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All of Popehat's Prenda coverage is collected here.
Last month I used up all the ones and zeroes in order to describe the trouble Prenda Law and the Prendateers are in across America. Could it get worse? Of course it could get worse. Today it did.
As you may recall, United States Magistrate Judge Franklin L. Noel reopened several closed Prenda cases in the United States District Court for the District of Minnesota to explore whether Prenda had committed fraud at the court. After a hearing that will render Thanksgiving dinners at the Steele household forever awkward, Team Prenda attempted to disqualify Magistrate Judge Noel based on extravagant accusations of bias. You know, because that worked out so well for them with Judge Wright.
Today Magistrate Judge Noel dropped another hammer on Team Prenda. Unlike Judge Wright, he didn't dress up his order with Star Trek references. Team Prenda probably wishes he had.
The order is here. It's ugly for Team Prenda. After reciting the procedural history — and noting the growing array of judges that have sanctioned Team Prenda — Judge Noel made factual findings:
- He "expressly disbelieves [John] Steele’s testimony" that Steele heard Alan Cooper give Mark Lutz permission to sign Cooper's name to copyright assignments.
- He found that even though he had ordered Team Prenda to produce someone who could testify directly that the copyright assignments were valid — that is, whoever signed them — that they "failed to produce an officer who was capable of testifying to the authenticity of each copyright assignment agreement." He noted "the recent pattern of Lutz failing to appear when he is scheduled to testify under oath."
- He described Alan Cooper's testimony — that Cooper never gave anyone permission to sign his name, and that Cooper didn't know his name was being used – and concluded that he "finds Cooper’s testimony credible."
This will be extremely difficult for Prenda to attack. A judge's evaluation of the credibility of witnesses at a hearing is entitled to great deference on any appeal.
From there, Magistrate Judge Noel made conclusions of law:
The copyright-assignment agreements attached as Exhibit B to each complaint in each of these five cases are not what they purport to be. Alan Cooper denies signing either agreement and also denies giving anyone else the authority to sign them on his behalf. AF Holdings failed to produce any credible evidence that the assignments were authentic. The Court has been the victim of a fraud perpetrated by AF Holdings, LLC. The Court concludes that the appropriate remedy for this fraud is to require AF Holdings to return all of the settlement money it received from all of the Defendants in these cases, and to pay all costs and fees (including attorneys’ fees) incurred by the Defendants. After all settlement payments are returned and other fees are paid, all five cases should be dismissed on the merits, with prejudice. [emphasis added]
Echoing Judge Wright, Magistrate Judge Noel left the rest up to other authorities:
The Court further concludes that, once all of the ill-gotten gains are fully disgorged from AF Holdings, it would not be a wise use of the Court’s limited resources to sua sponte attempt to fully untangle the relationship between Hansmeier, Steele, Duffy, Dugas, Lutz and Prenda Law, on the one hand—and the Plaintiff, AF Holdings, LLC., on the other. Such investigation can more effectively be conducted by federal and state law enforcement at the direction of the United States Attorney, the Minnesota Attorney General and the Boards of Professional Responsibility in the jurisdictions where the attorneys involved in this apparent scheme are licensed to practice law.
The judge also denied Mr. Cooper's motion to intervene in the case (as his decision rendered it moot) and denied as meritless the motion to disqualify him.
Savor this, from the ending summary of action ordered:
3. The Clerk of Court shall send a copy of this order to the following individuals and entities for the purpose of further investigation:
A. The United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Minnesota. ATTN: John R. Marti, Acting United States Attorney. Address: U.S. Courthouse, 300 S. 4th St., Suite 600, Minneapolis, MN 55415.
B. The Minnesota Attorney General’s Office. ATTN: Lori Swanson, Attorney General. Address: 1400 Bremer Tower, 445 Minnesota St., St. Paul, MN 55101.
C. The Minnesota Lawyers Professional Responsibility Board, Office of Lawyers Professional Responsibility. Address: 1500 Landmark Towers, 345 St. Peter St., St. Paul 55102.
D. The Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission of the Supreme Court of Illinois. Address: 130 E. Randolph Dr., Ste. 1500, Chicago, IL 60601-6219.
The wheels turn slowly, friends, but make no mistake, the wheels turn. The wheels are grinding down Team Prenda, and doing so faster and faster every month. With two different federal judges referring the matter to state bars and the U.S. Attorney's office, the probability of bar investigations and federal grand jury investigations approaches certainty.
All of Popehat's Prenda coverage is collected here.
It's been two months since I wrote about Prenda Law. Since then its fortunes — and the fortunes of its principals — have been on the wane. Prenda, John Steele, Paul Hansmeier, Paul Duffy, and Mark Lutz have been suffering devastating blows across the country. Any one of these developments would be grave for any normal lawyer or legal enterprise. Combined, they represent a swiftly accelerating rout. Each development makes it more and more plausible that Judge Wright's referral of Prenda's principals to federal prosecutors will yield a grand jury investigation and, eventually, federal criminal charges. To one side, career and financial ruin loom as multiple courts issue brutal and reputation-destroying sanctions; to the other side, the door to federal prison yawns open.
So what's been going on? Let's look at updates state by state, and then turn to last Thursday's big development in Los Angeles. Brace yourself; this is a long post.
All of Popehat's Prenda coverage is collected here.
It really can't be easy to be on Team Prenda these days. Hordes of detractors scrutinize your every legal filing. Mean bloggers say embarrassing things about you. The threat of sanctions always looms. A tangled web of legal proceedings across the country complicates your efforts and constantly generates new evidence and assertions.
So, I guess I can see how a Prendarast could lose his cool on occasion.
Take Jacques Nazaire. Nazaire has found the waters in the Prenda lagoon to be unstill and unpleasant. Craigslist court appearances never generate such negative attention. It's enough to make a man go off on a rant about a witness or launch an ill-conceived detour about gay marriage or rend his garments and bewail how posts by mean blogers "lead to anger."
So: when Mr. Nazaire asked a Georgia federal judge to quash some subpoenas calculated to uncover facts about Team Prenda, it is perhaps understandable that he indulged in a little dig at his detractors:
In addition to the facial defects of the subpoenas, these subpoenas should be quashed because the “Google” and “Comcast” subpoenas are issued for the sole purpose of gathering information of third parties and the undersigned and putting them in display on such websites as “techdirt”, “dietrolldie” and “Popehat”.
Actually, I suspect that the purpose of the subpoenas is to gather evidence to test the theory that Team Prenda, far from being a victim of piracy of pornographic videos, deliberately posted the videos on piracy sites to attract downloaders in a scheme to manufacture copyright violation claims. Watch this space for a discussion of the legal significance of that theory.
Anyway, Mr. Nazaire's gripe was banal and unsurprising — but also rudely exclusionary. How could he have forgotten the site Fight Copyright Trolls, one of the most steadfast foes of Team Prenda? The proprietor of Fight Copyright Trolls wanted to know, too. So he wrote Mr. Nazaire, and got a response. And such a response!
Dear Mr. Nazaire,
In 2:12-cv-00262-WCO Document 68 (filed 08/26/13) you wrote:
10. In addition to the facial defects of the subpoenas, these subpoenas should be quashed because the “Google” and “Comcast” subpoenas are issued for the sole purpose of gathering information of third parties and the undersigned and putting them in display on such websites as “techdirt”, “dietrolldie” and “Popehat.”
I cannot express the extent of emotional distress this paragraph caused to the undersigned. You mentioned three of the major resources that cover Prenda, but failed to include my “fightcopyrighttrolls.” FYI, while my blog is not the oldest, it has the most extensive coverage of the Prenda soap opera: if you navigate to the “Prenda” tag (http://fightcopyrighttrolls.com/category/clans/prenda/), you will find 122 posts, not to mention numerous informative pages. Thus, not including “fightcopyrighttrolls” where it belongs is offensive and scandalous.
Please govern yourself accordingly and refrain from hurting my feelings in the future.
Very truly yours,
Quoth Mr. Nazaire in response:
I like your Mom. She's a nice lady but not so good in the sack. I guess she has too much mileage on that poon.
Tsk Tsk Tsk. All worn out.
You think that you are funny, huh?
How's that for funny?
Now, insulting somebody's mother is a venerable rhetorical device. It can be a stylized vehicle for creativity, as in a yo' momma competition, where it's not actually about any real person. (The geeky ones are the best. "Yo momma so fat, her patronus is a Ding Dong.") It can be delivered to inflame with some degree of style. ("I wrote a paragraph about your blog, SJD, but I left it on your mother's nightstand.") But it can also fall flat and just sound creepy and angry and needy. So it has here.
For someone who spends so much of his time angry, you would think that Mr. Nazaire would be better at it.
All of Popehat's Prenda coverage is collected here.
It's been three months since I wrote a substantive Prenda Law post. Frankly, covering the well-deserved downfall and destruction of Prenda and its various agents can get tedious. I'll be posting a cross-country update sometime in the next few weeks.
For now, consider one small incident.
