Why did I stop writing about the travails of Team Prenda?
Because it got extremely tedious, that's why.
I started writing about Prenda Law as a vehicle to illuminate things about the legal system and how it works. But Prenda isn't representative of the system. It isn't representative because Team Prenda and their lawyers have grown steadily more cartoonish and surreal. It isn't representative because other villains get away with abusing the system all the time and don't face consequences like Team Prenda has. It isn't representative because media scrutiny and Prenda's bald-faced fucknucklery have inspired courts to devote unprecedented time and resources to relatively minor matters.
Journalists and bloggers like me have tried to turn Prenda Law into a big story. It isn't one. Paul Hansmeier is fond of the phrase "welcome to the big leagues." Actual big-leaguers don't say that, and don't need to. It's the sort of thing you say to impress a new salesman if you are the poly-blend-clad assistant manager of a Subaru dealership in Modesto. Team Prenda made a few million dollars, but they've never been in the big leagues, and never will be. They are small-time grifters with small-time hearts — petty, grasping, and trite, possessed of a low cunning but no real talent, no class, and no common sense. Following them to comment upon the legal system is like explaining education by laboriously documenting the movements of a C- sophomore who got kicked off yearbook and periodically shits himself.
All of that said, Prenda managed to have a notably bad day last week.
You may recall that Prenda, wearing its dinner-theater guise of Lightspeed Media, engaged in foolish and unsuccessful litigation in Illinois. Team Prenda sued a John Doe and tried to subpoena ISPs; when the ISPs resisted, Team Prenda sued them on the theory that they were co-conspirators with illegal downloaders. That was when Team Prenda was still brash and smirking, before its whole world turned brown and dank. Team Prenda dismissed the case when its nationwide fortunes shifted, but not soon enough — the court hit Duffy, Steele, and Hansmeier with more than $261,000 in attorney fees as a sanction. Team Prenda blustered, claimed lack of due process, and pled poverty, all to no avail.
Now the United States Court of Appeal for the Seventh Circuit has issued a bunker-busting opinion affirming the vast sanctions award. I've uploaded the opinion here. I could describe the parts that are worst for Duffy, Steele, and Hansmeier, but nearly every paragraph is both terrible and quotable. Joe Mullin and Mike Masnick have the details. In short, the Seventh Circuit called bullshit on every argument Duffy, Hansmeier, and Steele have been offering across the country — that they haven't been given proper notice of sanctions motions, that there are inadequate grounds to find they have committed nationwide misconduct, that they don't have money to pay sanctions, and that they are not actually part of a unified enterprise. I've seen opinions affirming criminal convictions that were substantially more flattering to the appellants.
The significance is not just that Prenda has lost badly in this case, or that Duffy, Hansmeier, and Steele must pay not only the hefty attorney fees but the costs on appeal. The significance is that now one of the United States Court of Appeals has noted and summed up Prenda's scheme and rejected the same arguments that Prenda is using in trial and appellate courts across the country. Courts work through precedent. This sets a very substantial one; it can't be written off as one district judge going rogue. The Seventh Circuit just made it substantially easier for every other court in the country to reject Prenda's arguments briefly, if not summarily.
Can things get worse for Prenda? I find that if you have to ask that question, the answer is usually "yes." There are more appellate courts set to hear argument on Prenda's appeals of sanctions orders. Investigations by state bars and federal prosecutors likely loom. This opinion represents a senior court effectively recognizing Team Prenda for what it is: a criminal enterprise.
But a small one.
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