If You're Going To Forge A Fake Court Order To Delete Search Results, Maybe Don't Choose A Prenda Case

from the just-a-tip dept

Eugene Volokh, just recently teamed up with Paul Levy to track down who was behind a scam abusing the court system with forged or fraudulent court documents to get questionable or fake court orders to force Google to takedown links. It's a sketchy (and illegal) "reputation management" trick and it appears that at least a few folks are doing it. Volokh has just spotted another one and it comes with a Prenda Law twist. Volokh nicely sums up the background info leading up to this:

Ken Haas is a member of a New Britain (Conn.) city commission, the Commission on Conservation, appointed by Mayor Erin Stewart. Several months ago, he got into a public controversy with local activist Robert Berriault — allegedly, when someone got in a Facebook political spat with Haas, he responded by writing, “You do know I have access to ALL city records, including criminal and civil, right???” Berriault took that to be a threat that Haas would misuse that access for political purposes and wrote about this on the New Britain Independent site, as well as in a not-much-noticed change.org petition calling for Haas’s removal. (Since then, Berriault has announced his candidacy for the New Britain city council.)

And then, things get interesting. First, someone sent Google a notice asking it to take that Berriault story out of Google, and sent with it a "court order" in a supposed case between Haas and Berriault. You can see that "Haas v. Berriault" court order, but you may notice some oddities. The case claims to be in the "Sate" (not State) of Connecticut Superior Court:

It's also in front of a Judge John W. Darrah. And the case number is 1:13-cv-01569. So there are some problems here. The "Sate" typo is a give away, but there is no Judge Darrah on the Connecticut court. There is one in US federal court in Illinois. And if you look on PACER in the federal court records, and look at 1:13-cv-01569 in the Norther District of Illinois, it happens to be... a case that we covered. It was the infamous Paul Duffy defamation case. Duffy, the "third wheel" to John Steele and Paul Hansmeier in the Prenda Law scheme, had sued a bunch of online critics for defamation, but the case focused on Alan Cooper (John Steele's former house caretaker, whose signature Steele is accused of forging) and Cooper's lawyer, Paul Godfried. Either way, it looks like the document that someone used as the "template" (including the Judge Darrah signature) came from the Duffy v. Godfried case.

That was a crazy case for a whole bunch of reasons, but it also got a ton of public attention. If you're going to fake a court document, maybe don't take one that is on a widely known case that got a lot of attention and is partly about forging legal documents? It's like trying to pick a disguise to be inconspicuous in committing a crime, and dressing up like Hitler. People are going to notice, and they're going to remember.

As Volokh notes, it's not clear if Haas himself forged the document. It's entirely possible he hired a reputation management firm who did something along those lines. Or, maybe there's another explanation... but there really are only a small number of people who might benefit from this kind of thing:

Who submitted the forged order to Google? Commissioner Haas seems the likeliest intended beneficiary of the forgery and the takedown request, and his name (spelled as Ken Hass) was used on the takedown request. But it is of course possible that this was done by someone else, whether someone hired by Haas (with or without knowledge of what would be done) or someone else. I called Haas to ask about what happened here, but he told me he had no comment.

Anyway, forging a court order using a federal judge's signature from another case is, well, a bad idea. I'd imagine it's kind of worse than having someone publicly expose your threat to go through someone else's city records. In an update, Volokh also notes that Haas also went to the police about Berriault over his posts, only to have the cops explain that it's not a criminal act to state your opinion:

If you can't read that, the report is from the police explaining Haas' complaint about Berriault's internet posts and how he "just wants Berriault to lighten up" as well as a conversation with Berriault, followed by this:

I advised Haas that this was not a criminal act and that Berriault had every right to voice his opinion. I advised Haas that when you choose a career in politics that harsh criticism comes with the territory. Haas stated that he understood.

Of course, forging a court order with a federal judge's signature does seem a lot more like a criminal act. And someone appears to have done that.


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  • icon
    Ryunosuke (profile), 31 Mar 2017 @ 10:54am

    Prenda... The gift that keeps on giving

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 31 Mar 2017 @ 12:54pm

      Re:

      its a shame those prenda ass clowns dont have their license to practice law anymore - they just might have a legitimate copyright case here. Oh well, I hope you guys drop the soap!!!!