I previously described an AF Holdings case in Georgia, where Attorney Jacques Nazaire, representing AF Holdings, indulged in some ridiculous rhetoric in opposing sanctions. For example:
10. The defendant should realize that California has different laws than Georgia, a different Governor than Georgia; a different legislative body than Georgia, different business needs than Georgia and different views than Georgia and as such all of its decisions cannot serve as a mandate for Georgia.
11. For example the California Courts have legalized gay marriage. Perry v. Schwarzenegger 704 F.Supp.2d 921 (N.D. Cal., 2010);Certified question, 628 F.3d 1191 (9th. Cir.); Answered 52 Cal.4th 1116 (2011) Affirmed, 671 F.3d 1052 (9th Cir.) Such a decision cannot serve as a mandate on Georgia Courts to legalize gay marriage as well.
Anyway, since then, things have continued to go badly for Prenda, AF Holdings, and Mr. Nazaire. The Georgia court gave the defendant leave to take discovery into Prenda Law's operations in aid of the defendant's motion for sanctions. The court also denied Mr. Nazaire's motion seeking to limit that discovery. Now, undaunted, Mr. Nazaire has asked again for a protective order on behalf of AF Holdings, complaining that the defendants' inquiries into Prenda Law are simply too voluminous and intrusive. As part of that motion, Mr. Nazaire attaches comments to various blog posts discussing his client, including the comments to my post, and complains as follows:
9. Additionally, the Plaintiff is respectfully requesting that any future filings in this case may be filed under seal. This case has generated much unneeded attention on the internet. Please see Exhibits N-S. While the writers listed in exhibits N-S have the right to post these articles, unfortunately, these articles and blogs have created an embarrassment, misleading characterizations and perhaps an unsafe environment for plaintiff’s counsel and third parties. As such, plaintiff is respectfully requesting that all future filings be permitted to be made under seal.
10. Plaintiff 1) understands that the articles attached hereto have not been authenticated and apologizes to this Court for the same. In such a short notice of time, it is difficult to authenticate these press releases and postings; however, a search on any search engine will prove these articles and postings to be real; and 2) Plaintiff is not criticizing the authors of the press releases and postings and realizes that the attached postings were meant to be humorous and not spiteful; nevertheless, those not familiar with this case may misinterpret said postings. This may lead to anger by those not quite familiar with the case but yet familiar with the captions. As such, it may be best for the court to allow sealing further filings (which may include addresses and personal information of the parties and counsels herein).
So: Mr. Nazaire seeks to hide not only exhibits and documents (which might be a reasonable request if they contained private information), but court pleadings discussing the merits and progress of the case — to spare "embarrassment."
O Mr. Nazaire. To the extent these paragraphs refer to my post, you are correct that I did not mean to be spiteful, and correct that I try to employ humor, but you leave out that I intended to convey disgust for your client's nationwide campaign, which at least one judge has already concluded constitutes a criminal enterprise. Of course, I represent people accused of crimes all the time; everyone is entitled to a vigorous defense. However, your arguments on behalf of your client were ridiculous, and so I ridiculed them, and will continue to do so. Some of your arguments are contemptible, and I hold them in contempt, and invite others to do so.
Mr. Nazaire, you will not find many people sympathetic to your belief that vigorous coverage of this case — of all of Prenda Law's cases — is "unneeded." In fact that coverage is quite needed — it is essential to assuring that justice is done and to exposing structural flaws in our judicial system.
Truly, Mr. Nazaire, I have feelings about you or anyone associated with AF Holdings — including but not limited to Mark Lutz' hypothetical unborn children — experiencing "embarrassment." To explain those feelings, I invite you to consider Prenda Law's recent extortionate threats to contact the neighbors of the targets. Are you experiencing more or less embarrassment than your client contemplates inflicting there, Mr. Nazaire?
Oho! You may protest. That letter was sent by Paul Duffy! I work for AF Holdings, controlled by Mark Lutz, laboring for the benefit of a trust that benefits children yet ungotten and unborn!
Why yes, Mr. Nazaire, that was Mr. Duffy. May I assume that's the same Paul Duffy who — according to metadata — drafted your most recent motion for a protective order complaining about embarrassment?
I can understand how you might prefer not to answer that question, Mr. Nazaire, being sensitive to posts that "lead to anger."
My dear Mr. Nazaire. Are you quite sure you have considered all of your options?
Will I write about Prenda again someday? Yes. Meanwhile here is a thread with open comments.
All of Popehat's Prenda coverage is collected here.
There have been many small-to-medium developments in the Prenda Law saga. I'm preparing for trial, so I won't be covering them any time soon. But I will leave you with one: a consequence for a Prenda Law lawyer in the Ninth Circuit.
You may recall that Prenda figure Paul Hansmeier has dabbled in representing people objecting to proposed class action settlements. Apparently Mr. Hansmeier was seeking admission to the bar of the Ninth Circuit in order to represent an objector on the Groupon class action. The Ninth Circuit, having seen Judge Wright's order, is less than welcoming in an order by an appellate commissioner:
On April 5, 2013, attorney Paul R. Hansmeier entered his notice of appearance as counsel of record for Objector-Appellant Padraigin Browne. At that time, Hansmeier’s application for admission to the bar of the Ninth Circuit was pending.
On May 15, 2013, the court ordered that Hansmeier’s application for admission be held in abeyance pending the outcome of his referral to the Minnesota State Bar and the Central District of California Standing Committee on Discipline in Ingenuity 13 LLC v. Doe, No. 2:12-cv-8333-ODW(JCx) (C.D. Cal. May 6, 2013) (Order Imposing Sanctions). See In re Hansmeier, No. 13-80114.
Because Hansmeier’s application for admission to the court’s bar cannot be approved at this time, he cannot represent parties in this appeal. See Fed. R. App. P. 46(a); 9th Cir. R. 46-1.2. Accordingly, within 14 days after the filing of this order, Hansmeier shall withdraw from this case. Hansmeier’s notice of withdrawal shall contain proof that he has informed Browne that Hansmeier cannot represent him in this court and that Browne may obtain new counsel or represent himself. Hansmeier’s notice of withdrawal shall also contain contact information for Browne unless a notice of substitution of counsel has been filed by the time Hansmeier files his notice of withdrawal.
Failure timely to comply with this order may result in sanctions.
In other words: no, Paul, you can't have admission to the Ninth Circuit until this is cleared up, and we won't let you represent a client before us in the interim.
Actions have consequences.
(Thanks to a tipster for word of this order)
All of Popehat's Prenda coverage is collected here.
When last we left the Prenda Law team, it was reeling from a devastating sanctions order and referral for criminal investigation. Now, as predicted, defense attorneys across the country are filing that order in cases brought on behalf of Prenda Law clients.
This has already led to one comical result.
You may remember that Attorney Jacques Nazaire, representing Prenda Law entity AF Holdings in Georgia, filed an angry and rather bizarre opposition to a defendant's motion for sanctions there. Now, in response to that defendant filing Judge Wright's order — which is what Judge Wright clearly contemplated, and which involves informing the Georgia federal court of an order that is patently relevant to the proceedings — Jacques Nazaire has doubled down and flipped out.
In his objections to defendant Patel's filing of Judge Wright's order about Prenda and AF Holdings, Nazaire argues that the filing is late and not authorized by the local rules, because it is effectively a "sur-reply" – that is, a reply to a reply. That's what just about any lawyer would say; it's within the realm of reason.
9. While this Court may or may not agree with some of the issues presented in
the California case, unbeknownst to the defendant, the California case will not necessarily become a mandate on this Court. It is solely within the discretion of this Court to follow or not follow the decisions made in the California case.
10. The defendant should realize that California has different laws than
Georgia, a different Governor than Georgia; a different legislative body than Georgia, different business needs than Georgia and different views than Georgia and as such all of its decisions cannot serve as a mandate for Georgia.
11. For example the California Courts have legalized gay marriage. Perry v.
Schwarzenegger 704 F.Supp.2d 921 (N.D. Cal., 2010);Certified question, 628 F.3d 1191 (9th. Cir.); Answered 52 Cal.4th 1116 (2011) Affirmed, 671 F.3d 1052 (9th Cir.) Such a decision cannot serve as a mandate on Georgia Courts to legalize gay marriage as well.
Sure, Nazaire is trying to make a point that the decisions of a United States District Judge in one state do not dictate the decisions of a United States District Judge in another state. But he's doing it in a hilariously silly and inflammatory way. Moreover, the core argument is misleading: both cases are copyright cases premised in federal law, and Judge Wright's decision was premised in federal law. This isn't a case about California or Georgia state law.
Nazaire then proceeds to start throwing Prenda principals under the now battered and flat-tired bus, suggesting he shouldn't be sanctioned:
19. Defendant also argues that plaintiff’s counsel should have made reasonable inquiry of the signature. Prior to filing the document, the undersigned contacted Prenda Law to find out whether or not Mr. Cooper would be available to testify at trial but was advised that they could not locate Mr. Cooper. The undersigned was advised that Mark Lutz and Peter Hansmeier would be available to testify as witnesses. Had the undersigned realized that the Electronic Frontier Foundation was hanging with Mr. Cooper, he would have been able to track down Mr. Cooper and questioned him about the documents. It turns out that Mr. Cooper was a caretaker of one of the properties of a Prenda Law member and had left said property in August, 2012.
