by Mike Masnick
Thu, May 23rd 2013 7:58am
by Mike Masnick
Tue, May 21st 2013 11:19pm
from the walking-the-tight-rope dept
Perhaps the legal experts here can fill in the specifics about this one. I believe that the judge could continue to seek sanctions from Team Prenda if she feels it's appropriate, or if something improper happened, but it seems a lot less likely that this will happen now that Nguyen/Syfert have effectively bowed out of the case. Considering how deeply interested in the specifics the judge in this case had been, this is unfortunate. Yes, we already have Judge Wright's ruling on a similar matter in California, but having other courts come to the same conclusion seems like it would be useful.
Then we have the other Prenda case in Northern California, where the judge had become curious as to who exactly had signed a form on behalf of "Salt Marsh," ordering the original document to be produced. Last week, Paul Duffy claimed ignorance and tried to throw Brett Gibbs under the bus (again). Meanwhile, former Prenda paralegal/claimed boss of AF Holdings/Ingenuity 13, Mark Lutz, suggested that he had signed "on behalf of Salt Marsh" but no longer had the original. The judge could have dug deeper on that, but apparently has decided to let it go, saying that the question about Salt Marsh was "substantially complied with" and is ending the case.
Because AF's counsel has now substantially complied with the Court's order, the Court sees no basis to continue deferring a final judgment.That means that particular case will also be closed. So, assuming the Florida case is similarly closed, that will leave the Judge Wright ruling in Central California as the only main battleground concerning the overall nature of Prenda's antics over the past few years.
by Mike Masnick
Thu, May 16th 2013 10:52am
from the putting-lives-in-danger dept
But, of course, various governments hate that idea, because it would decrease the massive revenue from red light camera fines. That's why over and over and over again, we see that various governments are caught redhanded lowering the time for yellow lights. Make no mistake about it: this increases the danger, and puts many more people at risk. Stupidly, it probably also could end up costing the city more in terms of having to respond to more accidents and deal with more injuries. But, boy, I'm sure it pumps up the revenue on red light camera violations.
The latest example of this comes via Darby Keene, who points out that the Florida Department of Transportation quietly tweaked its own standards for yellow light intervals in 2011, allowing them to be shorter without breaking the law (after many cities have been caught violating official standards). And, of course, various cities quickly did lower the interval timing. Yes, revenue at the expense of public safety. Research has shown that reducing the time of a yellow light by a mere half a second can double the number of red light camera citations -- and in some cases, the changes to FDOT's regulations meant cities reduced the length of a yellow light by an entire second. Smell that? It's the smell of revenue for cities, intermingled with wrecked cars and destroyed lives!
Even worse: while FDOT is claiming that it changed its regulations to clean up some wording, and not because of potential revenue, the report from WTSP, also found emails from FDOT engineers telling local government officials to lower their yellow light intervals to the absolute minimums allowed. That is, they weren't even saying it was just an option, they were being told to decrease the timing to make the intersection less safe, but more profitable.
And, while FDOT defended the whole thing claiming that they changed the policies to "match federal guidelines," the report explains that federal guidelines actually recommend longer yellow light times, just as we discussed above.
Don't you feel safer now?
A USDOT/Federal Highway Administration (FHA) report said cities should not use speed limit in the yellow interval equation because it results "in more red light violations and higher crash rates." And if drivers' average speeds cannot be calculated, it's recommended engineers use the "speed limit plus 10 mph" variable to producing more conservative, and safer, yellow intervals.
Another report stresses the importance of using 85th percentile speed to calculate yellow intervals, while slide 28 on this report indicates when yellow light times are lengthened, severe crashes drop.
USDOT also recommends an extra half-second of yellow time at intersections with lots of trucks or elderly drivers to allow them to react safely. And despite the fact that Greater Tampa Bay is home to five of the nation's 12 oldest counties (by median age), it's also home to some of the shortest yellow lights.
by Tim Cushing
Wed, Apr 3rd 2013 11:12am
from the is-actually-
April Fool's Day. Either you love it or you hate it. There's not much middle ground. As a writer on The Internet, April Fool's Day is a 24-hour deathtrap composed of plausible stories that will set you on fire the moment you press the Publish button. It turns even the most cheerful of writers into a deeply cynical curmudgeon, one who approaches each possible scoop with more suspicion than the heavily-bearded guy down the street who's building a bunker under his garage and frequently answers the door wearing nothing but a shotgun. (Much of this reverts back to normal following the "holiday," but each year adds another layer of resentful suspicion. In fact, if you cut open a writer, you can simply count the rings to determine how many years they've been in the business.)
