from the of-course-not dept
Team Prenda keeps trying… and failing. In the AF Holdings v. Joe Navasca case in northern California, Judge Edward Chen has accepted the findings of Magistrate Judge Nador Vadas, who had found that John Steele and Paul Hansmeier were clearly the forces behind AF Holdings and Prenda. Judge Chen completely rejects Hansmeier and Steele’s protests about all of this, arguing that there is plenty of compelling evidence that Prenda was really managed by the two of them, and they failed to present any evidence to the contrary. Rather, Judge Chen notes, it appears that the protests from Steele and Hansmeier were almost always attempts to kick up dust to distract from the basic facts, rather than attempts to dispute them.
Judge Vadas took into account AF’s attempt to impugn Mr. Gibbs’s credibility but found the evidence unpersuasive: The declarations (of Mr. Gibbs and other attorneys who represented AF in other states) “do not rebut Gibbs’ testimony that Steele and Hansmeier alone communicated with the purported client, and that they directed Gibbs’ litigation strategy. The declarations actually corroborate Gibbs’ testimony: he communicated with local counsel for AF, essentially acting as a go-between for Steel and Hansmeier.”
AF has objected to the finding that Mr. Steele and Mr. Hansmeier were directing Mr. Gibbs’s actions, but the objection is without any merit. The gist of AF’s objection is that, if Mr. Gibbs did in fact simply follow the directions of Mr. Steele and Mr. Hansmeier without doing any investigation of his own, then he violated his duties as an attorney under, e.g., Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 11. But just because Mr. Gibbs’s conduct may have been improper does not mean that any improper conduct on the part of Mr. Steele and Mr. Hansmeier should therefore be immunized. All three of the individuals can be deemed to have engaged in improper conduct
Furthermore, Judge Chen also notes the non-appearance of Mark Lutz and the subsequent bizarre excuse sent in a week later. We had noted how odd it was that it would take a week for Lutz to file such information, and Judge Chen makes it clear that the entire thing raises serious questions about Lutz’s credibility:
The Court acknowledges AF’s objection that no negative inference should be read from the fact that Mr. Lutz did not appear at the evidentiary hearing because he intended to appear but was not able to because of unforeseen circumstances…. But the claimed inability to appear is highly questionable. First, AF waited for about a week after the evidentiary hearing before bringing up the argument that Mr. Lutz could not appear because of “very sensitive” reasons that would “expose [him] to undue scrutiny.” Second, in spite of the professed sensitive reasons, Mr. Lutz ultimately ended up publicly filing an affidavit (without permission from Judge Vadas) explaining why he could not appear. Third, the affidavit itself strains credulity. According to Mr. Lutz, he had bought a ticket to fly to San Francisco from Miami but, when he arrived at the Miami airport at 5:30 a.m., he was detained by federal authorities and was ultimately detained up until 10:00 p.m. – i.e., for more than 16 hours. And while Mr. Lutz suggests that he had no way to contact his attorney while detained, that is a dubious claim. Moreover, even if he could not contact his attorney while detained, there is no explanation as to why he did not ask for relief the next day.
It’s good to see judges seeing through such bizarre filings. Judge Chen also has little patience for Hansmeier and Steele’s attempts to attack Alan Cooper, which again he finds have little credibility.
The Court is somewhat sympathetic to AF’s point that it, Mr. Steele, and Mr. Hansmeier did not have a chance to cross-examine Mr. Cooper either at the March 11 hearing or at the April 2 hearing. But that is hardly a reason for the Court to entirely discount Mr. Cooper’s testimony. This is because, even if AF, Mr. Steele, and Mr. Hansmeier did not have a chance to cross-examine Mr. Cooper, they still had the opportunity to introduce their side of the story as to what happened with Mr. Cooper at the April 2 hearing but they effectively chose to do nothing. Mr. Steele and Mr. Hansmeier stated that they would not answer any questions. Tellingly, Mr. Steele did offer an explanation in or about May 28, 2013, in conjunction with another case involving AF in Arizona. (claiming that Mr. Cooper voluntarily expressed interest in getting into the business of fighting digital piracy, Mr. Steele put Mr. Cooper in touch with Mr. Lutz, and that Mr. Cooper thereafter participated in a limited number of transactions in 2011 with Mr. Lutz’s companies). There is no reason why Mr. Steele could not have offered this explanation during the April 2 hearing before Judge Wright.
Moreover, if Mr. Steele and Mr. Hansmeier really felt that cross-examination of Mr. Cooper was critical, there is no reason why they could not have issued a subpoena requiring Mr. Cooper’s presence at the evidentiary hearing before Judge Vadas.
Finally, it is worth noting that Mr. Navasca submitted evidence to Judge Vadas that Mr. Cooper’s identity had been stolen independent of the assignment agreement that bore Mr. Cooper’s name and signature. As Judge Vadas recited in the report and recommendation, Mr. Navasca provided an audio recording from GoDaddy.com, in which the caller identified himself as “Alan Cooper” but who was in fact, as testified to by Mr. Gibbs (who recognized the voice of the caller), Mr. Steele. There is also documentary evidence from GoDaddy.com reflecting that the customer’s name was “Alan Cooper” but the e-mail address was “firstname.lastname@example.org.” Docket No. 93 (Pl.’s Ex. G). Furthermore, the physical address for the customer was 4532 E Villa Theresa Dr. – an address that is linked to Mr. Steele’s sister and “Anthony Saltmarsh.” Mr. Steele and Mr. Hansmeier did not provide any evidence explaining these circumstances.
Basically: the judge isn’t buying any of Steele and Hansmeier’s attempts to kick up dust without actually answering any of the key questions. The judge, in fact, points out that Steele and Hansmeier did not actually answer the key question that Judge Vadas directly warned them needed to be answered at the hearing: what happened to the funds.
All this concludes with a new hearing, to be held November 21st, in which Steele and Hansmeier are going to have to show cause for why the attorneys’ fees that were awarded to Navasca from “AF Holdings” should also apply to the two of them directly. The judge warns them to think twice about filing motions on this, noting that they will carry little weight, since the judge appears to want to get to the bottom of these issues at the actual hearing.