20. Therefore, even if the undersigned had placed a knife to the throats of each of Prenda’s members, none would have been able to give him Mr. Cooper’s contact information at the time on November 5, 2012 when Plaintiff commenced its law suit. It is certainly not the first time a company has lost contact with an agent (or alleged agent as stated).
I'm going to give Mr. Nazaire Internet Points for responding to Star Trek references with a "Hangin' With Mr. Cooper" reference that is far more subtle.
Nazaire is also infuriated that his opposing counsel submitted one of his emails:
32. Additionally, an email containing information that was sent by the undersigned, in strict confidence, to Mr. Chintella was presented as evidence in that California case by Mr. Chintella. Chintella went behind plaintiff’s counsel’s back without any notification and submitted the email contents as evidence in order to influence the California case; the same case that now he presents to this Court as a mandate; the same Georgia case from which he intends to profit.
Yeah, here's the thing: if you write something to opposing counsel, especially in a case like this, you should expect it can get filed in court if it's relevant.
Nazaire's filing is furious and more than a little manic.
Is this real life?
All of Popehat's Prenda coverage is collected here.
Watchers of the Prenda Law saga have been waiting for United States District Judge Otis D. Wright II to issue an order in the wake of his apocalyptic hearing on proposed sanctions against Prenda Law, its putative client entities, and its lawyers. During that wait, doubt has set in. Could Judge Wright's order, after all this drama, possibly live up to expectations? Could any dry memorandum capture the jaw-dropping antics that have come before?
Last week we invited Cathy Gellis to guest-post her observations of a hearing in AF Holdings v. Navasca, a Prenda Law case. Today, she gets to guest-post the result: an order that may be the harbinger of how courts will treat Prenda Law and its associated Prendarasts. Cathy practices cyberlaw in the San Francisco Bay Area and maintains a blog at DigitalAgeDefense.org, exploring how criminal consequences have been attaching to technology use and development.
All of Popehat's Prenda coverage is collected here.
Later this week it will be World Intellectual Property Day, the day that the World Intellectual Property Organization has selected for us to appreciate all that intellectual property has to offer us.
Might that include the welcome, and potentially expensive, come-uppance of those who have sought to unjustly abuse its laws for their own enrichment? We are speaking in this instance, of course, of Prenda Law and the latest news of its self-induced misadventures in the San Francisco federal court.
When we last left our heroes Paul Duffy had managed to appear in open court and yet somehow seemingly not directly inculpate himself in Prenda Law's affairs, at least no more than he had done so previously. He was there because Prenda Law is now running for the exits, seeking to dismiss AF Holdings' case against defendant Joe Navasca "without prejudice" — meaning, with the option to re-file. In this particular case it needed the court's permission to do so. As Judge Chen noted in his devasting-to-Prenda ruling today:
Under [Federal Rule of Civil Procedure] Rule 41, a plaintiff may voluntarily dismiss without a court order by filing a notice of dismissal before the defendant serves an answer or a motion for summary judgment. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 41(a)(1)(A). Here, because Mr. Navasca has filed an answer, see Docket No. 20 (answer), AF may dismiss only by an order of this Court and on terms that the Court considers proper. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 41(a)(2).
Prenda did get the order it sought to drop the case — but not on terms it asked for, and certainly not on terms it's going to like.
The judge is always Wright
The ruling began with a summary of the case thus far, a calm, methodical, and accurate recounting that serves to buttress Judge Chen's ultimate decision. Lest there be any doubt, he knew what had happened in Los Angeles. After first discussing how Prenda Law had apparently tried to stay discovery to prevent the (ultimately disastrous deposition of AF Holdings' representative), the court continued:
It is possible that AF was motivated to seek a stay of discovery not only to deprive Mr. Navasca of evidence to oppose AF’s anticipated motion to reconsider but also to prevent adverse information from being brought to light which could be used against it in a proceeding before Judge Wright of the Central District of California. Notably, on February 7 – i.e., the same day that AF filed its motion to stay – Judge Wright issued an order to show cause as to why sanctions should not be issued against AF’s counsel based on, inter alia, the Alan Cooper problem. (emphasis added, more on that later)
[As a wag on Twitter said, "the Alan Cooper Problem" would be an excellent name for a band. — Ken]
The Judge Chen even noted in a footnote that Prenda Law asked for the stay that very evening. He then went on to note that "the day after Judge Wright’s order to show cause – or in the immediate days thereafter, AF and/or a related entity (Ingenuity 13) initiated voluntary dismissal of numerous copyright infringement cases that they had initiated in federal courts in California." For those cases Prenda Law was able to get out of them "without court intervention and without risk of liability for costs as the defendant had not answered or filed a motion for summary judgment.
But such a smooth escape was not an option here:
In the instant case, the Court finds that, if it were to dismiss AF’s action without prejudice, then Mr. Navasca would in fact suffer legal prejudice in that he would be deprived, at the very least, of the benefit of rulings favorable to him. In other words, the Court finds that AF is seeking to dismiss the case in order to avoid an adverse determination on the merits as well as the effect of other unfavorable, though not necessarily, dispositive rulings of this Court.
Judge Chen listed three examples of very real adverse rulings Prenda Law was facing, which I'll touch on in reverse order. One was that it was trying to avoid the consequences of the ruling requiring the undertaking (in other words, the ruling requiring them to post a bond to cover costs if it lost), like it had to face in the Trinh case. In that case Prenda Law's failure to make the undertaking allowed the defendant to move for an involuntary dismissal, thereby making it eligible for a fee award as a prevailing party. Given that Prenda Law really didn't want to pay for the undertaking in this, the Navasca case. Yet, as Judge Chen noted, Prenda was also unwilling to appeal the order requiring it to post the undertaking despite being given ample opportunity to. This case was therefore inevitably heading towards the same end as the Trinh one, a fate Prenda Law was now trying to dismiss itself out of in order to avoid.
Then there was the second example:
AF also risks an adverse determination on the merits as a result of the investigation that Judge Wright has been conducting in the cases before him in the Central District of California. As Mr. Navasca points out, it is telling that, the day after Judge Wright issued his order to show cause, AF and/or Ingenuity began to initiate voluntary dismissal of a number of cases that it had filed in California. If these cases had validity or if AF had a good chance of prevailing on the merits, then it is hard to imagine that it would give up all these cases.
And then there was the first example.
The Alan Cooper Problem
AF is likely to face an adverse determination on the merits because of its apparent inability to prove standing to assert its claim of copyright infringement. Throughout the proceedings before the Court, AF has never offered a declaration from its representative “Alan Cooper” showing that he was a signatory to the assignment document that purportedly transferred ownership of the copyrighted material at issue to AF.
The Alan Cooper problem is at the heart of Prenda Law's current troubles. Supposedly at some point, an actual copyright holder transferred its copyright to the purported AF Holdings. Had this all worked the way Prenda Law claimed, AF Holdings would now be in the position to fully enforce any rights that copyright entitled to it, just as the predecessor owner would have been. Prenda Law "has staked its position on the argument that the Copyright Act only requires proper authorization for assignment by the copyright transferror, not the transferee," Judge Chen summarized. And proper authorization by the transferor is, indeed, important; we saw what happened in the Righthaven cases when the transfer was improperly done (they ended up getting dismissed). But transferring the copyright is only the first step: it shows that someone has a copyright. It doesn't show that someone has standing to come into court to enforce it. Given that Prenda Law has been unable to substantiate who that someone is, all of these cases have become suspect on that basis. Judge Chen noted:
[I]t is telling that AF moved for a voluntary dismissal only two days after its 30(b)(6) deposition was taken, [that's referring to the ridiculous deposition of Paul Hansmeier as the representative of AF Holdings] during which problems related to its standing were explored and exposed by Mr. Navasca.
And the band of tiny violins played on
As to Prenda Law's arguments for why dismissal was not improper, the court was unimpressed. The complaints of spoliation (that is, destruction of evidence) were not compelling, and, indeed, Judge Chen noted the magistrate's earlier caution to Prenda Law that “allegations of spoliation are extremely serious” and that it should “review the facts very carefully before pursuing this avenue based solely on an eHow.com article. In particular, [AF] should review the expert declaration that Navasca filed with his letter brief, to fully understand the purpose and effect of CCleaner.” (emphasis added)
However, there is no evidence to suggest that AF did that or any other investigation into whether CCleaner would in fact irrevocably destroy electronic files. Furthermore, as the Court noted at the hearing, even if CCleaner did irrevocably destroy electronic files, that might actually work in AF’s favor; in other words, the stronger the evidence of improper spoliation, the better the chance AF stood of obtaining, e.g., an evidentiary sanction or adverse inference in its favor based on the spoliation.
