CLEVELAND, Ohio — A federal judge has ordered attorneys for a popular YouTube personality to explain whether they gave the green light for the star to post a rambling video that addressed his ongoing dispute with a popular Cleveland nightspot, despite a private agreement that limited what he could say.
U.S. District Judge Dan Polster’s demand came after an hours-long hearing Thursday in the ongoing saga involving a Nov. 26 fight at Barley House involving Ricky “FaZe” Bank and his girlfriend, fellow social media celebrity Alissa Violet.
Polster held the hearing to decide whether to hold Banks, whose real name is Richard Bengtson, in contempt of court for posting a Dec. 19 video that Polster said violated an agreement on what Banks could say about the Thanksgiving weekend fracas at the West 6th Street bar. Banks testified that his attorneys gave him the go-ahead to post the response. He is represented by David Cuppage and Rob Glickman of McCarthy, Lebit, Crystal & Liffman.
The often-contentious hearing saw prominent Cleveland restaurateur and Barley House owner Bobby George engage in some name-calling from the witness stand.
Polster said the detailed, 24-minute video — which tried to refute much of Barley House’s account — went beyond what Banks was allowed to say. The judge previously ordered Banks to remove the video from YouTube, after Barley House employees reported receiving multiple bomb and death threats online and by phone the day the video was posted.
Banks testified Thursday, both on questioning by the judge and by a Barley House attorney, that he felt the video was within the scope of the agreement. He also said he sent the final of the video to his attorneys and posted the video only after getting the OK from them.
After hearing this, Polster ordered Banks’ attorneys to file affidavits attesting to whether Banks’ testimony was true, and if so why they thought the video was allowed by the agreement.
If Banks’ testimony was not accurate, the attorneys must explain that as well, the judge ordered.
They have until Jan. 26 to do so.
“I don’t have any choice,” Polster said. “I’ve never had to do that before.”
While discussions between attorneys and their clients are privileged, Banks “state of mind” as to why he felt the video was OK is not, Polster said. The attorneys’ filings will help determine what action, if any, the judge will take following the contempt hearing.
Cuppage and Glickman, along with other attorneys in court Thursday, went into Polster’ chambers immediately after the hearing. They did not immediately return phone calls left after the hearing.
Banks and Violet — a Northeast Ohio native whose real name is Alissa Butler — claimed Barley House employees sexually harassed Butler and assaulted both of them in the early-morning hours of Nov. 26. An initial YouTube video Banks posted about the incident has garnered more than 5.6 million views.
The couple’s YouTube followers unleashed on the bar, leaving hundreds of one-star reviews on Yelp and Google and sending death threats to Barley House employees, the bar has said. Barley House denied all of the couple’s allegations and responded by posting its own video that it said showed the social media stars acting aggressively towards bar staff and others. That video has been seen more than 800,000 times.
It also filed suit against Banks and Violet.
The private agreement was reached Dec. 13, six days before Banks posted his second video. In addition to spelling out the specific things Banks could say in response to Barley House’s video, it also said Barley House could not again respond.
With Banks on the stand, Polster had the YouTube star go into detail about how Banks made his money. Banks appeared defensive and a bit embarrassed as he explained the unorthodox way of making a living as a social media celebrity.
He estimated that he made $400,000 in 2017 through a combination of YouTube views, sponsorships and promotional appearances.
The majority of that money came from YouTube ads, Banks said, and he made $7,500 in December for the first video related to the Barley House incident. He said he will get paid about $12,000 for the now-removed second video, as it garnered 1.2 million views during the holiday season, a big time for advertisers.
The legal issues have “all happened at the absolute worst time for me,” Banks said, explaining that he only recently started making a living off his celebrity.
Banks said he has a reputation of expounding, which is why the second video was 24 minutes long despite the limitations on what he could say.
When Polster asked how Banks expected Barley House not to respond again, Banks said, “because what I said in the video was factual. It’s really what happened.”
Polster also inquired about Banks’ Twitter profile, which identifies him as an “internet gangster.” Banks later explained upon questioning from his attorney that it’s a joke that teenagers would understand.
Above all, Polster seemed most interested in what kind of financial impact Banks’ second video had on Barley House’s business. George testified that he was forced to close the bar at about midnight on Dec. 19, the first time he has done so because of a safety concern.
George, whose anger toward Banks became increasingly visible the longer he was on the stand, said the bar makes the most money between about 11:30 p.m. and 2 a.m., the normal closing time, so having to shut down made a big impact on that night’s earnings.
Its impact has continued, George said.
“Chris, people don’t want to come to our establishment because of this,” George said upon questioning by Chris Congeni, his attorney.
He said he has spent extra money on marketing and resources to fight bad publicity. And it’s all because of Banks, George said.
“I think he’s a punk,” George said.
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