I Predict No Orange Jumpsuits For Prenda. Just sanctions.

It has been almost a full day since yesterday’s historic Prenda flop where the attorney for Prenda Law Inc. (formerly, Steele|Hansmeier, PLLC and before that, Steele Law Firm PLLC) appeared to be woefully unprepared to overturn the sanctions that were ordered against Prenda Law and their team. (Flashback: “The 12 minute hearing and the end of Prenda Law Inc.” on 4/3/2013)

For those of you who missed it, you can watch the entertaining video here (fast forward to the tall guy).

As a quick recap, two years ago, Prenda Law was caught forging the name “Alan Cooper” on the copyright assignment documents which gave them the apparent authority to sue on behalf of their clients. The “real” Alan Cooper (John Steele’s gardener) who was the victim of identity theft hired an attorney, showed up at one of Prenda’s hearings, and served John Steele with his own lawsuit.

I don’t know how to explain what happened in a recap other than that the whole “house of cards” that was Prenda Law Inc. was unraveled — not because of the Alan Cooper forgery issue, but because John Steele couldn’t stay away from the cases when he successfully made the courts believe that he sold his Steele Hansmeier PLLC law firm to Paul Duffy. Shortly afterwards, he resumed making phone calls and openly running things himself, and he started showing up at hearings and speaking to the judges. This is what tipped off Judge Otis Wright to ask who the real parties in interest were in these lawsuits.

Personally, it jaded me a bit to see that after being caught (having their grand scheme exposed by good lawyers), the lawyers for Prenda continued their stories of misinformation by lying under oath in their depositions and in court proceedings. Further, I was annoyed when I learned about the scheme unfold in its entirety, including the creation of various offshore entities created to funnel settlement payments, and where Prenda peddled the blatant lie that Mark Lutz (the paralegal) was the mastermind behind the lawsuits.

Being behind the scenes when all this was happening, I was also hearing about issues of Prenda Law lying to, not paying, and in one notorious case, turning against their own local counsel who put their law licenses in jeopardy to file the lawsuits on Prenda’s clients’ behalf. Lastly, there were even more issues that I was privy to that never even made it into the courtroom, namely what appeared to be a credible accusation that Prenda Law Inc. was uploading and seeding their own clients’ content on the bittorrent networks — the same bittorrent swarms in which they sued the internet users for downloading the content they uploaded.

My own thought process was that the proper judicial response was 1) for the federal judges to serve as the “guardians of the gates” of the federal courts [e.g., to kill the copyright infringement cases as they are filed based on principles of improper joinder, etc.], and 2) to prevent the attorney(s) at this point from practicing law through the remedies of suspension and disbarment through their local bar associations. If the attorney persists, the attorney(s) should be charged with the unauthorized practice of law. Yet none of this happened. A lawyer (who for the purposes of this article will remain private) filed ethical charges against John Steele to have him disbarred, and in return, Steele filed ethical charges against him [a story for him to tell, not my secrets to tell].  Then, Steele at some point appeared to have voluntarily disbarred himself and retired from the practice of law, and his organization went inactive in the Illinois state registry. Yet his involvement in the cases persisted.

Thus, I was not surprised when Judge Wright wrote his order sanctioning John Steele, the Hansmeier brothers, and all those involved in the conspiracy. What surprised me was their hubris in that they continued fighting after they already lost. This is why I call the Prenda Law fiasco a “circus.” Everybody continues to argue in circles, but nobody goes to jail.

So, getting back to yesterday’s hearing (YouTube Link), there were THREE ITEMS that I took note of in what was perhaps the most entertaining 3-panel judge hearing I have ever seen.

ITEM 1) John Steele and the Hansmeiers were quite upset that Judge Wright implicated them as having broken criminal laws, and even though they were never charged for the violation of those laws (which I could only guess include identity theft [forgery], extortion, perjury, fraud, and perhaps even money laundering and/or racketeering). [NOTE: There were other acts allegedly committed, including the unauthorized practice of law, violation of countless ethical rules including compensating a non-attorney as a partner of the law firm, alleged tax evasion, and misuse of corporate structures after they were dissolved, etc.] Many of these acts if looked into could make the principles of the law firm personally liable for any charges without the protection of a corporate entity.