As to the complaint that the undertaking made the case too expensive, the court was also unmoved. First, Prenda Law could have appealed the order but chose not to. It also could have tried to demonstrate its claimed poverty, but it didn't do that either. Instead it claimed the expense made the case not worth pursuing, to which Judge Chen declined to cry them the river they sought.
[T]o the extent AF suggests that it may be financially able to pay, but the bond is simply more than the value of the case, see Mot. at 2 (arguing that Plaintiff cannot “afford to tie up nearly $50,000 in capital simply in order to proceed with its claims against a single infringer”), it ignores the fact that a bond may be required in any given case in California (based on California specific law). As the plaintiff which initiated the action, AF knew at the outset that a bond might be required. A plaintiff cannot invoke the benefits of the judicial system without being prepared to satisfy its obligations as a litigant.
The court then noted that Prenda Law had tried the same move in the Magsumbol case, trying to withdraw the case before it could get hit with an undertaking requirement, an effort that was denied there too.
Alan Cooper's ghost
For all the aforementioned reasons, Prenda Law was granted its motion to dismiss, but with prejudice, thereby making the defendant, Mr. Navasca, a prevailing party able to pursue an award under the copyright statute for the fees he expended in having to defend himself in this case. However, although the ruling was issued today, April 23, it won't be entered (or put into effect) until April 29. That's because Prenda Law needs to do something first.
If you are just now tuning into coverage of this mess, Prenda Law's problem is that it sued ostensibly on behalf of an entity "AF Holdings," the entity that purportedly now owns the relevant copyright. But when called to account for who AF Holdings is, Prenda Law can't or won't do it, leading to the conclusion that it is none other than Prenda Law itself, which would at minimum violate court rules in bringing this litigation and may suggest even more wrongfulness given how it has obfuscated the ownership question. The Alan Cooper problem described above stems from certain paperwork allegedly "signed" by a Mr. Cooper that doesn't seem to exist, thereby creating a fundamental standing issue for all these cases, an which Judge Wright has diligently been exploring.
Ah, but Prenda Law has a workaround. See, AF Holdings is really owned by this trust, one apparently called "Salt Marsh." We learned from an angry, angry filing last week that "Salt Marsh" is arranged for the benefit of the as-of-yet hypothetical and unborn children of Mark Lutz, a former paralegal for Steele and Hansmeier. Who controls and speaks for Salt Marsh? That's not clear. But that didn't prevent Salt Marsh from having "signed" the ADR document earlier in this case. It was a pro forma filing, basically an attestation that each of the undersigned had read the court's rules about alternative dispute resolution (an option parties can often choose to pursue instead of full-on litigation). And it was signed by a "Salt Marsh," although one wonders how a non-human entity could possibly attest to reading anything. [Cathy is not a true geek and therefore doesn't know SHODAN. Forgive her. –Ken] There had to have been a human being behind that attestation. But whom?
That's what the court wants to know: Who actually signed?
Finally, the Court addresses Mr. Navasca’s request that it order AF to produce the original of an ADR certification that was e-filed by AF as Docket No. 8. The ADR certification that was e-filed does not contain any actual signature from an AF representative; rather, there is simply the following e-signature: “/s/ Salt Marsh, AF Holdings Owner.” Docket No. 8 (ADR certification). As Mr. Navasca points out, under the Civil Local Rules, AF’s counsel should have maintained a copy of the ADR certification containing the original signature as a part of its files. See Civ. L.R. 5-1(i)(3) (providing that, in the case of a Signatory who is not an ECF user, the actual filer of the document “shall maintain records . . . for subsequent production for the Court, if so ordered, or for inspection upon request by a party, until one year after the final resolution of the action (including appeal, if any)”). Because Mr. Navasca has asked the Court for relief encompassed by the Civil Local Rules, the Court grants the request. AF’s counsel is hereby ordered to produce the original of the ADR certification, containing the original signature of “Salt Marsh” by April 29, 2013. If AF’s current counsel does not have the original document, then it must contact former counsel to obtain the document. On April 29, AF’s current counsel shall also file a declaration with the Court, stating whether it was able to provide a copy of the original document and, if not, why not.
Like a con artist who's taken a few too many marks with his shell game, Prenda Law is being compelled by the court to reveal how its magic has worked. We'll see in a few days what it will say.
Ken's postscript: Thanks to Cathy for following up on her observations of the Navasca case. This order is a body blow to Prenda Law. Judge Chen — who recently awarded substantial attorney fees against the infamous Charles Carreon in a case in which Cathy is co-counsel [edited: oops, no it wasn't — that was a different judge] — is openly suggesting that Prenda's conduct suggests malfeasance and evasion of potential negative rulings. He invited Navasca to file a separate motion for fees, and this order strongly suggests that he will grant such a motion. Judge Chen's dismissal of Prenda's "it doesn't matter if Cooper's signature is forged" argument suggests that he suspects that Prenda's entire litigation strategy is premised on fraud — that Prenda has manufactured the dispute, and that AF Holdings is merely a front for Prenda Law lawyers. Finally, Judge Chen's order that Paul Duffy produce the original "Salt Marsh" signature presents a conundrum for Duffy. Brett Gibbs was Prenda's counsel in this case at the time when Prenda Law filed this case, and probably is the one with direct knowledge of the document purportedly electronically signed by Salt Marsh. Gibbs and Duffy are not currently on very friendly terms. If asked, what will Gibbs say? What can Duffy say under oath, in a declaration, about the Salt Marsh signature without digging himself deeper into this situation? It's bad, very bad, for Prenda — and like the transcript of the hearing before Judge Wright at which Prenda took the Fifth, you can expect attorneys across the country to file this order in Prenda Law's surviving cases.
All of my coverage of the Prenda Law saga is collected here.
When it comes to getting angry in federal court, perhaps I should not throw the first stone. After all, just a few days ago a federal judge was moved to tell me "Mr. White, calm down, you aren't arguing to a jury." [The result was nonetheless quite satisfactory, thank you.] And I rely upon partners and associates to tone my written work down. (A memorable example: "The SEC's proposed jury instructions find no support in the law or the facts of the case" is acceptable, "The jury instructions are not a vehicle for the SEC's attorneys to work out their self-esteem issues" is not.)
Nevertheless, I will offer this advice: don't file angry.
Attorney Jacques Nazaire, local counsel for Prenda Law putative client AF Holdings, has done just that down in Georgia. The result is not pretty.
I previously wrote about how Mr. Patel, a defendant in an AF Holdings case in federal court in Georgia, sought sanctions in response to AF Holdings' dismissal of the case. Jacques Nazaire has filed a very angry response and cross-motion for sanctions, together with Exhibit A, =Exhibit B, and Exhibit C. As we shall see, one of those is an extremely ill-considered declaration from mysterious Prenda Law figure Mark Lutz.
Many of Mr. Nazaire's arguments are now familiar: he says that there's nothing wrong with undisclosed attorney interests in plaintiff entities so long as the judge is not presented with a conflict of interest, and he repeats the now-familiar argument that it doesn't really matter if Alan Cooper's signature was forged on a copyright assignment.
But he also makes some interesting new arguments.
Underpants Gnome Logic
If I may briefly summarize a key component of Mr. Nazaire's argument:
1. We had a highly meritorious case against Mr. Patel.
2. Moreover, he defaulted, and that default should have stuck.
3. Plus he's made admissions that show he's liable.
5. So we've dismissed the case with prejudice, and there's nothing to see here, other than to note how strong our case was.
Well okay then.
How Dare You Say I'm Brett Gibbs' Lackey!
Amongst other things, Mr. Nazaire is very irritated at the suggestion that he was taking orders from Prenda Law figure Brett Gibbs, and wants you to know that he is his own man, exercising his own judgment:
From what has been put forth, Brett Gibbs is a fairly new attorney much like Defendant’s counsel. The undersigned, on the other hand, has over 16 years experience practicing law, has settled over millions of dollars worth of cases, including state and federal cases and has also served in Afghanistan as a Foreign Claims Commissioner, settling foreign claims in a war zone.
The undersigned would not assign Brett Gibbs to negotiate a left turn with his vehicle, let alone a settlement on behalf of a client, regardless of whether the case was venued in Georgia, California or Afghanistan. While Gibbs may be a pleasant young man, to assert that Plaintiff’s attorney takes orders from Brett Gibbs is absurd and laughable.
I'm sure Mr. Nazaire is very highly qualified. After all, as Fight Copyright Trolls points out, only a highly-qualified lawyer would advertise on Craigslist to make court appearances at $125 a pop. Craigslist is widely respected as the best place to find an experienced litigator, a gently-used futon, or someone to dress up like Herman Goering and poop on you.
That aside, Mr. Nazaire's argument that he's not taking orders from anybody is an odd strategic choice under these circumstances. I appreciate his choice not to blame problems on Brett Gibbs. I appreciate the creativity of pulling Brett Gibbs out from under the bus in order to tell him that he sucks. But I'm not sure about the full-throated "I'm in charge but there's nothing to see here" approach by a local counsel at this point, once Prenda Law's principals have taken the Fifth. Has Mr. Nazaire truly slaked his thirst with the Prenda Kool-Aid? Or is he very politely sparing Mssrs. Steele, Hansmeier, and Duffy the bother of throwing him under a bus, as they have rather unconvincingly done to Brett Gibbs? How very collegial.