For many people, though, April Fool's Day is a 24-hour period filled with lighthearted pranks and sub-Onion quasi-satire. They love cheerful shenanigans and they love being fooled. Except when they don't. Then it's suddenly "gone too far" and concerned foolees start pressing for "something to be done about it." This is one of those stories, the kind where you can't fool all of the people all of the time, but you can temporarily fool enough of them that someone gets seriously pissed off.
Florida country radio morning-show hosts Val St. John and Scott Fish are currently serving indefinite suspensions and possibly worse over a successful April Fools' Day prank. They told their listeners that "dihydrogen monoxide" was coming out of the taps throughout the Fort Myers area.If you're not familiar with the term "dihydrogen monoxide," you'll be thrilled to know that the compound is damn near everywhere. Not only that, but its ubiquity has prompted many a petition to be signed fervently in favor of banning the dangerous-sounding substance completely. No one's really sure what makes it so dangerous, but anything containing two parts hydrogen and one part oxygen can't be completely safe.
Of course, anyone who's paid attention over the last couple of decades (at least) knows that dihydrogen monoxide is water. What's surprising is that a couple of pranking DJs could find enough people unaware of this fact to a.) pull off the prank and b.) possibly face felony charges. Wait... what?
[A]pparently, the station, the water works, and perhaps the authorities are still trying to figure out if the two hosts could face felony charges for, again, reporting that the scientific name of water was coming out of the pipes. "My understanding is it is a felony to call in a false water quality issue," Diane Holm, a public information officer for Lee County, told WTSP, while Renda stood firm about his deejays: "They will have to deal with the circumstances."It seems unlikely the DJ duo will actually face felony charges, but they are currently suspended after being yanked off the air in the middle of their morning show. Apparently, enough people expressed their concern about dihydrogen monoxide leakage that the local water utility was forced to issue a statement.
These reactions to an April Fool's prank that occurred on a day when pranks are to be expected seem rather overblown. The DJs are suspended indefinitely for technically telling the truth and the station has indicated the pair are facing additional punishment. Sure, nobody wants to feel like a fool, but that is the totality of April 1st. If this many people can't take being taken for a ride on the foolingest day of the year, then it's a clear sign that the national sense of humor is in critical condition. (We've already eulogized the national sense of proportion and scattered its ashes across a variety of moral panics and Terms of Service outrages.) To put it in more familiar terms, "If you can't laugh at yourself, the terrorists win."
[It appears the terrorists have won. (Again.) A poll on the radio station's website (warning: ads frickin' everywhere even with Adblock) shows that 78% of the respondents believe the DJs should return to the airwaves "never." (Poll is no longer live, but an "indefinite" suspension could technically lead to returning "never.")]
by Mike Masnick
Tue, Mar 26th 2013 3:40pm
Florida Homeowner's Association Sues Resident For Critical Blog Comments, Seeks Identity Of Other Commenters
from the but-of-course dept
And the thing is, every time I ever hear anything about HOAs, it always seems to involve some similar crazy story. A few months back, we wrote about an HOA president in Indiana going ballistic with bogus legal threats towards pretty much anyone who criticized him. And now, here's a story out of Naples, Florida, where an HOA for "Fiddler's Creek" is using homeowners' fees to sue one of their own homeowners, a resident named James Schutt, because he made some comments the HOA board members don't like on a blog about the community.
You can see the actual comments in the original lawsuit. I read them over and my first reaction was "they're suing over that?!" Basically, it sounds like a typical HOA fight. Schutt isn't thrilled with how the HOA is being run, and he accuses them of failing their fiduciary responsibility, and he feels that some of the things the HOA pays for -- such as management -- are excessive and possibly corrupt. You see these kinds of things all the time. Even if they're not exactly true, they're standard rhetorical hyperbole that happens online. Get over it and move on. Instead, the HOA sued.
