Copyright Troll Case Tossed For 'Fraud On The Court' After Abbott & Costello-Worthy Hearing

from the who's-on-first? dept

We’ve written a few times lately about judges blasting copyright trolls — and divorce lawyer-turned-copyright troll John Steele’s name seems to show up quite frequently in many of those cases. However, this latest one takes the cake — found via incredible stories on Fight Copyright Trolls and Ars Technica. The short version is that the judge has thrown out the case — but that’s not the really fun part. Here’s the order throwing it out:

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?
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 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.

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.

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 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.”

THE COURT: Mr. Lutz, who is the individual who you just spoke to in the Courtroom with you?
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.

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:

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.

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.

THE COURT: Mr. Steele, who is the principal of Sunlust?
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 —
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?
THE COURT: All right.

End result? First, she tells Lutz to get out of there:

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.
You’re not an officer or principal of the corporation. The Court will exclude you as a proper corporate entity for this Defendant.

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.”

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.

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Companies: prenda law, sunlust

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Comments on “Copyright Troll Case Tossed For 'Fraud On The Court' After Abbott & Costello-Worthy Hearing”

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Josh in CharlotteNC (profile) says:


For all the comments and criticisms about the antics of “pirates” – be it Kim Dotcom, the former admins for The Pirate Bay, or whatever poor single mother or college kid caught as the poster child for a file sharing case, nothing comes close to the ineptitude of the lawyers on the “side” of the copyright extremists.

You’d think that if copyright infringement and piracy was such a huge and daunting problem as they all say it is, they could bother to hire someone remotely competent and keep them informed – since they are both representing you in court and in public.

Is it that respectable lawyers won’t take these cases, knowing how unethical they are?

For those wanna-be lawyers reading, do you really want to sink to the level of these sleazy and incompetent assholes? Is that your idea of a role model for your profession? Or do you want to be yet another lawyer that is the perfect stereotype for all the bad lawyer jokes and sentiment out there?

That One Guy (profile) says:

I strongly suggest anyone reading the court transcript to hit up youtube first, search for ‘Yakety Sax’, and let that play while reading, it provides the perfect background music for such insanity.

Lawyer(Lutz), shows up in court even though he’s not legally representing the company in question, cannot enter into binding agreements as a rep of the company in question, and in fact appears to know next to nothing about the company who keeps him on retainer.

‘Lawyer'(Steele) shows up even though he’s legally prohibited from working as a lawyer in that state, which I assume includes providing legal advice to those who actually are practicing lawyers, and also appears to know next to nothing about the case.

Meanwhile, some lawyer in another state entirely chimes in to claim that he’s the only one who can actually represent the company, except that he had no idea that the company was even involved in a case states away, and has no idea about the court case or any details about it.

I can only assume the judge either has titanium plated self control, or ended that case with her face entirely beet red from all the facepalms she ended up pulling listening to all that.

out_of_the_blue says:

Couldn't work "Streisand Effect" in anywhere, huh?

Tough case. Since there’s no point of interest or wider applicability, I’ll just jam it in for you. Least I can do.

The measure of greatness on teh internets: What to ordinary people is a mere quip… An off-the-cuff remark… That they’d never think to mention again…
Let alone link to at every least excuse… Mike “Streisand Effect” Masnick sees as his claim to fame!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Couldn't work "Streisand Effect" in anywhere, huh?

Most of the articles, including this one, don’t have that anywhere either. Most of the articles, including this one, have fuck all to do with it.

So after you’ve got absolutely nothing to criticise about this article you still find it reasonable to fling your monkey shit at it.

You’re a loser, and a turd. Why don’t you crawl back onto a toilet where you belong, you worthless little asscrack?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Couldn't work "Streisand Effect" in anywhere, huh?

Every time people answer ootb, they give him a tiny ego boost, encouraging him to keep posting idiotic things that have no relation to the article.

Thanks for keeping ootb’s ego alive so that we can continue to benefit from his vast wisdom. /s

sophisticatedjanedoe says:

Fight Copyright Trolls did a wonderful bit of investigatory journalism concerning Steele’s move to Florida and connection to “Prenda Law Firm.”

Very flattering and thank you, yet, as the post states, lots of credit goes to Graham Syfert: he did a LOT making sure John Steele and his gang are constantly on the run in the sunny Florida.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: In the interest of judicial efficiency

Guilty until proven innocent is exactly the state of things in the copyright world right now. On accusation, you are assumed to be guilty of piracy and it’s up to you to prove your innocence. You seem to be arguing that “guilty until proven innocent” is only a bad thing if it’s major corporations who are assumed guilty.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: In the interest of judicial efficiency

“You seem to be arguing that “guilty until proven innocent” is only a bad thing if it’s major corporations who are assumed guilty.”

It’s a bad thing regardless of who it is applied to, hence, my complaint.

We should fix the situations where defendants are presumed guilty right from the start, not go “an eye for an eye” and demand that plaintiffs are also presumed guilty of “bad faith” right off the bat. That fixes nothing.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: In the interest of judicial efficiency

Seems to me that’s exactly how it should be.

The one(s) making the accusation should have to prove the other person is guilty, instead of the current system, where all they have to do is make an accusation, which is automatically assumed to be correct, leaving it up to the defendant to prove their innocence.

The current system is already one of ‘guilty until proven innocent’, the idea of assuming that the ones making accusations are wrong until they provide evidence to the contrary would just be moving things back into the ‘innocent until proven guilty’ realm, which is how it should be.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Re: In the interest of judicial efficiency

Requiring that the “lawfirm” provide a copy of the agreement with their “experts” about how they are paid, might keep things fair.

As it stands now there are several courts who are assuming the Does are guilty from the moment the case is filed. These are typically the same courts that refuse to hear Anonymous or Doe motions… because they are not a party to the case yet… even though the case is about unmasking who pays the bill… even if the claim in the filing is that the account holder IS the infringer, something that can not be proven without investigation of the Doe once they are unmasked… AAAANNND we rarely get there because the court is sanctioning what is extortion. It is highly improbable given the 300,000 ish people named in these types of cases the Judge is unaware of them and how many are going down in flames, and how few names are attached to the Doe cases.

PaulT (profile) says:

Couldn't work "Streisand Effect" in anywhere, huh?

“Couldn’t work “Streisand Effect” in anywhere, huh?”

You’re the only idiot trying to insert that term everywhere. The authors of the articles only use it when it’s actually relevant – which is probably less than 5% of the time.

Go and play with bob, see if you can come up with an understand of what terms actually mean before you try using them. It’ll be good for both of you.

Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

?We definitely want to create movies that will appeal to many different niches,? Leone said. ?We are releasing Vivid type quality films, so everyone who is watching will get something that is high quality but created by myself and my partner. I plan to direct, create, write and produce all the movies we make. I love the idea of owning my content and making all the money from my content.?

Sunny Leone Launches SunLust Pictures With N.Y. Bash (Sept. 11, 2008). Ms. Leone also has a Wikipedia page.

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