with mortgages to pay and tables upon which to put food. As has been suggested, it's not easy to find another type design gig in NYC; HTF is the largest employer in the field in our city. Most people here work independently, or are at small shops which can't take on new employees at the drop of a hat. Also, there was a period when employees of HTF were compelled to sign legal documents which expressly forbid them from working for another type foundry for a period of time -- I can't recall if it was 6 months, a year, or some other period of time -- after leaving HTF. As far as I know this practice is still in place.

    It's late, and I don't want to be any less cohesive than I fear I have been. I will end by urging the readers of this site to read the public statements of the two men over the past decade and a half, and consider their own dealings with these men, and make up their minds about what they believe is the most plausible version of events.
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  • I've heard of that in other places before.
  • Re: Jason Campbell:
    "I've heard of that in other places before."
    Exactly. It's common practice in advertising agencies. As a result, the golden handshakes usually are quite spectacular.

    Re: James Montalbano:
    "I can't imagine any court in the land upholding that prohibition."
    If you were a junior designer making junior designer wages, would you put this to the test? Especially when you have seen your employer take a former employee to court over the publication of personal work? (To have the case dismissed by a judge, but only after financially crippling the former employee.) How about then? Would you take your chances?
  • @James_M. I've seen them used fairly often. How solid such a non-compete agreement is might depend upon the laws in each state. There are many factors that could come into play in each situation but it could still be very costly to the employee to take such a chance.
  • I can't imagine any court in the land upholding that prohibition.
    Employers don’t want to hire someone who’s going to get them dragged into a lawsuit. And as Chester noted, being sued has terrible financial consequences. As L. Ron Hubbard wrote “The purpose of the suit is to harass and discourage rather than win.”
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  • Re: James Montalbano:
    No court is going to prevent someone from earning a living.

    You're missing the point of the story, entirely. The point of the story is that some employers use this tactic as a matter of course, and it is expected, as in the world of advertising. (A good friend is in advertising, and has laboured under these contractual conditions, so I'm not just making this shit up.) Other employers use this tactic as a way to bully their employees into submission.
  • James PuckettJames Puckett Posts: 1,786
    edited January 2014
    No court is going to prevent someone from earning a living.
    That only matters to someone who has the resources for a trial and a new employer willing to go along. Most people living in New York City on a designer’s salary don’t have the money to fight a millionaire in court. And then only if they can get hired in the first place. How many employers do you think would hire someone knowing that it would result in an immediate lawsuit?
  • Exactly. Most often there's also a provision that you have to notify the next employer of this clause, and that's what it's designed to do. Scare off the next employer. *sigh*
  • Re: Frode Bo Helland
    Is this an actual example from H&FJ?

    Yes. It is a widely known story in the NYC type community, especially to those of us born in the 1970s & 80s. I would tell you more, but don't want to give you a freight. I mean, fright.
  • James PuckettJames Puckett Posts: 1,786
    edited January 2014
    Is this an actual example from H&FJ?
    It’s complicated. HTF sued Joshua Darden and Phil’s Fonts after Darden was no longer an employee of HTF. Here’s the summons and complaint:
    And Darden’s response:
  • Settled out of court.
  • I believed that the case was dismissed by the presiding judge.
  • I believed that the case was dismissed by the presiding judge.
    The dismissal occurred after the parties filed a motion to discontinue. You can see all of the electronically filed documents at
  • John HudsonJohn Hudson Posts: 2,173
    James, non-compete clauses in employment contracts are accepted in some US jurisdictions, but not in others (which doesn't mean that any and all such clauses will be enforceable in a particular jurisdiction, only that they are not presumed to be invalid). Famously, California does not accept non-compete clauses, which is cited as one of the reasons for the great success of Silicon Valley: people are free to move between companies and to set up new companies, even companies that directly compete with their previous employers.
  • [Deleted User][Deleted User] Posts: 0
    edited January 2014
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  • Deleted AccountDeleted Account Posts: 739
    edited January 2014
    It's a porcupine to begin with, so you'd have to be tickling its belly.
    It is a widely known story in the NYC type community, especially to those of us born in the 1970s & 80s. I
    Think you mean, it was widely know to all, and effective on those of you born in the 70-80 time frame.
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  • Re: James Puckett:
    The dismissal occurred after the parties filed a motion to discontinue.

    I heard that there were arguments by the plaintiff that the similarity of the dot of the i -- four bezier control points, each with two handles to define near-circular arc -- clearly indicated that design data was purloined from the plaintiff in work by the defendant.

    FWIW, and this is open knowledge: I used to have a professional relationship with Joshua Darden, and put an end to it a few years ago. I have no great affection for him, so certainly am not "taking sides".
  • James M is quite right. NCAs are largely a form of abuse and intimidation when applied to low-pay workers--very much like the back of the hockey game ticket, or all the pharmaceutical disclaimers you hear on TV. But James P is also correct insofar as they might be an inhibition to a future employer.

    I haven't read all of the Darden complaint yet, but it looks like a hoot!
  • No name brandNo name brand Posts: 11
    edited January 2014
    Re: ScottMartin Kosofsky:
    "...when applied to low-pay workers--very much like the back of the hockey game ticket..."

    As a hockey fan, I am incredibly offended! Not only are hockey game attendees not poorly paid to attend hockey games, in most places* they actually pay the operators of hockey game-hosting venues in order to attend hockey games!

    The pharmaceutical disclaimer thing is also non-analogous.

    *But not Florida.
  • Brittanie Cecil
  • How did we get so far off-topic? We were talking about non-competes, and then it was about personal risk waivers? Ah... Montalbano... The plane, boss!
  • Chester, it isn't off-topic, and your claim that what I said about pharmaceutical disclaimers not being analogous is wrong. We've been discussing aspects of contract law and comparing the ludicrousness of clauses intended to intimidate, but which, when challenged in court, are often shown to have no teeth.

    The entire discussion has been speculative, as no one knows the salient details of the case at hand or, if they do, they're not saying (and shouldn't). What we're participating in here is gossip, with some huff and puff of moral outrage thrown in for good measure. And we're enjoying it. You've added some good and interesting things, so keep going! It's cold and snowy here--the more hot air, the better.
  • James P,

    Thanks for the links to the Darden complaint. I enjoyed reading them. The response of Darden's attorney was first-rate, not only on points of local labor law, but with a laundry list of case law that, whether relevant or not, would have cost Hoefler a lot of money to respond to one by one, to which he would have been obligated. I imagine it ended with Hoefler's attorney saying, "Jonathan, this is going to take time without any clear outcome. Is it really worth $600/hr to you?" The answer, obviously, was no.

    In the initial summons, it looked like Hoefler was beating up on Darden, a little guy. But with competent legal defense, Darden turned it around, both by making the key claims dubious and by making the whole thing too expensive to pursue.
  • SiDanielsSiDaniels Posts: 277
    For me it's nice to read a discussion that doesn't mention Richard Sherman.
  • Nick ShinnNick Shinn Posts: 1,744
    edited January 2014
    Right ScottMartin, James’ OP was needlessly circumlocuitous, when he might just as well have said, Let’s Gossip! and then chastised those who dared get too “unprofessional”.
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