You may recall that the somewhat brash copyright trolling lawyer, Evan Stone, got into a bit of legal hot water earlier this year, in a case for porn producer Mick Haig. Stone had been trying to follow in the footsteps of other copyright trolls who shake down people for money by filing a John Doe lawsuit against them, but the entire purpose of the lawsuit is to find out who they are to send them "settlement offers," for much less than it would cost to mount a defense. In one of Stone's lawsuit, the judge had, quite reasonably, asked Public Citizen and EFF to act as the Does' attorneys prior to their identification, for the sake of seeing whether or not revealing their info was proper. As part of that, the judge had ordered Stone not to send any subpoenas to get identifying info until after the court had ruled whether or not that was proper.
And yet, Stone sent the subpoenas anyway, and began identifying individuals, even though the court was still determining if it was proper to allow this.
In response to being called on this huge ethics violation, Stone petulantly dropped the case
and blamed the judge for bringing in Public Citizen and the EFF -- while basically ignoring the massive ethics violation and questions raised about whether or not he had received settlements from people whose identity he wasn't supposed to know yet. Public Citizen and the EFF asked for sanctions
against Stone in response to this.
And, boy, did they get sanctions. Both Public Citizen
and the EFF
have blog posts about it -- and both suggest that you're best off just reading the ruling
(pdf) by Judge David Godbey which is also embedded below.
The key points: the judge slams Stone and orders him to pay $10,000 in sanctions, take remedial steps (including filing the court order in every ongoing proceeding in which he represents a party) and
pay the legal fees of Public Citizen and the EFF. He also needs to reveal if anyone he sent a settlement letter to paid up -- which would suggest he'll have to pay back that money too. While the ruling runs through the whole thing, this paragraph from the ruling both summarizes what happens and makes it clear that the court is not pleased
To summarize the staggering chutzpah involved in this case: Stone asked the Court to authorize sending subpoenas to the ISPs. The Court said “not yet.” Stone sent the subpoenas anyway. The Court appointed the Ad Litems to argue whether Stone could send the subpoenas. Stone argued that the Court should allow him to – even though he had already done so – and eventually dismissed the case ostensibly because the Court was taking too long to make a decision. All the while, Stone was receiving identifying information and communicating with some Does, likely about settlement. The Court rarely has encountered a more textbook example of conduct deserving of sanctions.
The court also notes, "Stone’s representation to the Court that it should grant his motion so he could serve subpoenas, when in fact he had already done so, treads perilously close to violating a lawyer’s duty of candor to the Court."
From there, the court goes on to attack Stone's "substanceless" explanation for his actions, noting, "this court deals in facts, not counterfactuals." Ouch. It also dings Stone for arguing that his actions were okay because most courts approve such requests for discovery:
This argument also fails. Discovery proceeds in “normal fashion” according to the Rules of Civil Procedure. They provide that no discovery of any kind takes place prior to a Rule 26(f) conference unless the Court orders otherwise. Although Stone might believe that motions like the Discovery Motion are mere formalities and that courts routinely grant them, that misapprehension provides no basis for proceeding with preconference discovery without court order. The only “highly irregular” activity here is Stone’s disregard of the Rules and the Court’s orders, which would have constituted sanctionable conduct even if the Court eventually had granted the Discovery Motion.