EFFFFFFFF! From Hell's Heart I Stab At Thee!
Mr. Nazaire, like many Prendateers, is very upset with the Electronic Frontier Foundation. He accuses Mr. Patel's lawyer of being associated with EFF, which he describes like it's some kind of terrorist group:
One other important fact for the Court to consider is Chintella’s role as a panel attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation (“EFF”). (See https://www.eff.org/issues/file-sharing/subpoena-defense). The overriding mission of the EFF has been to shield the Internet from effective regulation—“defending it from the intrusion of territorial government.” Jack L. Goldsmith & Tim Wu, Who Controls the Internet?: Illusions of a Borderless World 18 (2006). This mission relies on undermining effective enforcement of intellectual property rights. Purporting to speak on behalf of “cyberspace,” a co-founder of EFF (who presently serves on its board of directors) has warned the “Governments of the Industrial World” that “[y]our legal concepts of property, expression, identity, movement, and context do not apply to us.” John Perry Barlow, A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace (Feb. 8, 1996), available at https://projects.eff.org/~barlow/Declaration-Final.html (as of April 17, 2013).
The EFF is a left wing organization which has some of the same goals as the anti-government group “Anonymous” as well as the terrorist group “Wikileaks”.
It is amusing, in a dark way, that Prenda Law and its local counsel continue to portray themselves as the righteous defenders of intellectual property rights. Were that so, you might find support from them amongst attorneys and organizations in the business of bittorrent litigation and other pursuits of online pirates. You won't. At most, you'll find consternation that the Prenda Law enterprise has inflicted a grave wound upon the credibility of online piracy litigation across the United States.
Mr. Nazaire further accuses the EFF of witness tampering — excuse me, witness "tempering" — because he hears they paid for Alan Cooper's travel to and from Los Angeles. He demands:
4) An order requiring Defendant’s counsel, who is a member of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) to disclose the total amount of monetary benefits received by Alan Cooper from the EFF and its members, agents, colleagues and followers. Should the case not be dismissed, an order scheduling a hearing into possible witness tempering [sic] by the EFF.
Mr. Nazaire explains:
Additionally, it is reported on the internet that Mitch Stoltz, a staff attorney with the EFF has stated that EFF took care of Cooper’s travel arrangements to testify in a California case. As such, any statements made by Mr. Cooper should be suspect. There is no evidence to suggest that Mr. Cooper has worked an honest day in his life. Rather, it appears that Mr. Cooper has spent his lifetime depending on the kindness of others. Logic dictates that the more Mr. Cooper testifies against those opposed to the EFF, the longer he is allowed to travel from state to state.
There are several things you should note about this argument.
First, notice the alacrity with which Mr. Nazaire traipses from "Mr. Patel's claims are speculation not supported by evidence" to "it is reported on the internet."
Second, remember the context. Alan Cooper didn't travel to Los Angeles for kicks. He didn't travel as a voluntary witness to support allies. He went because United States District Judge Otis D. Wright II ordered him to appear. There seems to be no dispute that he's a man of modest means. His testimony made it clear that he finds the whole experience confounding and terrifying. The evidence suggests he was repeatedly threatened with legal ruin by the slick, entirely vile John Steele. Plus, despite Mr. Nazaire's insinuation, there is no indication he's gone anywhere else to testify, let alone been paid by the EFF to do so. Under the circumstances, the EFF funding an involuntary witnesses' travel — an involuntary witness who may be the victim of identity fraud — is a mitzvah. I leave it to reader to assess the relative character of the EFF for doing it and Mr. Nazaire for attacking it.
Third, consider where Mr. Nazaire's comments leave us with respect to Prenda Law's position on Alan Cooper: even if you take everything they say at face value (a prospect that exhausts the world's bounteous supply of drooling credulity), it means that AF Holdings chose, as an officer or representative to sign its crucial legal documents, a man who has not "worked an honest day in his life" and is mentally ill and dangerous. Nevertheless, they would have you believe, you should accept AF Holdings as a legitimate enterprise and the lawyers conducting litigation on its behalf as trustworthy. How appealing does that sound to you?
I Did It For The Lutz
Responding to accusations that AF Holdings is a front for Prenda Lawyers, Mr. Nazaire supplies an undated affidavit from Prenda Law paralegal Mark Lutz. Mr. Lutz swears that a trust called "Salt Marsh" owns AF Holdings, and that the beneficiaries of "Salt Marsh" are Mr. Lutz's hypothetical and yet-unborn future children. (Damn you, Prenda, for making me refresh my memory of the horror that is the Rule Against Perpetuities!)
You may recall that Paul Hansmeier — offered by Prenda Law as AF Holdings' witness most knowledgeable about its origins and ownership — was unable to explain the nature or beneficiaries of the trust.
Let's sum up, then, what we know about Mark Lutz, and by extension AF Holdings. Mr. Lutz has been identified as a former paralegal for Steele & Hansmeier, a predecessor to Prenda Law. He showed up in court as a "corporate representative" of another Prenda Law entity, Sunlust, resulting in this thoroughly embarrassing exchange:
THE COURT: Mr. Lutz, you're under oath, you have to give truthful answers or you face penalties of perjury. Do you understand that?
MR. LUTZ: Yes.
THE COURT: What is your position with Sunlust?
MR. LUTZ: I'm a representative of them.
THE COURT: What does that mean?
MR. LUTZ: Corporate representative.
THE COURT: What does that mean?
MR. LUTZ: They asked me to appear on various matters throughout the country.
THE COURT: Are you an officer of the company?
MR. LUTZ: I'm not, no.
THE COURT: Are you authorized to bind the company to any legal contracts?
MR. LUTZ: I am not.
THE COURT: Are you salaried?
MR. LUTZ: No, 1099.
THE COURT: So you are a 1099 contracted entity and you just go around and sit in a Court and represent yourself to be the corporate representative of the company?
MR. LUTZ: Yes.
THE COURT: Mr. Torres, did you know this was Mr. Lutz's position, a paid corporate representative?
MR. TORRES: No, Your Honor, I did not.
THE COURT: Who is the president of Sunlust?
MR. LUTZ: I'm unaware.
THE COURT: Who is the vice president?
MR. LUTZ: I'm unaware
THE COURT: Who is the secretary?
MR. LUTZ: I have no idea.
THE COURT: Who owns Sunlust?
MR. LUTZ: I do not know.
THE COURT: Who signs your checks?
MR. LUTZ: I believe somebody in the accounting department.
THE COURT: What is their name?
MR. LUTZ: To be honest with you, I can't read the signature.
THE COURT: Where is the accounting department located?
MR. LUTZ: I'm sorry?
THE COURT: Where is the accounting department located?
MR. LUTZ: I've received checks from California.
THE COURT: How much are you paid monthly to be the corporate representative?
MR. LUTZ: Again, it depends on my appearances, the number of appearances that I do.
THE COURT: How much were you paid last month?
MR. LUTZ: Approximately $1,000.
Moreover, Paul Hansmeier — acting as AF Holdings' most knowledgeable person (not, it would seem, a particularly high bar) testified that Lutz is the CEO or "manager" of AF Holdings, but is not paid anything for that position, and despite being AF Holdings' sole employee, has arranged for Alan Cooper (whom Prenda Law now says is a crazy violent ne'er do well) to sign copyright assignments on behalf of AF Holdings, because Mark Lutz is a busy man:
Well, it would be speculation as
to why AF Holdings took one action or another. I would
say that, for example, you know, Mr. Lutz is an
individual. There are a certain number hours in a day
and for him to accomplish everything he's going to
accomplish in any given day, or for anyone in any
capacity in any business, you rely on third parties to
aid you to accomplish various tasks.
Meanwhile, Mark Lutz — who showed up at a hearing before Judge Wright without counsel, and apparently showed up as a corporate representative in a court in Florida dressed like he was going shrimping afterwards — may or may not have children in the future, and if he does, those children will be the beneficiaries of the trust that owns AF Holdings, which, we are assured, is a perfectly legitimate business conducting good-faith copyright litigation to protect its interests in movies. Those movies, by the way, have never yielded any money except through litigation, and that litigation has only yielded money to the Prenda Law lawyers and their related "experts."
Nonetheless, Mr. Nazaire will have you believe, it is outrageous and sanctionable for Mr. Patel to seek sanctions and ask the Georgia federal court to conclude an inquiry into whether Prenda Law and AF Holdings have concealed the true ownership of AF Holdings.
Gentle readers: draw your own conclusions.