They appear to have hired attorney Daniel Voelker for the sole purpose of disputing the $200K+ in sanctions awarded against them because Judge Wright implicated them in a lawsuit which they tried their darnedest to keep at an arms length through the use of legal structures, funneling money into offshore entities, using the paralegal as the “fall guy,” and through the use of local attorneys. But rather than arguing against the sanctions award on the merits of whether it was proper to award the sanctions, they appear to have been offended by the implication of having broken criminal law in what Judge Pregerson called “an ingenious extortion fraud [scheme].” Thus, they instructed attorney Voelker to request that the court REMAND (meaning, return to the lower courts as a “do over”) the case to the U.S. District Court so that they can properly defend the insinuation that they committed one or more crimes while running what was — at the time — the most successful copyright trolling extortion scheme in existence.

ITEM 2) Attorney Daniel Voelker appeared to be woefully unprepared for the hearing. When asked about the details of the various copyright troll lawsuits filed by Prenda Law Inc. / Steele Hansmeier PLLC / Steele Law Firm, PLLC, he was unaware of anything other than what was the subject of the appealed case. This was surprising to the judges, it was surprising to me, and I am sure it was surprising to the hundreds of “fans” who were watching the hearing live and streamed over the internet. How could this attorney not be aware of the hundreds of other filings that his client took part in?!?

I also want to point out that YET AGAIN, STEELE, HANSMEIER, AND MARK LUTZ THE PARALEGAL WERE NOTORIOUSLY ABSENT FROM THE PROCEEDINGS.

ITEM 3) Simplifying the discussions of damage multipliers and other damages issues that were discussed, the jist of what the judges needed to decide were 1) whether to uphold the sanctions award against Prenda Law and company, and 2) whether to remand the case so that the questions of criminal conduct could be hashed out.

IN MY OPINION, again, this whole Prenda Law fiasco is a circus. John Steele and his buddies have been “gaming” the system since they began, and even when their whole scheme came tumbling down around them, they turned to lying, cheating, and misdirection in order to get around the rules.

Nothing will right the wrongs that were inflicted on tens of thousands of internet users except seeing each of these attorneys disbarred and jailed for criminal conduct. Yet I cannot see this happening because notorious criminals today too often go uncharged. Judges too often find the “lazy” alternative of slapping an attorney with sanctions, and then not following up on their order when the attorney weasels their way out of paying those sanctions. This is a sign of a corrupt system, and as much as I have faith in the law, I do not have faith that the judges will inflict stern judgement (“fire and brimstone”) against a bunch of lawyers who look more like a**clowns in the courtroom.

Thus, it is my best guess that the sanctions will not only be upheld, but they will be strengthened and perhaps multiplied. However, as for the criminal prosecution of the clowns who perpetrated this grand heist of an extortion scheme, their activities will go unpunished. Maybe they’ll lose their law licenses (noting that in part, this has partially happened to some of them). Maybe they’ll be held personally liable without the shielding of the corporate entities they tried to use to hide their involvement in these cases. Maybe one or more of them will need to continue to hide their money indefinitely and file for bankruptcy. Maybe one or more of them will need to move out of the country and live out their days on a beach somewhere.

I don’t see orange jumpsuits in anyone’s future here. Not in today’s lawless society.

USEFUL ARTICLES ON YESTERDAY’S HEARING:


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Prenda Appellate Saga Comes To An End

Congratulation to the Cashman Law Firm, PLLC defendants who will soon be dismissed from the AF Holdings, LLC v. Does 1-1,058 (Case No. 1:12-cv-00048) case filed TWO YEARS AGO in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. Seeing that the appellate (circuit) court came out with a ruling this afternoon, I read the circuit court’s ruling with fervor thinking that I was about to write an article entitled “the jig is up, no more copyright trolling lawsuits.” Well, I am underwhelmed.

If you remember the Judge Beryl Howell CREATES A SPLIT in the DC Court article I wrote back in August, 2012, at the time, thousands of “John Doe” Defendants from across the U.S. were being sued in the US District Court in DC, and Judge Beryl Howell was in favor of allowing the mass bittorrent lawsuits to continue in DC, even though other district court judges [not former copyright lobbyists for the Recording Industry Association of America] (notably, Judge Wilkins, now a United States Circuit Judge) wrote opinions questioning the validity of mass bittorrent lawsuits. As a result of this, now almost two year later, we have a circuit court ruling resolving the question of whether “personal jurisdiction” and/or “joinder” are relevant questions for a court to investigate before it signs an order invoking the “machinery of the courts” to force a non-party ISP to comply with a subpoena [asking for them to turn over the private contact information of each subscriber implicated as a “John Doe”].