It seems pretty clear that this is a SLAPP lawsuit, designed to shut up Schutt and potentially other critics. Schutt is being defended by Marc Randazza (a name many of you will hopefully recognize) who let us know that the HOA is seeking to depose the blogger and are trying to "out" other anonymous commenters on the blog (to clarify, Schutt is not the blog owner, but was merely a commenter). The fact that the HOA is now trying to out other anonymous commenters certainly adds weight to the idea that this is a SLAPP suit designed to shut up critics. The blogger is pushing back but the anonymous commenters themselves might want to find some legal representation to protect their own rights as well, and to make sure that their identities aren't disclosed due to baseless threats that seem designed solely to create a chilling effect on critics of the HOA.
Did I mention that I no longer live anywhere near an HOA... and I have fantastic neighbors who all seem to get along splendidly with each other?
by Mike Masnick
Mon, Mar 4th 2013 5:34am
from the grab-some-popcorn dept
These are basically defamation lawsuits with a few other claims thrown in as well. There are two named defendants in the lawsuit: Alan Cooper (a caretaker for a home of John Steele, who has accused Steele/Prenda of illegally using his name as "CEO" of companies Ingenuity 13 and AF Holdings) and Paul Godfread, Cooper's lawyer, who filed the letter alerting some judges to these concerns, and then followed it up by filing a lawsuit against Steele and Prenda on behalf of Cooper.
The other targets of the lawsuit are a bunch of unnamed John Does (and if these guys have expertise in anything, it's filing lawsuits that involve John Does), who are... a bunch of anonymous commentators concerning the various Prenda Lawsuits. It looks like they're targeting people on the two main copyright troll tracking websites out there, FightCopyrightTrolls.com and DieTrollDie.com. It's worth noting that both sites were the subject of a nice profile article in Ars Technica last week.
The three filings are similar, but not identical. The Prenda one and the Duffy one are almost identical, but the Steele one is different in a few ways, including focusing on lots and lots and lots of statements specifically about Steele. Steele's suit also does not make the "false light" claim, which means he actually realized that Florida has rejected "false light" as a tort in that state.
Still, all three suits read like obvious SLAPP suits, targeting online critics. The fact that they target Cooper and Godfread, who have a lawsuit pending against them, is ridiculous. That they then go after anonymous bloggers and commenters who have been revealing and calling attention to some of Prenda's more questionable moves seems like an obvious SLAPP situation, in which they appear to be using the lawsuit to create chilling effects and to stifle speech. Looking over the long list of quotes they pull out in the various lawsuits, the vast majority seem to be clear statements of opinion, rather than fact. And even when you could argue some of them are statements of fact -- such as referring to anyone associated with Prenda as a "criminal" or a "scammer" or calling Prenda a "fraud" or similar such things -- courts have increasingly noted that name calling in online forums does not reach the level of defamation, since the context matters. That's no guarantee, as those rulings are still limited, but it's at least a sign that these lawsuits may be overreaching in their claims (which, of course, is a key component of a SLAPP).
It is not uncommon for people in comments on blogs to go a bit far in some of their claims (and even the main authors of the two blogs above sometimes seem to make pretty strong statements that may not be fully supported by the evidence presented). However, to take that to the level of defamation feels like a pretty big stretch. If anything, these lawsuits seem more likely to be attempts to first "out" the folks behind those blogs (and some of the nastier comments) and, barring that, to scare them with chilling effects.
Of course, one interesting thing: the best defense against defamation claims, obviously, is the truth. And, it would seem that, in filing these lawsuits, Steele, Duffy and Prenda may have opened themselves up to pretty wide discovery efforts which may turn up things they probably would rather not have in court. That point alone has me wondering why they'd take this step.
On top of that, the lawsuits note that the plaintiffs are not public figures, which sets the bar much lower for defamation. Paul Duffy might be able to get away with such a claim, but John Steele would seem to have a lot more difficulty. After all, he's been the subject of detailed profiles in Forbes Magazine (which he happily participated in). Forbes doesn't do profile stories on nobodies.
It would seem important to note that both Illinois and Florida have passed anti-SLAPP laws. Florida's are fairly narrowly defined, however, and may not be useful here. Illinois, however, has as broader anti-SLAPP law that has sometimes been interpreted narrowly. Both of these are reminders for why we desperately need a federal anti-SLAPP law.
