(Author’s Note: Before you read the following, I want it to be clear that I have been in contact with both the prosecuting and the defending parties involved in this case and have offered each a platform to speak their minds on the matter and will continue to do so. I first covered this topic after reaching out to Jim Cornette when the “Clownette” tee was introduced on The Indy Connection website and then later reached out G-Raver on social media after he tagged me on Twitter. It was then early this week when Mr. Petrunya contacted me regarding the developments in the ongoing legal case between the two parties.)
Pro wrestling is indeed one wild world and can take plenty of turns into the unexpected. Such is the case with this recent legal situation involving Jim Cornette, the independent wrestler G-Raver and Raver’s attorney, Max Petrunya.
The matter involves Cornette filing a federal lawsuit against Raver, Bill Molnar & his tee shirt company The Indy Connection for a tee that was produced having the likeness of Cornette being depicted in a bloody fashion with the title “Fuck Jim Cornette” underneath the graphic image. This past Tuesday, a motion to dismiss was filed by attorney Max Petrunya on behalf of G-Raver, Molnar & The Indy Connection, but here’s where another layer gets added.
While being a licensed attorney in the state of Pennsylvania and West Virginia, Petrunya is also a pro wrestler. He wrestles on the independent scene under the heel persona as “The Gavel” David Lawless, who also happens to be an attorney, but is the complete opposite of who Petrunya is as an actual attorney (more on that later). Petrunya took the time to speak with me a day after the motion to dismiss was filed.
“I decided at the age of 30 to balance my professional career with a pursuit in professional wrestling and more just to say that I did it and to achieve a goal that I had at a young age, but my legal career came first. That’s what pays the bills, that’s what I really enjoy doing and helping people, but it was always something that I wanted to do, it was just when you go to school and start your career. Some of your dreams can take a little bit of a back seat for a while.”
It’s clear that Petrunya, who graduated from Duquesne School of Law with the highest honors and now has his own practice in Pittsburgh, did have to put his dreams on hold when considering the number of lawsuits and legal work he has done.
“I’ve been licensed for the past ten years. I’ve worked on hundreds of lawsuits helping victims of medical malpractice and nursing home abuse, personal injury claims, asbestos claims, pharmaceutical drug cases, class-action litigation. I recently started my own firm at the beginning of last year where I’ve helped to assist football players that have traumatic brain injuries in cases against the NFL and NCAA across the country. I’ve helped workers get long-term disability benefits back.”
In addition to that under his belt, Petrunya has been named a Super Lawyer in Pennsylvania for the past six years and was the youngest trial lawyer elected to the Allegheny County Academy of Trial Lawyers.
“I’ve been very fortunate that I’ve worked with individuals and attorneys that have trusted me and that have given me the opportunity to spread my wings if you will as a lawyer, do research, work on different cases and help people out, which is really what I enjoy doing as an attorney.”
I asked Petrunya if he’s disclosed to his fellow attorneys and colleagues that he steps into the squared circle as David Lawless. Max states that he did initially receive a few “side eyes” from some, but most of his colleagues find the idea that he’s balancing two passions of his life to be fascinating and admirable – that notion is even coming from the federal level.
“I was just at a dinner last Thursday evening with a couple federal judges from the western district here in Pittsburgh and federal judges are appointed by the President and approved by the Senate and Congress so before they take the bench they have to go through like an enormous vetting process and these three federal judges could not stop asking me question after question about professional wrestling when they found out I was a wrestler. So it’s pretty cool because people respect it.”
Petrunya goes on to talk about the case at hand between Raver and Cornette and details what a ‘motion to dismiss’ actually means in the court of law.
“A motion to dismiss is a motion that can be filed by really any party, but in this case the defendants or my clients who are the defendants, stating that as plead and based on the facts associating with the facts of the case, Mr. Cornette does not have a cause of action or claim that entitles him to any of the damages or any of the wrongs that he has cited in his complaint. So the motion to dismiss is, it’s a tool that can be used by defendants whenever they’re facing lawsuits that they don’t believe a plaintiff has grounds to bring.”
A motion to dismiss has been filed for G-Raver & The Indy Connection re: the fed lawsuit by Jim Cornette over the t-shirt situation. The defending attorney is also pro wrestler, @GavelLawless, who reached out to us regarding the matter.
— Dominic DeAngelo: Pro Wrestling Writer (@DominicDeAngelo) February 26, 2020
A motion to dismiss isn’t an uncommon option when it comes to a defending party going that route and Petrunya thought it was the best initial choice for his clients.
“In this case in particular, once I did my research and I had agreed to represent Mr. Molnar, Mr. Graver and The Indy Connection, I realized that the appropriate starting point for us in this case would be a motion to dismiss so we could try to defray the cost of litigation and get this matter wrapped up by the court as quickly as possible.”
