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Judge Sanctions Lawyer For Bringing Frivolous Lawsuit

June 27, 1996

NEW YORK (AP) _ A lawsuit charging Victoria’s Secret with breaking the law by varying discounts it offers catalog customers was thrown out by a judge who said it had a ``flagrant lack of merit.″

U.S. District Judge Robert W. Sweet said the Columbus, Ohio-based lingerie maker does not commit mail fraud when it offers different discounts to different catalog customers.

Sweet also sanctioned Howard Gotbetter, the lawyer who brought the claim, saying the total lack of substance in the lawsuit gave him the impression that the lawsuit was filed for ``improper purposes.″ He ordered Gotbetter to pay $5,000 of Victoria’s Secret legal fees.

The judge said Gotbetter and Denise Katzman, who works with Gotbetter and is listed as a plaintiff along with Gotbetter’s stepdaughter, forced Victoria’s Secret to ``respond to a patently meritless complaint and to suffer unwarranted adverse publicity.″

A message left for Gotbetter was not immediately returned Wednesday.

The lawyer has earned a reputation for taking on large companies after someone he knows suffers an injury or indignity.

In one case, he filed a lawsuit on behalf of a client’s secretary after the woman was arrested and handcuffed for an hour by police who accused her of pushing over a New York magazine rack.

Initially, Katzman’s lawsuit was aimed at the difference in prices between catalogs sent to men and those sent to woman. Later, though, Gotbetter argued the discrimination was of a broader kind, not related to gender. The company said it offered larger discounts to repeat customers.

Victoria’s Secret spokesman Al Dietzel hoped the decision would send a message against frivolous lawsuits.

``We had to take it seriously even though we knew it had no merit,″ he said of Gotbetter’s suit. ``It’s terribly time-consuming.″

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