Sure, What The Hell, Let's Bring In Booking Photo Extortion Too
Showing the sharp wit and unerring eye for palatable arguments that characterizes his entire brief, Mr. Nazaire also launches a personal attack on Mr. Patel's lawyer Blair Chintella. In a salvo that I'm sure the judge will find pertinent and not at all gratuitous, Mr. Nazaire asserts that Mr. Chintella is pursuing his own interests rather than the interests of his client, and asserts that Mr. Chintella has an unreasoning grudge against John Steele (the same John Steele Mr. Nazaire suggests is entirely irrelevant to this case):
Mr. Chintella perhaps believes that Mr. Steele has spread Chintella’s mug shot, from a 2011 DUI arrest, across the Internet. However, Mr. Chintella’s mug shot was circulated by infamous websites that post mug shots from public arrest records and demand monetary payment for their removal (www.bustedmugshots.com and www.justmugshots.com). Nevertheless, Plaintiff believes that Chintella’s acrimony towards Steele is important context for the Court to consider when reviewing Defendant’s motion, which seeks, inter alia, substantial relief against Steele, even though Steele is not a party or attorney involved in this case. Plaintiff’s attorney has a copy of the mugshot and can provide the same to the Court if so requested.
Truly Mr. Nazaire's distaste for "extortion" is touching.
Mr. Chintella may be mildly and temporarily embarrassed that a 2011 DUI arrest has been emphasized in a pleading in federal court. I suspect, however, that transitory and mild embarrassment will pale compared to the impact Mr. Nazaire's connection to this matter will have on his reputation. Potential local counsel for Prenda Law or the Prendateers, take note.
We invited Cathy Gellis to guest-post her observations of a Prenda hearing today. Hot on the heels from helping to secure an a hefty attorney fee award against the infamous Charles Carreon, Cathy Gellis went to court to check out the latest news from the Internet's other favorite lawyers. Cathy practices cyberlaw in the San Francisco Bay Area and maintains a blog at DigitalAgeDefense.org, exploring how criminal consequences have been attaching to technology use and development.
All of Popehat's Prenda coverage is collected here.
While most of the recent news involving Prenda Law has come from the case in front of Judge Wright in Los Angeles, it’s far from their only case. Apart from the Godfread/Cooper defamation cases and the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act cases the LA matter is just one of the hundreds of copyright cases the Prenda operation had deluged the courts with. But the LA case appears to be the case that has caused the entire Prenda Law house of cards to finally come crashing down. Like a high rise that has just been dynamited for demolition, the concussive force of its spectacular collapse is undermining the foundations of all its other cases as well.
The case so far
It began as a Prenda Law case usually begins: using questionable "forensics" to identify someone to target, first with threatening letters and then a lawsuit if they didn’t pay up. In this case, when Joe Navasca’s father didn’t capitulate, Prenda Law targeted the son instead. (Note: I’m including his name because it is now in the public record. And also to commend Mr. Navasca for standing up to these bullies.) Unfortunately for Prenda Law, the wheels of justice grind slowly, and some of its previous cases were starting to catch up with it just as this one began to lurch forward.
The default rule in American litigation is that everyone pays for their own lawyers. But some laws, the Copyright Act being one of them, have provisions so that the loser pays for both sides' lawyers. Fully denying all of Prenda Law’s allegations of infringement, and now aware of the allegations of malfeasance directed at the Prenda Law enterprise, Mr. Navasca reasonably expected Prenda Law to eventually lose the case it had brought against him and need to reimburse him for his attorney fees. But just because a judge may grant an award of attorney fees doesn't mean the money will ever be recovered; enforcing a judgment often presents its own expensive challenges, meaning a wronged defendant can still be saddled with the costs of his own defense. However the California Code of Civil Procedure has a provision, § 1030, to help mitigate that financial risk by allowing defendants in similar positions as Mr. Navasca to require plaintiffs to make an "undertaking;" that is, to post a bond that would guarantee, when the defendant inevitably wins his fees, that he would actually get the money. Citing that provision Mr. Navasca moved the court to require Prenda Law to make this undertaking. Naturally Prenda Law opposed this requirement in a filing I will leave to others to snark about that in order to continue the story.
Meanwhile, as the question of the undertaking was pending, the discovery stage of the case had begun. At first Prenda Law tried to hurry up and expedite the discovery over a very specious evidence spoliation concern, an attempt which got nowhere. (But note this topic for later.)
The day after rejecting the attempt to expedite discovery the court granted Mr. Navasca’s motion requiring Prenda Law to provide the undertaking, but agreed to stay the ruling (meaning, postpone whether it should be put into effect) in order to give Prenda Law a chance to move for the court to reconsider it, which it does not appear to have ever done. At this point Prenda Law decided that discovery was actually all happening way too fast and so moved to stay it (basically, to put it on pause) while the undertaking issue continued to pend. Mr. Navasca’s response to this motion basically boiled down to, "While we don’t necessarily have a problem with staying discovery generally, we do find it suspicious that you want to stay it right before we get to do our 30(b)(6) deposition of AF Holdings." The court denied Prenda Law’s motion to stay the discovery and the 30(b)(6) deposition of Paul Hansemeier went forward.
And what a deposition that turned out to be. (At today's hearing Judge Chen asked, "There was a 30(b)(6) depo. What happened?" but it seems clear he already knows.)
The deposition took place on February 19. On February 20, Paul Duffy moved to substitute for Brett Gibbs in the Navasca case, which the court granted on the 26th. Also on the 26th Prenda Law moved to "voluntarily dismiss" the case, whining about the judge's ruling on the undertaking, clearly hoping that would be the end of it and it could scurry off into the shadows.
Not so fast, responded Navasca’s attorneys, Nick Ranallo and Morgan Pietz, in a brief whose table of contents alone is eviscerating. You can’t just dump an expensive, unmeritorious lawsuit on an innocent defendant, certainly not by committing fraud on the court, and then simply walk away from it. You are at least going to need to pay us the fees we had to expend defending against it.
Paul Duffy's rocks and hard places
Paul Duffy has a problem. He's counsel of record for AF Holdings, to the extent that AF Holdings even is a client separate and distinct from Prenda Law. But in between the time he filed the motion for voluntary dismissal and now, the April 2 hearing in Los Angeles happened where he (among other Prenda Law people) plead the Fifth Amendment in refusing to answer questions about AF Holdings. This act put him in a bind: if he opened up his mouth in San Francisco to talk about AF Holdings it could inculpate him in its affairs. You can't assert the Fifth Amendment in some contexts and waive it in others, that's not the way it works. Anything he says about AF Holdings in some proceedings can and will be used against him in others.
On the other hand, as counsel to a purportedly separate and distinct client, he can't just blow off the hearing, even if that might be the best option for saving his own skin. AF Holdings, whoever it is, is staring down the barrel of a judgment on the order of tens of thousands of dollars against it. If it were truly a separate client it should be able to count on him to try to prevent such a judgment. Note: this doesn't mean the client could expect him to prevail, but it could expect him to at least give it the ol' college try. That meant that he couldn't just not show up (which apparently was what he did — or, er, didn't do — at a hearing yesterday in Illinois). He couldn't just withdraw as counsel, either, because that generally requires the court's permission once a lawsuit is underway in order to make sure a client isn't being left high and dry (see, for example, the earlier motion to substitute Duffy for Gibbs, which they needed the court to approve). Nor could he choose to just not argue, or purposefully argue badly, without abrogating his ethical duties to the client. But it was unclear what he could argue that wouldn't further implicate him in the misdealings of the Prenda Law enterprise.
The ol' college try
The above sets the stage for today's hearing, which was the third matter on Judge Chen's afternoon calendar. I've never appeared before Judge Chen, but I've now observed quite a few of his hearings (not just today, but also when I waited to serve Charles Carreon…). His demeanor is not terrifying; for the well-behaved attorneys appearing before him he seems to play a role almost like a mediator, efficiently absorbing facts, managing case logistics, and isolating areas of contention. For the less well-behaved his countenance appears to remain much the same, as he allows both sides ample time and opportunity to present all facts and arguments for his consideration. But should his calm patience ever delude counsel into taking him for a fool, a stinging pointed question, albeit very calmly made, will serve as notification of their error.
Duffy did, in fact, appear in person, despite his absence yesterday. Unfortunately he mumbled so much that even though I was in the front row of the gallery I didn't catch everything he said. The court reporter was much closer and presumably caught all of his equivocation, but there did seem to be an awful lot he didn't know. Which was particularly notable when confronted with questions about AF Holdings. "I have no personal knowledge," Duffy said in response to one such question, prompting Judge Chen to ask, "Well, what do you know?" and Mr. Ranallo to observe that, "There's been a pattern of no one knowing anything when the time comes" for them to give answers.
Duffy did, however, continue the pretense of being separate, disinterested counsel for this mysterious AF Holdings entity, despite all evidence of it, and him, being rolled up in the Prenda Law enterprise. And for what it's worth, his personal behavior was never really at issue today. The issue, as Judge Chen announced at the top of the proceeding, was whether the dismissal should be granted, and if so, whether it should be with prejudice (meaning AF Holdings would have essentially surrendered on the merits and could never refile this lawsuit ever again), and whether any attorney fees should be awarded to compensate the defendant for having been put through it.
(Actually, even before that Judge Chen began the proceeding with the more ominous, "I asked you to come here today in light of all the things that have happened.")