Petrunya and G-Raver did happen to first cross paths in the squared circle and it was at a significant moment in Max’s early career.
“G-Raver he was actually the second person that I wrestled on a show and he was tremendous to work with. For the promotion we were working for at the time, we were kind of writing Raver’s character out of the promotion so I actually had to beat him as part of the storyline and for someone as experienced and skilled as him to, as well call it in the business ‘put me over’ during my second match. It was just a tremendous experience. We had great chemistry when we wrestled.”
We all know @GavelLawless has the ability to dismiss any case; but it’s hard to dismiss him as he’s become one of Ryse’s top stars.
— Ryse Wrestling (@rysewrestling) February 28, 2020
There are three primary points of contention in the lawsuit filed by Cornette and his attorney Stephen P. New. One is the trademark that Raver and The Indy Connection filed for the term “Fuck Jim Cornette,” another is the registered domain that contains the aforementioned term, and the t-shirt. As far as the latter is concerned, Petrunya’s arguments for his clients is that Cornette’s lawsuit is a little contrarian to the polarizing and outspoken brand that Jim has developed for himself over the years.
“The Cornette character itself and Jim Cornette have always been critical of things that they don’t agree with in professional wrestling and so that’s Jim’s brand, that’s what he does to get a rise out of people and so for him to turn around and sue G-Raver and The Indy Connection for selling a shirt that basically goes to show that his opinions may be flawed or their opinions of the Cornette character is a little antithetical if you understand because what Raver is doing by designing this t-shirt, what they’re doing by selling the t-shirt is they’re providing a medium for individuals to express their opinion about Cornette and his opinions.”
When considering the details depicted in the imagery of the t-shirt are concerned, Petrunya argues that it is all fits under the category of parody and satire as it plays into G-Raver’s deathmatch gimmick and persona.
“So Raver was one of the first deathmatch wrestlers to start using tattoo needles during his matches. He’s actually a professional tattoo artist outside of professional wrestling so the t-shirt itself is it’s a parody. It’s a satire. It is nothing more than an individual who does not agree with the opinions or views of another individual utilizing a medium that allows people to support the message that Raver and The Indy Connection are promoting and to show the weaknesses of Cornette’s opinion and that’s protectable under the First Amendment and it doesn’t matter whether it’s sold for profit. That is something that the courts have protected based on the case law that we’ve reviewed. So that really is the basis of this whole matter is the t-shirt itself. Now the trademark application and the website are different animals, but just dealing specifically with the image and likeness of Cornette…”
Petrunya continues, explaining how the use of t-shirts in wrestling is an imperative part of a wrestler promoting oneself.
“The t-shirt is such an important medium of expression in the professional wrestling world that outside of doing something on social media, the t-shirt’s the next best form of expression that wrestler’s have to parody or satire other people’s characters.”
Petrunya agrees that it’s hard to decipher between person and persona in today’s world that is embedded in the fibers of social media, he is certain of two matters. One is that both parties are entitled to express themselves as they see fit, and two is that a ruling in this case could have a reverberating effect across the wrestling world when it comes to a said matter of expression.
“In today’s world of social media, the lines between reality and fiction are more blurred. Whether Cornette actually believes that G-Raver should have died or whether that’s him portraying a character, I’m not sure. I do know personally that Cornette who I was on a show with, had mentioned that the criticism and critiques that he offered on that particular show were part of his character. I would like to believe that Jim Cornette’s character that he’s developed over the years and that we see on social media is just that, a character.”
That's a nasty little nick the guy got on his arm there at the end, if the fans were lucky they probably stopped the show so everyone could watch this idiot bleed out. https://t.co/vdlY9W5lYX
— Jim Cornette (@TheJimCornette) August 31, 2019
“‘The Gavel’ David Lawless is a very arrogant jerk, but that’s the furthest thing from who I am, Max Petrunya, as an attorney and as an individual. So the characters are different than the individuals. Regardless, he is entitled to express his opinions on social media. He is entitled to express his opinions on social media. He is entitled to express his opinions through whatever mediums he chooses which could be writing, t-shirts, websites, blogs what have you. My clients are entitled to offer their opinions as well and despite what the plaintiff alleges in that they are just trying to make a quick buck off his name and likeness. Again, the importance of this case is the fact that a ruling in this case could have ramifications for other professional wrestlers and other characters moving forward.”
As of this writing, a temporary restraining order has been filed by New and Cornette against The Indy Connection because of the “Clownette” shirt that was being sold on the website. More details on that as the story develops.
You can hear the entire interview between Petrunya and me below, in which Petrunya breaks down both outcomes in the legal process if the motion is granted or if it gets declined: