We were somewhat surprised by Prenda Law, John Steele and Paul Duffy choosing to sue
various critics for defamation, and specifically charging Alan Cooper and Paul Godfread with defamation. Cooper, of course, was the home caretaker for some John Steele Properties who discovered
that his name was somehow involved in Prenda Law's shell games with (at least) AF Holdings and Ingenuity 13. He eventually sued Prenda
claiming that his identity was used without his permission. Following this, as we heard at the big Prenda hearing
, Steele started leaving a bunch of voicemails for Cooper, potentially violating ethics rules about directly contacting parties on the other side in a lawsuit. Also, from the voicemails, it seemed clear that the intention was to intimidate Cooper.
As we noted at the time, it would seem that filing these lawsuits would open them all up for significant discovery, which they probably would not like very much. The Prenda and Duffy lawsuits were filed in Illinois, and as we noted, Illinois has a relatively broad anti-SLAPP law. The Steele lawsuit was filed in Florida, though it was quickly dismissed
. The two Illinois cases are ongoing, and the two named people sued -- Alan Cooper and his lawyer Paul Godfread -- have now filed their answers to the lawsuit
. As is required in such cases, they go through each statement in the original suit, and confirm or deny (mostly deny) the various allegations made. Specifically, they deny making the vast majority of the random comments made on various blog comment systems that the lawsuits accuse them of being a part of.
Following this, they present their defenses, which again all appear to be fairly standard. They don't believe they've done anything illegal, any statements made were true, and thus not defamatory, information about their own lawsuit against Prenda are protected by legal privilege and they argue that it is a SLAPP suit.
They also bring up a whole bunch
of counterclaims, and as part of that reveal that the "intimidation" campaign wasn't just limited to Steele calling Cooper, but included Peter Hansmeier's emails with Godfread as well, with the following email revealed to the court, which really highlights Hansmeier's pure hubris.
Dear Mr. Godfread:
My firm has been retained by Livewire Holdings LLC to pursue claims in the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota against you and your coconspirators arising from defamation, civil conspiracy and related acts. The alleged acts occurred in e-mail communications and blog posts describing my client as a criminal enterprise. As you know, such statements constitute defamation per se and are, quite frankly, wildly inappropriate. Less-egregious claims have resulted in multi-million dollar judgments, as I trust this one will. The facts of the underlying case are essentially a law school exam hypothetical of every possible variation of libel. Perhaps you can forward my client's complaint to your former professors at William Mitchell. My client is well-aware that you are a major contributor to these blog sites.
The purpose of this e-mail is to inform you of impending litigation so that you preserve all relevant evidence in your possession including, but not limited to, communications between yourself and David Camaratto, Morgan Pietz, Nicholas Ranallo and any other individuals associated directly or indirectly with the sites fightcopyrighttrolls and dietrolldie. Further, any and all other evidence that might
be relevant to this matter must, of course, be preserved.
I suspect that you aligned yourself with these defamatory efforts as a marketing strategy. I don't know if these efforts paid off, but I can assure you that making baseless accusations of criminal conduct is not a wise move for a licensed attorney. All of that being said, my client knows that you didn't work alone in these wrongful efforts. If you think we are missing out on more serious actors in your enterprise my client would be willing to consider decreasing your liability in exchange for information about these individuals. Of course, that interest will disappear if someone else comes forward first. Think it over and let me know. If you're willing to take the fall for whole group then you are decidedly a "true believer."
Welcome to the big leagues.
That sign off line is quite a piece of work, and I'm sure it will go over well in federal court, where it's likely that the judge will have a chance to learn about the case in front of Judge Otis Wright in California. Furthermore, as Ken White points out
, that email is most telling for what's not in there:
...please take note of the dog that did not bark in the night. That is, note what the letter does not say. Consider the context. Godfread, on behalf of Cooper, is telling courts that Prenda Law has stolen Cooper's identity, and has filed a lawsuit on that basis. What would you expect in response, if Prenda Law had an answer for that? If I were representing Prenda Law, and had an answer, there is no doubt in my mind I would articulate it. I would say, "As you and Mr. Cooper know, and witnesses will attest, Mr. Cooper was a willing participant in AF Holdings LLC and fully consented to being an officer." Or I might say "You have recklessly and without adequate basis suggested that your client is the Alan Cooper who is an officer of AF Holdings, when even the briefest inquiry would show that AF Holdings is led by the distinguished Alan Cooper of Nevis and St. Kitts." I would say something articulating why Cooper's and Godfread's assertions are false. As I so often say, vagueness in legal threats is the hallmark of thuggery. But Hansmeier says nothing of the sort. He has only adolescent puffed-up threats and insults. What do you think that signifies?
There is one seeming oddity in the response. As we noted Illinois has a decent, though not wonderful, anti-SLAPP law. But rather than rely on that, Cooper and Godfread, instead claim Minnesota's anti-SLAPP law protect them
. They're both based in Minnesota, but it's still a little odd. Minnesota's anti-SLAPP law is definitely stronger than Illinois and as White notes, provides "immunity" from such lawsuits.
More importantly, by filing a bunch of counterclaims, Duffy and Prenda cannot easily walk away from this lawsuit, which is probably not the situation that Duffy, Hansmeier, Steele and others really want to be in right now. They've been playing a bullying bluster game all along, and suddenly their bluff is getting called, repeatedly, and they seem to think that if they just keep bullying and bluffing maybe it'll work out in the end. Of course, by the time Judge Wright is done with these guys, these cases in Illinois might not even matter very much...