Making The Case For Why John Steele And Prenda Law Deserve To Be Sanctioned

from the fraud-on-the-court dept

Last week we had the incredible story of the comedy routine that copyright troll John Steele and Prenda Law tried to pull on a courtroom in Florida, leading to the case being dismissed and the judge planning to dig deeper into the potential “fraud on the court.” If you have not read that post and accompanying transcript do so now. It is one of the funniest things ever to come out of a courtroom.

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, 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.

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 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 and the website reports an address of 161 N. Clark Ste. 3200.

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:

When you claim that you aren’t associated with a case, you probably shouldn’t put the case up on your website listing “recent cases” that your firm has been involved in.

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.

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.

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:

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.

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Companies: prenda law, sunlust

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Comments on “Making The Case For Why John Steele And Prenda Law Deserve To Be Sanctioned”

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Anonymous Coward says:

No no no, you’re missing the point, this is an EDUCATIONAL experience:

Download a song when you’re a pleb: Thousands of dollars of fines and months in prison

Lie under oath and steal people’s identities when you’re a lawyer: A harsh talking to and maybe sent to bed without dinner

We should teach these kind of things in school, it’s good reference material when they, too, are serving their sentences in copyright prison.

G Thompson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

It’s not the money, it’s the sanctioned fine that is the concern since it goes onto their public record and can lead to loss of work by companies doing due diligence when selecting legal counsel.

Think of it as a black mark against his name.

Personally I think Wasinger should not be fined, the embarrassment of this situation being out in the public arena is more than enough. I actually feel for the guy

And as long as those questions don’t conflict with any privileged communications and the court agrees then he’s going to try to mitigate his embarrassment by being hoodwinked into this case in first place and try to sink the bastards. I’d do the exact same.

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