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.

Filed Under: connecticut, court order, eugene volokh, forgery, john darrah, ken haas, reputation management, robert berriault
Companies: prenda, prenda law

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  1. 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.)

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