It appears that, at least for now, Steele and Duffy are representing themselves, while Prenda has another law firm representing the firm. Cooper and Godfread have signed up lawyers to represent them in both Illinois and Florida (in Illinois the lawyers, Erin Russell and Jason Sweet, both have a decently established history of fighting Prenda cases, and while I wasn't familiar with the name, the same appears to be true of Brad Patrick, who is representing them in Florida).
As always with Prenda/Steele, every time you think a story can't possibly get crazier, it seems to take another massive curve in the road. At some point, when this is all over, there's going to be an amazing book to be written about the rise (and, most likely, fall) of John Steele and his adventures in copyright trolling. The story is gripping.
by Tim Cushing
Wed, Feb 13th 2013 7:39am
from the we-NEED-to-throw-this-money-down-a-hole,-but-WHICH-ONE? dept
"Can you tell me why video games need a tax incentive?" Sen. Eleanor Sobel, D-Hollywood, asked Department of Economic Opportunity Executive Director Jesse Panuccio at one point.They may be right -- these tax incentives aren't paying off. After all, EA received $9.1 million during the 2011-12 fiscal year and is looking to score another $14.5 million to underwrite (full retail price!) roster updates for Madden NFL, NCAA Football and the latest iteration of Tiger Woods PGA Tour. EA, which has been in Central Florida since long before the subsidy train started rolling, defended its grab of state incentives by saying the money has "motivated the company to expand its Central Florida workforce during the last three years." That may be true about the last three years, but as is pointed out elsewhere in the article, EA employs fewer people today than it did in 2007.
"I just don't see video games as an issue that's going to bring a lot of people to Florida and [bring] big expenditures," added state Sen. Gwen Margolis, D-Coconut Grove.
Don't get me wrong. I don't think EA should be given tax breaks and other incentives in order to continue operating in Florida. In fact, I'm of the opinion that if a business needs subsidies to get by, it's probably not much of a business. However, they are a fact of life at this point, and giving businesses a tax break to move to your state is a powerful persuader. Many locales compete for the affections (and taxable revenue) of large companies, throwing larger and larger amounts money at them in hopes of a decent return on their investment.
If these legislators want to drop the subsidies, more power to them. Unfortunately, they don't want to get rid of subsidies. They just want to throw the money in another direction.
"To have such a concentration of it going to games — I mean, people sitting at computer terminals — I'm not sure most of us really think that's film," said state Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater. "Film is movies. … People have to hire a lot of folks and they have meals and have to stay in a hotel room."Oh, I see. You just want to take these extraneous fiscal crutches and offer them to a different member of the entertainment industry. This doesn't really change anything. Sure, legislators want to believe that a big Hollywood production will boost the local economy for the duration of the shooting, but prior experience shows that Hollywood-aimed subsidies rarely improve the financial situation of anyone other than the studio receiving them.
"I think we ought to be focused on those kinds of things [rather] than games," he added.
"Do you consider any difference if a company is already situated in Florida and has a stable workforce, compared to a company that comes into the state and hires people that might not be hired otherwise, purchases food for the people they've hired, provides lodging for them?" [Sen. Geraldine] Thompson asked.
As was previously covered here, a study showed that nearly every subsidy program developed to attract motion picture studios to various locations has turned out to be a losing proposition. Most of the states studied recovered less than $0.25 on every tax dollar invested. Why? Because when a studio rolls into town to shoot a movie, it brings in a lot of its own talent. Sure, there are some temporary bumps to food and housing income, but when it's all said and done, the studios roll out of town slightly richer, leaving their hosts stuck with the bill.
Despite these losses, states continue to wave ever-increasing amounts of money in the air while shouting "Pick me!" at every passing entertainment concern, gambling away their constituents' tax dollars. Florida's legislators seem to be no different. They've mistaken movie studios for good-natured philanthropists and written off "people sitting at computer terminals" as a drain on the economy. It's a "spend money to make money" plan that has failed to pay off time and time again. All these legislators are arguing over is on which losing horse they should put their money.
by Mike Masnick
Mon, Dec 10th 2012 11:19am
from the fraud-on-the-court dept
And, of course, it's not over yet. The defense attorney in the case, Graham Syfert, who has been getting pretty good at exposing bad behavior by Steele and Prenda, has filed a motion asking for sanctions, and it's a good one. You can see it here or read the embedded version below. Syfert kicks it off by showing, in massive detail, that the letter from Paul Duffy -- claiming to be the sole principle of Prenda Law -- denying any involvement in the case is likely bogus on multiple levels.
