Prenda Soap Opera: Steele Contradicts His Own Previous Claims, Lutz Disappears Again... And The Mother-in-Law Surprise
from the again? dept
Mark Lutz's disappearing act:
Mark Lutz has made it something of a habit to not appear where he's required to. He missed a key hearing in San Francisco, as well as a deposition in Georgia. In the California case, it took Team Prenda nearly a week to even acknowledge that Lutz had an excuse, which it then tried to keep shielded from the public. After that was rejected (repeatedly), it was finally admitted that Lutz was apparently "detained" at the airport while trying to board the flight. In this case, they produced a boarding pass, though it's unclear why John Steele would have Lutz's boarding pass, or how he magically found Lutz's friends driving around the streets of Miami early in the morning (the hearing in Minnesota was in the late morning, so it must have been an early flight). It seems unlikely that courts are going to continue to forgive Lutz for his disappearing act when ordered by courts to appear.
It was especially pertinent in this case, given that the whole focus of this particular hearing was on the legitimacy of the copyright assignment to AF Holdings, and the point was to get everyone together in a room to find out who actually signed the document. Lutz not showing up can't make Judge Noel happy -- and he'd already demonstrated an awareness that Team Prenda is up to no good with all of its activities.
John Steele finally takes a stand... though he may wish he hadn't.
This was a bit odd. Seeing as Steele had pleaded the Fifth in the Otis Wright case in California, it seems like a badly miscalculated move to take the stand in Minnesota, where he needed to testify about some of the same issues. His testimony can go back and be used elsewhere, including in Otis Wright's court. You don't get to plead the fifth in one court, pretend that never happened, and then testify in another court.
Furthermore, Steele made a bunch of claims that appear to contradict previous claims. For example, he talks about how he supposedly helped Cooper set up VPR Internationale. Of course, we'd already discussed how the timing on this is wrong. In a previous filing in a case in Arizona, Steele had said, via sworn deposition, that Cooper had expressed interest in setting up a company in early 2011, and then later said that "Cooper ended up not moving forward with the ideas Steele proposed to him." Yet, VPR Internationale was formed in 2010 (i.e.,. before this conversation supposedly happened). And while it had Alan Cooper's name attached to it, it was done with John Steele's email account, and the physical address was of Steele's sister. Also, while Steele had said in the earlier case that Cooper never went forward with this company, now he's claiming he did, which would explain why actual lawsuits were filed under this. It would appear that in either this case or the Arizona case, something Steele said was blatantly false.
Also, the claims about hooking up Lutz and Cooper seem far fetched and unbelievable given a variety of other statements. Cooper directly denied ever talking to Lutz on the stand. But then there's the question of who actually got the signature, and here Steele starts to throw Lutz under the bus, saying that he believed that Cooper had authorized Lutz to sign on his behalf. That's interesting, because in the now infamous deposition of Paul Hansmeier in the case in Northern California, Hansmeier (who is now acting as the lawyer in this case, if you can keep all this straight) specifically said that Lutz had asked Steele about Cooper's signature and if it's legit. From that deposition in February:
Mark Lutz spoke to Mr. Steele and said, Well, I understand that there's an issue with this Alan Cooper and asked Mr. Steele point-blank, Is the signature a forgery. Mr. Steele said the signature is not forgery. And he asked him, Is the -- is this signature authentic. Mr. Steele says, yes, the signature is authentic. Based on Mr. Steele's representation, we have no reason to believe from what Mr. Steele said, at least, that the signature is a forgery or there's some sort fraud going on with respect to the signature.So... to get this straight: in different cases, Steele, Hansmeier and Lutz have argued that Cooper actually signed the document, that Steele got Cooper to sign the document, that Lutz asked Steele if the signature was legit... and that Steele overheard Cooper and Lutz talking, believed that Cooper gave Lutz permission to sign his name, and that it's likely Lutz who signed for Cooper (something Cooper fully denies).
Of course, if, as they're claiming now, Lutz signed for Cooper, then why would Lutz have called Steele to confirm the signature is legit, as Hansmeier himself said while being deposed? Hansmeier and Steele simply can't keep their story straight -- and telling different courts wholly conflicting answers is generally not a smart thing to do (leaving aside the move to plead the Fifth elsewhere and then testify on the same issues later). I've said it before and I'll say it again: Steele reminds me of people I've known who think they're the smartest person in the world, when they're really not. They seem to think they can talk themselves out of any situation at all. But they generally end up making things worse and worse for themselves.
Thanksgiving in the Steele household may be chilly this year
The wacky issue to come out of the hearing is the involvement of John Steele's mother-in-law, Kim Eckenrode (Steele's wife's maiden name is Kerry Eckenrode). There had been earlier reports that Alan Cooper had received "a text message" telling him to call Paul Godfread, which is how Cooper first found out about his name being used in these cases, leading to his filings claiming forgeries. Team Prenda had long implied that this magic "text" had come from the EFF, which Team Prenda has sought to paint as some crazy group of radicals. But, it turns out that the text message, now entered into evidence, came directly from Steele's own mother-in-law, telling Cooper he should call a lawyer.
Steele tried to play this off by arguing (1) his mother-in-law was religious and disapproved of Steele working with porn companies and (2) she frequented blogs like DieTrollDie and FightCopyrightTrolls. Still, it's quite a leap from those two points to recognizing that Cooper's signature may have been used on filings in various cases without his approval. The fact that the elder Eckenrode understood enough about what was going on to alert Cooper that it appeared her own son-in-law was up to no good with his name just adds an interesting element to all of this. I'm almost surprised Steele didn't claim that Eckenrode was a dues-paying member of EFF.
Either way, I can't imagine that's good for family gatherings in the near future.
Get to the damn point
As is frequently the case, Team Prenda seems to want to do everything possible to avoid actually zeroing in on what judges are asking. In this case, the hearing was solely about whether or not the copyright assignment was legit, and Hansmeier tried to put a bunch of totally irrelevant people on the stand to smear Cooper, and then tried to get Cooper to talk about totally unrelated issues as well. I'm not sure why Hansmeier, Steele and Duffy seem to think this "baffle them with bullshit" strategy will be effective, because the deeper you look, it just makes them look more and more like they're not being straight with the court -- and, while they may think they're smarter than everyone else, I have faith that more and more judges clearly understand what Team Prenda has been up to.