Judge David Tatel [writing for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit] wrote a few pointers that we already knew, and in my opinion, the circuit court’s ruling is two years, too late. The ruling is essentially that a court may justifiably force a plaintiff “copyright troll” to establish that it has PERSONAL JURISDICTION over the John Doe Defendants who are implicated in the lawsuit BEFORE it allows that copyright troll to obtain [through discovery] the list of names and addresses belonging to the internet subscribers. His opinion, however, resolves ABSOLUTELY NOTHING about the hundreds of smaller John Doe (e.g., v. Does 1-20) lawsuits filling the courts’ dockets across the U.S., where the “copyright troll” plaintiffs have figured out that “you sue a defendant where a defendant lives.”

Next point. When requesting the subscribers’ contact information from an ISP, the plaintiffs purpose must be to gather this information for use in THIS LAWSUIT, and not for other proceedings or other lawsuits. Good luck enforcing this one. I have no doubt that we will still see defendants dismissed from one “v. Does 1-20” lawsuit, only to be named and served in his own “v. John Doe” lawsuit. This happens every day. Also, good luck stopping a copyright troll from calling up dismissed defendants and saying, “unless you settle with us, we will name and serve you in your own lawsuit.”

Then after glossing over the “you must sue a defendant in the state in which he lives” rule, thirteen pages later, Judge Tatel discusses joinder (who can be sued together as co-defendants in a lawsuit).

I thought the joinder discussion would be juicy, but it was vague and vanilla, and it lacked explanation. The ruling was essentially that “you can only sue John Doe Defendants together in one lawsuit as long as they were part of the same bittorrent swarm.” This precludes plaintiffs who often sue defendants who did the same “crime” of downloading copyrighted films using bittorrent, but they did so days or weeks apart. In mentioning what is considered the “same bittorrent swarm,” the judge mentioned ABSOLUTELY NOTHING as to what the scope of a bittorrent swarm is, and how long one lasts — whether a swarm continues for minutes, days, or weeks at a time — and who is properly connected in a bittorrent swarm to be sued together in a lawsuit.

All I pulled from his discussion is that “if Tom and Dick were downloading at the same time, they can be sued together in a lawsuit; joinder here would be proper.” However, if Tom finished downloading and logged off five minutes before Dick logged on, would this be considered the “same transaction or occurrence” to allow the two of them to be sued together? What happens if Tom finishes downloading and logs off, and by the time Dick logged on to the bittorrent swarm, everyone who was part of that swarm [e.g., all 10 or 20 people] also logged off and new people logged on. If Dick is downloading from a completely different group of downloaders than the group who was online when Tom was downloading, but they downloaded five minutes apart, is this the same bittorrent swarm or a different bittorrent swarm? The judge provided ABSOLUTELY NO ANSWER as to the scope of a bittorrent swarm, so we are still left with uncertainty.

…So you see why I am underwhelmed. The ruling was essentially, “personal jurisdiction, bla bla blah, joinder, blah blah blah.” I learned nothing new from this, and yet the media is jumping all over this as if it is some kind of jewel. NOTHING NEW HAPPENED HERE.

Putting all of this in perspective, if you think about only the issue that Judge Beryl Howell wanted the appellate court to answer, “whether personal jurisdiction and joinder are relevant in a discovery request to obtain information about not-yet-named ‘John Doe’ defendants who are identified merely by their accused IP addresses,” Judge Tatel did exactly what he needed to. He correctly answered, “yes, personal jurisdiction and joinder are relevant when the plaintiff attorneys ‘attempts to use the machinery of the courts to force a party to comply with its discovery demands.'”

Thus, when a copyright troll files a lawsuit against unnamed John Doe defendants, and they seek discovery to force an ISP to comply with a discovery request (e.g., a subpoena forcing them to hand over the contact information of the accused subscriber affiliated with that accused IP Address), issues such as personal jurisdiction and joinder ARE ripe for inquiry before the court grants the copyright troll permission to subpoena the ISP, forcing them to hand over the contact information of the accused “John Doe” defendants.


CONTACT FORM: If you have a question or comment about what I have written, and you want to keep it *for my eyes only*, please feel free to use the form below. The information you post will be e-mailed to me, and I will be happy to respond.

NOTE: No attorney client relationship is established by sending this form, and while the attorney-client privilege (which keeps everything that you share confidential and private) attaches immediately when you contact me, I do not become your attorney until we sign a contract together.  That being said, please do not state anything “incriminating” about your case when using this form, or more practically, in any e-mail.