Mr. Duffy’s signature is on the subpoena issued out of the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, relating to Civil action 1:12-CV-20920-PAS in the Southern District of Florida. (See attached Exhibit “B”) This subpoena revealed the name of the internet subscriber with the IP address of 126.96.36.199, and produced the name of the Defendant to Prenda Law, Inc., at 161 N. Clark St. Suite 3200, Chicago IL 60601, the same address listed on the letter where Paul Duffy stated that he did not represent anyone involved in this case.Yeah. That last one is pretty damning. And, as of the moment I'm writing this, that link is still on Prenda's list of cases. A quick screenshot:
Further, Mr. Duffy has made appearances in Sunlust v. Does 1-75, 12-CV-1546 (N.D. Ill.), Sunlust v. Sadiq Majid, 12-CV-07868 (N.D. Ill.), and Sunlust v. Norbert Weitendorf, 12-CV-07826 (N.D. Ill.) and possibly other Sunlust matters.
The website www.wefightpiracy.com is the website of Prenda Law, Inc., lists Paul Duffy as the principal, and lists the work product that is the complaint in this matter as their own, stating “Below is a sample of individuals who chose to litigate the matter and are currently in court over their alleged infringment” and then listing the name of the Defendant, along with a link to the complaint in this matter. The complaint is held on Prenda Law’s website at http://www.wefightpiracy.com/userfiles/Nguyen%20(FL).pdf and the website reports an address of 161 N. Clark Ste. 3200.
Of course, Syfert then turns his attention to John Steele, noting that Duffy's claims of not being involved might actually be true if John Steele -- who is not licensed to practice law in Florida and has already been warned by the Florida Bar about this issue -- is actually running the show, potentially even to the point of writing the "letter" that Duffy supposedly sent:
There is only one possible way that the letter is true, and filled with candor, and that would be if John Steele was using Paul Duffy as a “face attorney” using his identity to litigate, and therefore Paul Duffy doesn’t truly represent any Sunlust client. Another option is that that the letter was not even sent from Paul Duffy, and that it was created by John Steele, and was sent without with or without Paul Duffy’s permission.It goes on to note that Syfert himself, in Chicago to see a Cubs game, stopped by Prenda's offices asking to see Duffy, and the security folks had no idea who he was talking about. But when he asked about John Steele, the guards immediately knew who he was talking about. That would seem odd if Duffy is really running Prenda, as he claims. Furthermore, he notes that every time people try to contact Duffy, Steele seems to call them back. Syfert also notes how Steele's own actions in this particular case seem just a bit odd if he's really got nothing to do with the case:
A quick and dirty forensic examination of the PDF document, as sent by email by “Angela Van Hammel” of Prenda Law, reports that the PDF document was created by a computer user by the name of Kerry Eckenrode (the maiden name of John Steele’s wife) and was created by “Steele Law Firm.” Exhibit “C” attached gives the simple properties of this document and evidences that it was created on 11/20/2012 even though it is dated the 11/18/2012. It is possible that John Steele created the letter at the request of Paul Duffy, but it is unlikely that it was ever presented to Mr. Duffy for his approval, as he would know of his representation in the Sunlust matters.
It is unlikely that Paul Duffy would own or use a computer associated with John Steele’s wife, which would bear the the name of John Steele’s Illinois family law practice (a relatively new creation, post-Prenda Law and post-Steele Hansmeier). Regardless of whether it was created at the behest of Paul Duffy or John Steele was given carte blanche to create the document, it is common for John Steele to create documents and send emails with other attorney’s names to serve his own agenda, with or without their knowledge. When counsel filed his second bar complaint against John Steele, it was for the impersonation of a Florida attorney via e-mail. John Steele’s slippery and wily traits always resulted in insufficient evidence to prove this Mr. Syfert’s claims to the Florida Bar. The loyalty John Steele mysteriously engenders in those around him results in lies to protect him, and therefore insufficient evidence to show that he is violating his affidavit of no UPL attached as Exhibit D.
John Steele wanted to make very clear that although Mark Lutz was looking to him for assistance that he had nothing to do with the case or with Prenda Law. In his Forbes interview, Mr. Steele is filing 20 lawsuits a month with hopes to increase to 300 and he is raking in millions for his efforts. Before this Court, his demeanor is that he is essentially retired, just a fan of bittorrent litigation, in town from Miami or from Chicago, because civil motion arguments as interesting as to him as a Cubs game. He projects that he is a passing acquaintance of Mr. Duffy, and has nothing to do with the case, but has the knowledge to allege that the principals of the Plaintiff were in India (even though that was also a lie). He also knew the correct pronunciation of one of the principals of Sunlust Pictures.Then there's a second filing about sanctions, this time targeted at Matthew Wasinger, who really only played a bit role in the original hearing -- in that he was the lawyer who had, very briefly, represented Sunlust/Prenda in the case, but had asked to be removed from the case. He did not show up at the court that day, pissing off the judge who had not actually released him from the case. He later filed an apology, saying that he got mixed up, but the judge still considered sanctioning him. Syfert's motion there is interesting, in that he suggests that, in lieu of monetary sanctions, Wasinger should have to answer a number of questions about Prenda/Steele.
It is the hope of Defendant’s counsel and Defendant, by this motion, that a similar line of questioning to the one presented by the Court to Mr. Torres would clarify Mr. Wasinger’s position in this case. By requiring answers to these questions, Defendants counsel hopes that the responses serve as a warning to other potential “local counsel” representatives of Prenda Law to caution themselves in representing Plaintiffs in Federal Court without a reasonable disclosure of the facts surrounding the cases that they are accepting and ability to adequately protect the interest of their clients.He then lists out fourteen questions, similar (though not identical) to the ones asked by the court of Torres in the hearing.
A few days after this was filed, Wasinger responded to the motion by again apologizing profusely and making a compelling case that his failure to appear was unintentional (since Jonathan Torres had been approved to replace him in a bunch of other cases, and there were indications he was appearing in this case as well). He also notes that his absence did not likely harm the case, seeing as his answers to the questions Torres answered would have been basically the same (i.e., he signed onto this case, not realizing what a clusterfuck it was, or what kind of confusing mess Prenda had gotten him into).
In response to Syfert's request to substitute answering questions for any monetary sanctions, Wasinger seems happy to help nail Prenda and warn others, but he wants to make sure that if he answers the questions, he won't still be on the hook for monetary sanctions.
The undersigned is willing to answer the questions set forth by Mr. Syfert in his Motion upon Order by the Court and a finding of this Court that answers to these questions would not violate any potential ethical duty to Sunlust Pictures. The undersigned would truthfully answer any questions as directed by the Court under oath. However, the undersigned is concerned about Mr. Syfert's request to leave open the possibility of a $500.00 monetary sanction if he is not satisfied with the answers. Since the answers would be provided under oath, it is respectfully requested that the Court denies this request.And, finally, he once again asks to be removed as the attorney for Sunlust.
I expect there will still be plenty of entertainment value as this case moves forward. So far, the only thing that has happened is that the judge responded to Torres initial motion to be added as counsel and his near immediate request to be removed. Amusingly, she denied the motion to substitute as counsel, given that he's also asked to be removed, and then denies the request to be removed as moot. I'm sure the next few filings should be even more entertaining.
by Mike Masnick
Mon, Dec 3rd 2012 8:48am
from the who's-on-first? dept
The case is dismissed for failure to appear at this hearing, for failure to present a lawful agent, for attempted fraud on the Court by offering up a person who has no authority to act on behalf of the corporation as its corporate representative, and the Court will hear, by motion, a motion for sanctions and fees against this Sunlust entity and everyone affiliated with it, including a motion against Mr. Wasinger for his purposeful failure to appear at this hearing.How did it reach that point? Well, this involves a bit of background... and then it requires, yes requires that you find time in your day to go read the court transcript (also embedded below) of what happened.
