This wasn't exactly a clean operation.
May 4, 2015 4:29 PM   Subscribe

It's been a long time coming, but the Porn Trolling copyright lawyers of Prenda Law finally had (another) day in court, this time before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. It went poorly.
posted by T.D. Strange (47 comments total) 33 users marked this as a favorite
 
I am so bummed I didn't know this was happening. I would have loved to have seen this.
posted by zachlipton at 4:36 PM on May 4, 2015


John Steele. LOL.
posted by oluckyman at 4:43 PM on May 4, 2015 [1 favorite]


Oh how I love this:

Pregerson: And you're a great lawyer.
Voelker: I appreciate you saying that, Your Honor.
Pregerson: I mean, it says so, right there on your web site.

posted by not_the_water at 5:04 PM on May 4, 2015 [93 favorites]


Imagine getting your e-penis smacked by a 91 year old.
posted by rhizome at 5:10 PM on May 4, 2015 [3 favorites]


They really are the gift that keeps on giving, aren't they?
posted by Thorzdad at 5:10 PM on May 4, 2015 [1 favorite]


I know nothing about the particulars of law or even the generalities of law as they apply to this case, 90% of the commentary about it is utter gobbledygook to me, and yet I HAVE SUCH DELIGHT in reading about it. Such delight!
posted by KathrynT at 5:14 PM on May 4, 2015 [5 favorites]


I bet Voelker sat in his car and had a good cry after the beat down he received in that courtroom.
posted by dazed_one at 5:21 PM on May 4, 2015


There's no joy like the joy of bad things happening to bad people by way of their bad, stupid behavior.
posted by wotsac at 5:23 PM on May 4, 2015 [18 favorites]


Oh, man. I've been following this case for years, and it's still shocking me to see how the argument went. Prenda's position is that the Judge who assessed the sanction should have another swing at the Pinata, this time to consider (and almost certainly assess) criminal sanctions.

I have really nothing to add to Ken White's reaction to one of the more incredulous statements from the bench:
"Do you understand that the maximum penalty for contempt is life imprisonment?" I lost a little urine at this point.
posted by Zonker at 5:23 PM on May 4, 2015 [5 favorites]


> Such delight!

Yes, me too this!
posted by rtha at 5:26 PM on May 4, 2015 [2 favorites]


Pregerson demanded whether Voelker would be "involved" in any criminal proceeding. "Not necessarily Your Honor," said Voelker, which is not the way I would have gone with that.

Oh, this is rich and delicious.
posted by gimonca at 5:31 PM on May 4, 2015


Can I poop on the parade by way of a hypothetical question or two?

1) Do we have any idea how much money these fuckers extorted already? Probably more than I'll make in any given decade of my lifetime if I had to guess.

B) Is it possible that some of the people perpetuating said extortion are actually wily enough to remain unknown despite all the power of the judiciary, criminal and civil, raining shit on their parade?

III) What, if anything, is to keep the person or persons in B) from taking the money from 1) and [preemptively] hightailing it to the Caribbean or Thailand if this potentially pending criminal appeal case goes terribly, terribly wrong for them? Could that be the plan all along, i.e. enjoy the US and business as usual for as long as possible and keep the courts tied in knots while hoping for a miracle ball-drop by their opposition along the way.

IANAL. I am also not a smart man.
posted by RolandOfEld at 5:35 PM on May 4, 2015 [1 favorite]


(1) Not with any accuracy, but so what?

(B) Anything is possible, but it doesn't look like it.

(III) Nothing in theory, like any other criminal not yet indicted, and although it might be difficult for them to manage to hide or offshore money at this juncture it's possible that they have in the past. Again, so what?
posted by snuffleupagus at 5:52 PM on May 4, 2015


Something I wrote over on Ars back in 2013:

The name "John Steele" has been bugging me for a while. It finally clicked the other night. I went back to my high school yearbooks, and there's a John Steele who looks remarkably like a younger version of the contemporary photos of the Prenda Steele. Ovbiously, I can't be positive they're the same, but given that Steele is a University of Minnesota alum, it also seems to fit with him attending Minneapolis South High in the late 80's.

If they're the same person, I have two items that people might find amusing. One is that someone (not me) crossed his picture out in my sophomore yearbook and wrote, "MEAN" across the picture. The other item is a memory of our biology teacher in 9th grade turning to him at one point and saying, "John, you're an asshole." (A shocking statment for a teacher at the time--it's the first time I ever heard a teacher swear.)