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 31 Mar 2017 @ 10:54am

    Now that's what I call an own goal!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 31 Mar 2017 @ 11:05am

    O_O

    .................

    gimme an hour to manage coherent thought after seeing this...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      TechDescartes (profile), 31 Mar 2017 @ 12:15pm

      Re: Coherent Thought

      gimme an hour to manage coherent thought after seeing this...

      OK, time's up.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        That Anonymous Coward (profile), 31 Mar 2017 @ 12:42pm

        Re: Re: Coherent Thought

        What in the actual fuck is wrong with these people?

        I admit the court case numbers only generated a minor bell in my head, but the Judges name... I know that well. I know he's not in CT.

        How the hell do you think submitting forged documents is going to work out for you?
        He can try to claim some stranger did this just to screw him, but considering the amount of butthurt displayed in the police report... that won't work.

        My prior experiences not withstanding, I'm pretty sure forging court docs is a REALLY bad idea.
        Taking a sitting Judges name in vain... oh so smart.

        But when trying to defend your reputation - forgery is fair game I guess.

        And the music swells and Ms. Streisand sings....
        People, people who forge documents, are the dumbest people in the world....

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Stephen T. Stone (profile), 31 Mar 2017 @ 11:11am

    I almost feel bad for this guy. I mean, how could he have possibly known that he would fall face-first into the Prendapocalypse?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Roger Strong (profile), 31 Mar 2017 @ 11:27am

    It's entirely possible he hired a reputation management firm...

    Has there ever been a reputation management firm that wasn't in dire need of a reputation management firm?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 31 Mar 2017 @ 11:28am

    Can I have the popcorn concession on this one?

    Just askin'. :)

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Mason Wheeler (profile), 31 Mar 2017 @ 11:29am

    It's like trying to pick a disguise to be inconspicuous in committing a crime, and dressing up like Hitler.

    Wow. Usually we get into the comments before someone Godwins it...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 31 Mar 2017 @ 11:39am

    "This is a problem, now how do we make it bigger?"

    I can only assume that whoever the responsible party is they took a few head-first trips down every stair in a five block radius before they did this. Trying to con a search engine to de-list a page is stupid, but forging a legal document in the process makes it look downright brilliant in comparison.

    'Oops, my bad' is not likely to cover it, and sending a fraudulent legal order like that strikes me as something that those you do not want investigating you will be interested in getting to the bottom of. The legal system may be a bit too lenient at times when it comes to those abusing it for personal gain, but something like this is not likely to get the silk-gloves treatment at all, and I imagine whoever did it is going to be finding that out the hard way before too long.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Avatar28 (profile), 31 Mar 2017 @ 11:45am

      Re: "This is a problem, now how do we make it bigger?"

      >something like this is not likely to get the silk-gloves treatment at all, and I imagine whoever did it is going to be finding that out the hard way before too long.

      Yeah, this really seems like a quick trip to Federal pound me in the ass prison. No bueno for him.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      z! (profile), 31 Mar 2017 @ 2:54pm

      Re: "This is a problem, now how do we make it bigger?"

      "...but forging a legal document in the process makes it look downright brilliant in comparison."

      And starting with a doc that some of Google's lawyers very well might have read, if nothing else for the amusement, moves it into the Gold-Plated-with-Oakleaf-Cluster Stupid category.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 31 Mar 2017 @ 11:58am

    just out of curiosity.

    have you guys actually seen the certificate for duffy? if so, was it signed by a dr dover? a benjamin dover?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 31 Mar 2017 @ 12:43pm

    Talking about making a federal case out of nothing (and it's not the FBI this time, go fig.)

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 31 Mar 2017 @ 1:19pm

    Well we now know what horse with no name has been up too.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Retsibsi (profile), 1 Apr 2017 @ 5:27am

    The glory of it all is that when the "document" was submitted to Google then the sender would have (presumably) had to give their contact details... I have a feeling someone's going to be clearing their diary of appointments for a while very soon.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    frank87 (profile), 1 Apr 2017 @ 7:33am

    mr Haas is innocent...

    It's a Dutch saying: "My name is Haas (hare), I don't know anything about this": https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kbgWk5Nl4hw

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    DB (profile), 1 Apr 2017 @ 10:55am

    I can guess how this happened.

    Someone did a search, took the first image returned, and used that as the template.

    It's the equivalent of a search for "little known dictator" and expecting that a Hitler mustache is a good disguise when trying to take over a country.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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