For months now, we’ve been covering how Prenda had been losing pretty much every one of its legal fights concerning its fraudulent copyright trolling practices. I guess it was bound to happen sooner or later, but Team Prenda has bounced back with an actual victory. You may recall that one of the (many) key Prenda cases was taking place in Minnesota, where magistrate judge Franklin Noel, becoming aware of what was happening with Prenda in other courts had reopened a bunch of Prenda (via AF Holdings) cases in Minnesota to explore if Team Prenda had committed fraud upon the court. Noel dug in, demanding actual answers to various questions that Team Prenda had avoided in other cases, eventually ruling against Team Prenda and (importantly) ordering the law firm to pay back all the settlement money it had taken in via those cases.
Well, it appears that’s all for nothing now. Judge Joan Ericksen has apparently stepped in to put magistrate judge Noel in his place, pointing out that he went way beyond what a magistrate judge is allowed to do and then actually siding with Prenda lawyer Paul Hansmeier in saying that the fact that team Prenda forged Alan Cooper’s signatures on the copyright assignment isn’t fraud on the court… and, in fact, saying that it basically doesn’t matter at all. First, as to a mere magistrate judge sniffing out these problems, judge Ericksen isn’t having any of it:
AF Holdings consistently objected to the magistrate judge’s authority to determine whether it had committed a fraud on the Court. The magistrate judge had no such authority. See Reddick v. White, 456 F. App’x 191, 193 (4th Cir. 2011) (per curiam) (“A motion for sanctions under the district court’s ‘inherent’ power is not a pretrial matter under Ã‚Â§ 636(B)(1)(a). Magistrate judges have no inherent Article III powers—they have only those powers vested in them by Congress. Congress has not created statutory authorization for magistrate judges to exercise inherent Article III powers.”
Furthermore, Ericksen points out that, as a magistrate judge, Noel can’t really make an order like he did (which is likely accurate), but instead can just make a recommendation for a “real” judge like Ericksen to review. And Ericksen just doesn’t seem concerned about the forgery, lying and other shenanigans from Team Prenda.
Cooper’s signatures were immaterial to the decision that granted AF Holdings expedited discovery…. AF Holdings’ submission of the agreements with Cooper’s signatures—legitimate or not, authorized or not—to evince the transfer of the copyrights to AF Holdings did not amount to a fraud on the Court.
It’s somewhat disappointing to see a court not all that concerned that an effort that involved forgery is really no big deal, especially when it was about copyright trolling, a practice of abusing the court system to hound people into paying up to avoid having to fight a lawsuit.
That’s unfortunate, but given how many other courts have ruled on Prenda’s efforts and the multiple referrals to state bars, DOJ and others, I would imagine that this is merely a slight and brief reprieve for Team Prenda.