Why are you asking for this case to be dismissed, he first asked Duffy. There's two reasons, Duffy responded, one being that the $50,000 undertaking was too expensive. He argued the same in his reply to the opposition to dismiss the Navasca case, which basically whined that Prenda Law should not have to be burdened with needing to round up $50,000 in order to pursue a copyright case against a single infringer. Never mind that the court had previously been unimpressed by Prenda Law’s earlier pleas of poverty, the reality is that litigation is expensive. It’s expensive even for truly-wronged plaintiffs, who often can’t afford to sue to vindicate legitimate injuries, and it’s certainly expensive for innocent defendants. In the "Joys of Yiddish" Leo Rosten illustrated "chutzpah" as someone who has killed his parents asking the court for mercy because he’s an orphan. Were Mr. Rosten alive today I think he might update his book with Prenda Law's brief.
The other reason, he said, was that there was a problem of evidence spoliation, which I referred to briefly above. The defendant had been running a piece of software called CCleaner on his computer, and Duffy complained that it destroyed the evidence it needed to be able to prosecute the infringement claim.
At first blush, these complaints may sound quite reasonable (although, as Mr. Ranallo noted, neither had been raised in Prenda Law's initial motion to dismiss). But they are worth further scrutiny. For one thing, CCleaner had been running on the defendant's machine for more than a year before the lawsuit had been filed, a fact that alone deflects claims of spoliation. Secondly, its operation has no effect on the sorts of evidence Prenda Law might want to collect. Although the question of spoliation hadn't been fully adjudicated earlier because Prenda Law's complaints had been couched in a premature motion to compel, the magistrate ruling on the motion had looked into the issue and indicated the concerns appeared unfounded (note the exhibits to the filings linked above). In any case, as Judge Chen honed in on later in the hearing, usually a plaintiff is happy for there to be spoliation problems. "Normally if you argue spoliation, you win the case!" It seemed very strange, he observed, to give up because you are claiming spoliation (and, he asked later, if it really were such a problem, why did you wait to withdraw the case and not do so as soon as you learned of it?). In response Duffy fell back on the, "well, at $50,000 it was too expensive to continue the case" argument. But bear in mind, it's just a $50,000 undertaking, not a $50,000 forfeit. You get it back if you win.
But Prenda Law may have realized it wasn't going to win, and Judge Chen pointedly asked about that. "Why is this attempt to dismiss not simply an attempt to avoid adverse rulings?"
And that was the crux of the hearing as it in some ways went around and around in circles, with Duffy either arguing "it was too expensive to continue!" or "spoliation!" whenever he was losing ground on one or the other, trying to make it seem perfectly innocent to be dropping the case now and avoid all consequences for having pursued it. But Judge Chen did also seem curious about the ownership issues. Who is Salt Marsh, he asked at one point. Mr. Ranallo responded with a reference to the April 2 hearing when Mr. Duffy and others took the Fifth. "That tells us a lot about why this case is ending now." (To which Duffy protested, "This is a civil matter, that was a criminal one. You can't make inferences.") [Ken's note: Ars Technica heard some comments about Salt Marsh as well.]
Judge Chen's questions then turned to fees. Citing a case whose name I didn't fully catch but I think is this, he asked Mr. Ranallo about what portion of his claimed fees applied solely to defending this case and what could be leveraged in other cases. "There will be no subsequent suits," he answered. "Standing is blown." ("That's pure speculation as to the intent of the plaintiff," countered Duffy.)
Mr. Ranallo continued. Nearly all AF Holdings case have been dismissed in the same two weeks, even cases that had no undertaking requirement, and even a case where it had already won a default judgment. (Totally innocent, Duffy explained. It's simply because Gibbs had decided to quit.) The few cases that remain active are the Magsumbol case, where a voluntary dismissal had been denied, and the Trinh case, also in San Francisco, where a $40,000 undertaking had been required, but because Prenda Law hadn't posted it, the case got dismissed with prejudice, thereby making it the losing party and vulnerable to a fee order under the Copyright Act. The nightmare, and potentially very expensive, situation for Prenda Law is that either outcome happens here.
Ultimately, Judge Chen took the matter under submission — meaning that he could rule at any time.
In one sense it was somewhat disappointing that there was no Perry Mason moment, but as Ken has noted those moments rarely happen. The devil is in the little details and their implications as they are slowly revealed. The wheels of justice grind slowly, it's true, but as we continue to see, they do grind forward.
All of my coverage of the Prenda Law saga is collected here.
The Prenda Law crew has been up to shenanigans for many months, and Ars Technica and Techdirt and Die Troll Die and Fight Copyright Trolls were all doing great work covering them long before I took notice. I was preoccupied by crucial legal issues like Bigfoot and ponies and thus-and-such until Prenda Law blundered into my core area of interest: bogus defamation suits calculated to silence critics.
My first post about Prenda explained how Prenda Law and its principals Paul Duffy and John Steele filed three defamation suits in three federal districts against Alan Cooper (the man who accuses Prenda of stealing his identity as a front man for fake plaintiff entities), Paul Godfread (Cooper's lawyer), and various unnamed John Does. I also reported when Alan Cooper seized the initiative and filed counterclaims against Prenda Law and Paul Duffy. Steele shrewdly dismissed his defamation suit in Florida before Cooper could counterclaim.
Today there were updates in the defamation cases — anti-SLAPP motions filed by Godfread and Coooper. In addition, Morgan Pietz — whose defense of John Doe defendants has led to Prenda's downfall — filed his promised supplemental brief before Judge Wright. Meanwhile, in Florida and Arizona and San Francisco, attorneys nip at Prenda's heels.
April is the cruelest month for Prenda. You might want to grab a sandwich; there's a lot going on, and this will take a while.
All of my coverage of the Prenda Law saga is collected here.
After the April 2, 2013 hearing at which Prenda Law principals invoked their Fifth Amendment right to remain silent in response to Judge Wright's Order to Show Cause, Prenda's principals have been filing briefs setting forth their position. I previously described a quite good brief from attorneys for Prenda Law, Paul Duffy, and Angela Van Den Hemel, and a brief by attorneys for Paul Hansmeier.
This morning John Steele's brief appeared on PACER. (It may have been filed yesterday.) The brief is here. It is, by a considerable margin, the most truculent and blunt of the three filings. Steele repeats the same themes as his colleagues, and cites many of the same authorities, but does so more forcefully.
Jurisdiction and Limits On Judge Wright's Power Most of Steele's brief is concerned with limits on Judge Wright's sanction and contempt power and on his jurisdiction over Steele, some of which I discussed in my post on the tools available to Judge Wright. Steele's argument is that he wasn't counsel of record here, didn't engage in any conduct in this district, didn't sign or file anything in this district, that the evidence is insufficient to prove he directed any conduct in this district, and that Judge Wright lacks authority to sanction him for conduct in other districts. Steele also argues forcefully that Judge Wright has not accorded him sufficient due process to use sanctions or contempt power against him. The brief's review of the authorities explaining the limits of Judge Wright's various sanctions and contempt powers is thorough and strongly presented.
Like Hansmeier, in arguing that Judge Wright lacks power over him, Steele points the finger at Brett Gibbs, and argues that Gibb's testimony is inconsistent and inadequate to establish that Steele supervised or directed him:
Similarly, Prenda attorney Brett L. Gibbs’ testimony fails to support a finding of jurisdiction over Steele, as his testimony lacks specificity regarding Steele’s involvement in the subject cases or any California cases, and is otherwise inconsistent or contradicted by others. For example, although Gibbs claimed he was supervised by Steele and Hansmeier at Prenda Law, when pressed for specifics about the degree of supervision he received, Gibbs only offered that Steele and Hansmeier gave him authority to file certain cases here. See Dkt 108-5, at 77:8-24. Gibbs’ further testimony has revealed he had significant autonomy in handling the cases. See Dkt 108-5, at 77:25-78:4 (claiming Steele and Hansmeier “gave me certain parameters [pursuant to] which I could settle the case myself.”); see also Dkt 108-5, at 79:1-5 (regarding the decision to dismiss cases in this Court Gibbs noted: “As counsel of record here, I just kind of broke down like a cost benefit analysis of those cases. And they said, basically, go ahead and dismiss them.”); see also Dkt 58, at ¶5 (claiming Steele and Hansmeier provided him with “guidelines”).
Like his colleagues, Steele also argues that Judge Wright cannot draw adverse inferences from his invocation of the Fifth Amendment because Judge Wright initiated proceedings that were akin to contempt.
