Earlier this week, there was yet another hearing dealing with one of the many courts investigating the actions of Team Prenda. This was in the Navasca case up in San Francisco, where some sanctions have already been issued, and more may await. Judge Edward Chen handed off this stage of the case to Magistrate Judge Nador Vadas, who recently demanded some actual answers, telling “AF Holdings” (one of the many Prenda shell corporations) to show up ready to answer some very specific questions. That’s not quite what happened.
The day started off with a laughable declaration from John Steele, in which he stuck with his plan of deny absolutely everything. This focused on denying every bit of Delvan Neville’s expert analysis showing a high likelihood that John Steele and Paul Hansmeier were themselves seeding the files they later sued over, via The Pirate Bay. Neville’s analysis is detailed, thorough and hard to argue against. Steele and Hansmeier, along with Paul Duffy (the official “named” partner of Prenda) have been insisting that there is nothing to Neville’s filing, and keep insisting that he’s a nobody, rather than an expert.
I note initially that Mr. Neville is a graduate student; that he has not disclosed why he prepared his declaration…. whether he will successfully complete whatever course of study he is now engaged upon as a “graduate student;” whether he meets any of the rigorous standards applicable to an expert witness in a Federal court proceeding in a Federal court proceeding. (sic)
Upon my review of Mr. Neville’s declaration, I find the claims contained therein pertaining to me to be completely untrue and without any basis in fact.
Mr. Neville asserts I may have acted to “seed” a BitTorrent “swarm” involved in the digital piracy of copyrighted works. Those assertions (perhaps better described as suspicions) are categorically false. I have never acted to “seed” a BitTorrent “swarm,” and would not know how to do so if for some reason I would desire to try.
It goes on like that. Of course, this is all pretty laughable, given the mountains of evidence that connect Steele to the seeding, including Comcast revealing that the IP address associated with the seeding belonged to Steele Hansmeier, and the information provided by GoDaddy involving John Steele impersonating Alan Cooper and Mark Lutz. Those both came out in a different Prenda case, but showed up in this particular hearing.
Only Paul Duffy from Team Prenda showed up to the hearing (though he showed up late) and while it was promised that Mark Lutz was “in town” and would be there, he never showed up at all. The star of the show was former Prenda team player Brett Gibbs, who, after realizing that Hansmeier and Steele had thrown him under the bus, started finally revealing the truth. Hansmeier and Steele have continued to insist they had little oversight over Gibbs, but at the hearing he produced phone records showing somewhere around 4,500 minutes of phone calls with Hansmeier. He was later asked to identify the recordings on those calls, and said they were John Steele’s voice — which Duffy weakly objected to.
After Neville testified about the inner workings of BitTorrent, it was Duffy’s turn, and many people expected a full cross-examination of Neville. Given that Duffy, Hansmeier and Steele have been insisting that Neville’s claims are a complete joke and wouldn’t stand up to any scrutiny, you’d think they’d relish a chance to have him on the stand. But they more or less ignored him. Instead, Duffy spent a ridiculous amount of time tying himself into knots with an astoundingly weak attempt to pin the blame on Gibbs himself, focusing mainly on procedural issues. The two points he seemed to focus on: that Gibbs never actually saw the infamous “Salt Marsh” signature and that Gibbs never officially checked to see if the Steele Hansmeier law firm was dissolved or purchased after Steele and Hansmeier told Gibbs they’d be doing business as Prenda going forward.
Neither point makes much sense, nor does it really matter. On the signature front, Gibbs has already stated, repeatedly, that he’d asked about Salt Marsh and Hansmeier insisted it was legit. If there was a procedural error, it was trusting his boss (and friend and former roommate). Either way, this could only come back to bite Duffy, since it was Duffy’s law firm that Gibbs supposedly worked for, and sooner or later this comes around to lawyers technically working for Duffy’s law firm violating procedures. As for the status of Steele Hansmeier, that seems like a pointless tangent.
Thankfully, it appeared that Judge Vadas was pretty aware of what was going on. While not as outspoken as Judge Wright, he made it clear that he wasn’t buying what Duffy was selling:
At this point, Magistrate Judge Vadas broke in to ask Duffy a question. “Counsel, where are we going with this?”
“Counsel has the obligation under federal and local rules to maintain the original signature and he [Gibbs] didn’t do it!” said Duffy. “He’s trying to blame other people who weren’t on the case. Any liability should fall upon him, as the filer.”
Duffy went on. A minute later, Vadas broke in again, with the same question, asking where the line of questioning was going. Duffy was trying to show that Gibbs had changed his story as a result of a “deal” with another defense attorney in Florida, to drop sanctions against him.
“It strikes me from what I have heard so far that there’s a chain of command here, and that Mr. Steele and Mr. Hansmeier were managing partners of the firm that became Prenda Law,” said Vadas. “This counsel and other counsels were contract lawyers doing the heavy lifting in whatever states these lawsuits were being filed… Isn’t that a fair analysis?”
Some have argued that from Duffy’s performance, he appears like he’s in way over his head. Of course, given all of the evidence piling up against him and his colleagues, I’m not sure how he could do any better.
Still, the best line of the day may have come after the hearing was over, when reporter Joe Mullin from Ars Technica chased down Gibbs in the hall and asked for an interview:
“I’m just trying to get on with my life,” he said. “I’m pretty overwhelmed by this. There just needs to be some truth in this, in the whole matter, and that’s why I came today. I don’t know if they believe their own lies, at this point.”
To be fair, Gibbs was a big part of that lying machine at some point, even if he was just taking orders from Steele and Hansmeier, but kudos to him for finally coming clean.