First, the background. If you've been following Steele, you'll remember that he got blasted by judges in his home state of Illinois. Then, he suddenly showed up in Florida (as did many copyright trolling cases). Fight Copyright Trolls did a wonderful bit of investigatory journalism concerning Steele's move to Florida and connection to "Prenda Law Firm." At issue: Steele is not licensed to practice law in Florida, but there were indications that he was doing exactly that. Steele insisted that he was "retiring" to Florida, and not working. After lawyer Graham Syfert (who has been defending many defendants in troll cases) alerted the Florida Bar to Steele's activities, the Bar got Steele to sign a cease and desist affidavit agreeing "not to engage in any activities which constitute unlicensed practice of law...." However, there appeared to be plenty of evidence that Steele was still copyright trolling as a part of Prenda.
Okay, leap forward to yet another copyright trolling lawsuit, supposedly brought by a company called Sunlust. A hearing was to be held on November 27th... with federal judge Mary Scriven, and you have to read it to believe it. Officially, Sunlust's lawyer, Jonathan Torres, appears by phone with permission from the court. But, the judge is perplexed, to say the least, because Torres, who has only just been brought on, has asked to withdraw from the case, as apparently a few other lawyers have as well. Also in the court is a Mark Lutz, appearing as the "representative" of Sunlust. The hearing begins with the judge scolding Lutz for not wearing a jacket and tie to court, and then starts digging into who exactly is the lawyer representing Sunlust.
THE COURT: Well, I'm a little confused. There was a lawyer who moved to withdraw, and there was another lawyer who moved to appear, then he moved to withdraw, so who is on first, I guess?The judge asks Torres how he came to be associated with the case and is told that he was hired by "the client, Prenda Law," and we go back to the transcript:
THE COURT: The client and Prenda Law or Prenda Law?The judge then puts Torres under oath and then quizzes him much more directly about Prenda law and his relationship to Prenda, as well as everyone's relationship to the supposed client, Sunlust. Torres has only spoken to Prenda and believes that Prenda represents Sunlust. He notes that it's a contingency deal... but that he, too, is asking to withdraw from the case after being made aware of "certain issues that were going on in the case" by the defense. The judge explores how much Torres knew about the case, and whether or not the previous lawyer, a Mr. Wasinger, had spoken to him (he hadn't). Wasinger was the lawyer who had asked to be removed from the case already, and wasn't in court, even though the judge had not granted him permission to leave the case (later leading him to file an apology saying he got mixed up). Finally, Torres admits that he had not looked closely at the case docket before asking to appear on Sunlust's behalf.
MR. TORRES: Prenda Law, Your Honor,
THE COURT: And what is their relation to you?
MR. TORRES: Just co-counsel arrangement, Your Honor.
THE COURT: And what is that arrangement?
MR. TORRES: For me to appear for any local hearings, Your Honor.
THE COURT: Well, I got a letter from someone from the Prenda Law Group saying they were not representing any party in this case and were not involved in the case and had no authority to speak on anyone's behalf in this case, so is Prenda Law principal counsel in the case or not?
MR. TORRES: No, Your Honor.
THE COURT: So what is their relationship again then to you as counsel in this case?
MR. TORRES: Well, Your Honor, I was --
The judge then reads a letter from Paul Duffy, another Chicago lawyer who helped set up Prenda and claims in the letter to be the sole principal of Prenda who claims to be surprised that Prenda has been asked to appear in this case. He begs off in the letter, as read/summarized by the judge:
As an initial matter, I must respectfully inform the Court I am located in Chicago and my attendance would require air travel and he has had surgery on his eyes and this and that.The judge then returns to Torres to see if he can explain this mess, since Torres claims to have been hired only by Prenda and Prenda claims that it has nothing to do with the case. There's an amusing back and forth in which the judge and Torres try to sort out who's who and what's what. And then the judge notices the improperly dressed Lutz doing something and turns her attention to him, leading to a surprise "reveal."
Then he says, I also respectfully question how my appearance could benefit the Court, particularly since I am not representing anyone, in italics, in this case and have no authority to speak on anyone's behalf.
It would certainly -- it would clearly be improper for me to make any statement on a pending matter in a jurisdiction in which I am not licensed and on behalf of a client I do not represent. In light of the foregoing, I pray that the Court will excuse my attendance at this hearing.
THE COURT: Mr. Lutz, who is the individual who you just spoke to in the Courtroom with you?There's another brief exchange with the judge and Torres and then back to Lutz. Lutz is asked about Prenda as well, and more or less tries to claim he doesn't know that much about them. At this point Syfert (the defense lawyer) jumps in to point out that Lutz was, at one point, employed by Prenda Law and worked for John Steele. You can almost sense the judge rolling her eyes, as she immediately has Lutz sworn in as well. Then there's this lovely exchange:
MR. LUTZ: Sorry?