The Substance: Steele spends much less time on the substance of Judge Wright's inquiry. What time he spends is defiant and somewhat cavalier. Consider how he frames his response to the accusation that Prenda Law misappropriated the identity of Alan Cooper:
As both Gibbs and Prenda/Duffy/ Van Den Hemel noted in their Responses To The OSC, the Court is mistaken about the law in this regard; the signature of the assignee is irrelevant to the validity of the assignment, so long as the assignor signs. See Dkt 49, at 25:9-26:19; Dkt 108, at 11:24-12:9.; see also 17 U.S.C. 204(a). Lastly, the Court stated: “the Court will not idle while Plaintiff defrauds this institution.” Dkt 48, at 9:10-11. However, even if the Court were to discount the evidence submitted impugning Cooper’s credibility and blame Steele for this “fraud,” it hardly rises to the level of fraud upon the court recognized by the Ninth Circuit, i.e., “a fraud perpetrated by officers of the court so that the judicial machinery cannot perform in the usual manner its impartial task of adjudging cases that are presented for adjudication.” In re Intermagnetics Am., Inc., 926 F.2d 912, 916 (9th Cir. 1991)
The argument that a forged signature by Cooper would be immaterial is familiar; the additional argument that it is not any big deal is new, and tactically questionable.
Arguing in court often means finding an effective way to tell a judge he or she is wrong. Usually this involves a certain level of finesse. Sometimes it doesn't:
Regarding any other alleged fraud the Court may consider, as Section III above makes clear, except in rare circumstances not present here, this Court is not empowered to sanction Steele or anyone else based on conduct occurring entirely outside of the subject cases and the Central District. Based on its prior statements, the Court may have erroneously felt otherwise before. Dkt 108-5, at 29:14-22 (over Gibbs’ counsel’s objection that the Court’s inquiry about non-Central District cases was “beyond the scope of the OSC,” and “not what this OSC is about,” the Court responded: “Well, it has become
about it. It has become about fraudulent filings in federal court” generally). [emphasis added]
Or consider this:
Although the Court has not specified the sanctionable misrepresentations it is referring to, the Court has apparently concluded such misrepresentations have occurred. See Dkt 86, at 1:28- 2:2 (“it appears that these persons, and their related entities, may have defrauded the Court through their acts and representations in these cases.”); Dkt 108-5, at 58:21-25 (wherein the Court implies officers of the court have knowingly made misrepresentations to the court). Disturbingly, the Court’s apparent conclusions about the relationships between the persons and entities named in the March 14, 2013 OSC wholly ignores evidence to the contrary Compare, e.g., Dkt. 69-1, pp. 21:18-2, 38:22-39:15, 40:8-12 (regarding who owns AF Holdings) with Dkt 108-5, at 114:5-8 (I do have the picture, and I know who the client is. We have talked about the client, and the client has been running everything. Yeah, I know who the client is”); see also Dkt 108-5at 19:15-18 (suggesting Prenda law is “controlled by Mr. Steele.”)[emphasis added]
Steele's other substantive arguments are now familiar: he asserts that the evidence is inadequate to show that he was involved in any part of the conduct of the litigation before Judge Wright and therefore cannot be subject to sanctions, and that the notice of the March 11, 2013 hearing was inadequate and that therefore he cannot be sanctioned for failure to appear. Steele, as his circumstances require, is mum about the actual ownership of the Prenda Law clients, or whether he has any financial interest in them.
The Battle and the War: John Steele's brief is not calculated to persuade Judge Wright. It's not even calculated to avoid antagonizing him. Rather, it's calculated to make a record for appeal. In fact, I suspect the brief is calculated at least in part to goad Judge Wright into issuing an overbroad order that is vulnerable when appealed to the Ninth Circuit.
Steele is playing a dangerous game, and one that is focused on his own short-term survival rather than any possible future viability of Prenda Law or its potential spinoffs. In an effort to attack the adequacy of the evidence in this case, he's attacked Brett Gibbs and left him holding the bag. That might be good battle-tactics, but it's problematical strategically — in the long term, I wonder what emails or other documents Gibbs might have that he can provide to courts or other authorities. Gibbs is well-represented, shouldn't take the fall for Prenda Law, and won't. Moreover, Steele's blunt and defiant response won't play well in front of any other court or tribunal across the country when Prenda Law defendants begin to seek sanctions or fees or investigations in those cases.
The wheels grind slowly. But they grind, my friends. They grind.
All of my coverage of the Prenda Law saga is collected here.
Last night I talked about a new filing by Prenda Law, Paul Duffy, and Angela Van Den Hemel in response to Judge Wright's OSC.
Today, Prenda Law principal Paul Hansmeier has filed a brief. The brief is here, a supporting declaration from his attorney is here, Exhibit A is here, and Exhibit B is here.
Hansmeier's brief echoes the structure, and many of the arguments, of the longer and more detailed brief that Heather Rosing filed yesterday. In some cases it incorporates that brief by reference. The notable new points are these:
The Fifth Amendment Issue: Hansmeier expands on the argument that Judge Wright's OSC proceedings were akin to criminal proceedings, and that therefore Judge Wright may not draw negative inferences from Paul Hansmeier's invocation of his Fifth Amendment rights. Hansmeier adds some additional authorities to support that point.
Hey Brett Gibbs, Something's Wrong With the Underside of That Bus. Can You Go Check It Out For Me? Hansmeier's primary argument against sanctions is that he did not participate in this litigation or supervise conduct by Brett Gibbs, and that Gibbs' testimony to the contrary should not be accepted. Hansmeier says that Gibbs never claimed to be supervised by others "until threatened with sanctions," and that in a declaration filed in a matter in Florida (attached as Exhibit B) Gibbs described his job without mentioning any such supervision. Hansmeier asserts that he was not involved in the investigation or litigation of the matters before Judge Wright and therefore not responsible for what Brett Gibbs did. He attacks, for instance, Gibbs' testimony that Gibbs passed along Judge Wright's order staying discovery to Hansmeier:
Outside of Gibbs’ testimony, there is no evidence that Gibbs instructed Hansmeier to instruct Respondent Van Den Hemel to instruct Verizon to not comply with the subpoenas issued months before the court’s order to cease discovery efforts. Such an instruction would be incompatible with Gibbs’ earlier characterization of Hansmeier as a supervising attorney; supervisory relationships are typically a one way
So: Hansmeier didn't supervise Gibbs, which you know because Gibbs didn't mention it before, and Gibbs didn't pass along Judge Wright's order to Hansmeier, because you wouldn't do that to a supervisor. Gotcha.
Alan Cooper Contains Multitudes: What does Paul Hansmeier have to say about Alan Cooper's claim that his identity was stolen? Hansmeier says there's no evidence he is involved in any such — well, I'll let him explain:
Further, there is no evidence that Hansmeier obtained or represented that the signatures on the assignments over the name Alan Cooper were those of John Steele’s former caretaker, who bears that same name and who provided testimony to the court.
If you're paying attention, you'll see that Paul Hansmeier just coyly evaded the question of whether the "Alan Cooper" of AF Holdings is, or is not, the Alan Cooper who testified. He merely points out that Alan Cooper testified that he didn't talk to Hansmeier, and that there's no other evidence that Hansmeier secured the Alan Cooper signatures.
Interest? What Interest? Paul Hansmeier argues that there is no evidence that he concealed any financial interests in the Prenda Law plaintiffs, and repeats the now-familiar argument that any such concealment would be immaterial anyway. He also offers this:
But, the only evidence given regarding the financial interests to AF Holdings is that it is a limited liability company formed by Aisha Sargeant in May 2011 and is wholly owned by a trust with no defined beneficiaries. (ECF 69-1, pp. 21:18-2, 38:22-39:15, 40:8-12.) There has been no evidence that Hansmeier has an ownership interest in either AF Holdings or Ingenuity 13.2
Note that Hansmeier is referring to his own incredible deposition which Judge Wright aptly characterized as showing "so much obstruction" that "it's obvious that someone has an awful lot to hide." Paul Hansmeier had been presented at that deposition by AF Holdings as that entity's most qualified witness about AF Holdings' affairs. Hansmeier is therefore complaining that the record of AF Holdings' ownership is inadequate because it is based only on Hansmeier's own testimony in his role as the best witness for AF Holdings. This is, perhaps, not the most viscerally appealing argument anybody ever made.
Hansmeier's brief is decent, wisely relying on points deftly made by Rosing. But that farcical deposition Hansmeier gave will remain the albatross around his neck. It was a damned foolish way to act, emblematic of a hubristic crew of merely modest ability who believed that they could do what they wanted with impunity. That did not prove to be the case.
All of my coverage of the Prenda Law saga is collected here.
Two Prenda posts in a day may seem gratuitous. But I go where PACER leads me.
Late today Heather Rosing — currently counsel for the entity Prenda Law, Prenda principal Paul Duffy, and paralegal Angela Van Den Hemel — filed a brief in response to Judge Wright's latest Order to Show Cause. You may recall that Judge Wright told her she could do so at the April 2, 2013 hearing.
In this post I will review the arguments in the brief and discuss their significance for the fortunes of Prenda Law and its principals. Let me begin with this: Rosing has filed the best brief I have seen from Penda's side during this whole wretched story. Briefs by Prenda's own lawyers responding to accusations of misconduct have been smug, angry, evasive, and self-righteous. Rosing's brief is professional. It makes colorable arguments, and supports them with authority where there is authority to be had. There's no perfect way to tell an angry federal judge he lacks jurisdiction; she strikes a tone that's firm but respectful. It's well written, well organized, and as comprehensive as prudence permits. This is good work.
But what does it say?