THE COURT: Who is that behind you?
MR. STEELE: Your Honor, my name is John Steele.
THE COURT: Who are you?
MR. STEELE: I'm an attorney, but not involved in this case.
THE COURT: You're an attorney with what law firm?
MR. STEELE: I'm not an attorney with any law firm right now, but I have worked with Mr. Duffy in the past and I am certainly familiar with this litigation just because I've been involved in many different cases like this in the past.
THE COURT: But not this case?
MR. STEELE: Correct.
THE COURT: Mr. Lutz, you're under oath, you have to give truthful answers or you face penalties of perjury. Do you understand that?She then asks about what else he does or if he does this for others as well (yes) and starts asking some more questions about Prenda, and then asks both Lutz and Torres about what other copyright holding companies they're working with. And then goes back to John Steele.
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.
THE COURT: Mr. Steele, who is the principal of Sunlust?End result? First, she tells Lutz to get out of there:
MR. STEELE: I'm sorry, you're asking me, ma'am?
THE COURT: Yes, sir.
MR. STEELE: I wouldn't know.
THE COURT: You don't know who owns Sunlust?
MR. STEELE: That's correct.
THE COURT: You don't know who the president is?
MR. STEELE: I -- the only person that I know that's involved with Sunlust is Sunny Leone.
THE COURT: Sunny Leone?
MR. STEELE: Is one of the people involved with Sunlust. That's the only person I've ever --
THE COURT: What is the name?
MR. STEELE: Sunny Leone.
THE COURT: Spell it.
MR. STEELE: S-O-N-N-Y, Leone --
THE COURT: L-E-O-N?
MR. STEELE: I believe there's an E at the end of that, I'm not certain.
THE COURT: Where's is he located.
MR. STEELE: Well, I believe it's a she, and I believe that the last time I heard, she was in India filming a major motion picture with some studio down there, but I don't keep up with that, I don't represent Sunlust or anybody anymore. I no longer actively practice law.
THE COURT: You're not practicing law?
MR. STEELE: Correct. I do appear occasionally at hearings on an ad hoc basis, but I do not have any current clients.
THE COURT: You still have a bar license in the State of Florida?
MR. STEELE: No, I'm licensed only in the State of Illinois.
I want to make very clear to this Court I'm not purporting in any way to be an attorney licensed in the State of Florida.
THE COURT: Have you ever been licensed in the State of Florida?
MR. STEELE: No.
THE COURT: All right.
THE COURT: You can sit away from the table, you're not a corporate representative of anybody if you don't have any information about the corporation.She then lets Torres off of the case, but also provides "a word to the wise" suggesting he do a bit more research about who he agrees to represent before showing up in court on their behalf, otherwise he runs "a strong risk" of losing his license. She notes that she hopes it's a lesson about "going forward with characters such as the ones that are presented here."
You're not an officer or principal of the corporation. The Court will exclude you as a proper corporate entity for this Defendant.
And, as noted at the beginning, she dismisses the case, suggests there was "attempted fraud on the Court" and says that "a motion will also be heard on Mr. Duffy for his lack of candor in relation to his connection with this matter."
The transcript is so wonderful that I really, really, want someone to use it as a script to create a short film out of it. It honestly feels right out of a movie.
by Mike Masnick
Wed, Sep 12th 2012 4:28pm
from the a-facebook-friend-doesn't-always-mean-a-friend dept
Oddly, as Venkat Balasubramani notes in the link above, the ruling to disqualify the judge did not focus on the facts around friendship, but around the claim that it's sort of announced publicly. As Venkat notes:
I'm still struggling to see how this is different from other forms of social interaction between lawyers and judges. Social interaction between judges and lawyers happens all the time and is not a basis for disqualification. I think there may be a bit of Facebook exceptionalism going on here.Related to this, and at the same link, Eric Goldman points out that if we're weighing two different issues: (1) having a judge that understands Facebook and how social interaction commonly works today and (2) the "small possibility of apparent impropriety" it seems that having judges who understand social networking is a more important goal in today's society.