All in all, assuming I've got the right guy, this disaster couldn't happen to a better person.

posted by Ickster at 5:53 PM on May 4, 2015 [48 favorites]


RolandOfEld,

In partial answer, at least some of the money is held as a bond for the appeal and will be released to the Defendants (the people Prenda screwed) upon Prenda's loss.

We may not know for certain how much money was raked in. One of the articles about the Hurt Locker cases in the 2013 MeFi post missed this point. While that article focused on the difficulty the plaintiffs for the Hurt Locker had in bringing its case to court, it neglected to mention that tons of people settled with the plaintiff long before the cases started to get dismissed. Truth is, a lot of people know they downloaded something without permission and/or they know that they can't afford the time and energy of the fight, so they pay the going rate to settle and move on.

Prenda appears to be different. They hit upon targeting copyright infringement of pornography, which dissuades people from fighting due to embarrassment, then they wrapped it all up in what is allegedly very shady additional behavior. We can only imagine that the conversion rates from threat to payment for Prenda were even better than for Hurt Locker given the extra incentives to avoid the allegations about downloading porn becoming public.
posted by Muddler at 5:55 PM on May 4, 2015 [1 favorite]


The combination of Popehat and Prenda is glorious. I very seldom laugh out loud, but since I ran out of new Wodehouse books, Prenda hearings are maybe the only thing that offer guaranteed LOL.

Never change John Steele, Paul Hansmeier, and Paul Duffy.
posted by pseudonick at 5:57 PM on May 4, 2015 [1 favorite]


IANAL, but I agree this was a great read. Thanks for posting!!!
posted by JoeXIII007 at 5:58 PM on May 4, 2015


1) Do we have any idea how much money these fuckers extorted already? Probably more than I'll make in any given decade of my lifetime if I had to guess.

Take it with as many grains of salt as you deem appropriate, but in 2012 he claimed that it was in the millions:
I asked Steele, who works with approximately two dozen “adult entertainment clients” how many of these cases he has settled. He says a “fair number” would be 5,000. These firms generally ask people to settle by paying them $3,000. Doing the math, I suggest Steele has made $15 million settling these suits.

“Maybe a little less. We don’t track the amount we’ve recovered. More than a few million,” he says, declining to offer exact numbers.

posted by fogovonslack at 6:03 PM on May 4, 2015


but so what?

Because the story isn't as gleefully hilarious when they (Prenda) sail off into the sunset with their misbegotten gains. I'm not saying they can or will, just that the pessimist in me sees them being both potentially flush with cash (on preview, in the tens of millions potentially) and willing and able to discard any semblance of the rule of law with regards to their well being. Sure they lose their careers and all but if I was as sleazy and greedy as they obviously are then it doesn't seem like too much of a stretch to see something like this as an option in their planning, doubly so in the face of a monstrous sentence for mega-contempt.

So yea, taking the hypothetical and running with it, new headline for the next post I see about this on Metafiler:

====================================================
Prenda operators vanish in face of summons, legal system and victims left screwed

...where they all get away, via self imposed exile, with their millions. The system worked to the fullest. So what?

=================================================

Again, on preview: It seems some X amount of money is held as bond already. That's something I guess. But yea, excuse my spitballing. I am just a pessimist of the mindset that white-collar criminals are, in general, going to get a nice outcome and, until proven different, that's where I fear things like this will end up.
posted by RolandOfEld at 6:13 PM on May 4, 2015 [1 favorite]


Minneapolis South High

WE'RE LOYAL TO YOU NORTH SIDE HIGH (RAH RAH RAH)

That one's for you, grandpa.

posted by snuffleupagus at 6:13 PM on May 4, 2015 [1 favorite]


But yea, excuse my spitballing. I am just a pessimist of the mindset that white-collar criminals are, in general, going to get a nice outcome and, until proven different, that's where I fear things like this will end up.

Fair enough. It doesn't really abate my satisfaction with today's news, though. It's not like it would be better if they weren't being sanctioned and investigated, because they might still get away with some of what they've done.
posted by snuffleupagus at 6:22 PM on May 4, 2015


Did you know that the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals puts most of its proceedings on YouTube?
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 6:26 PM on May 4, 2015 [51 favorites]


Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish: That's awesome! (what is the supreme court afraid of?).

Some advice to anyone watching that youtube link: Get some popcorn.
posted by el io at 6:37 PM on May 4, 2015 [2 favorites]


Did you know that the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals puts most of its proceedings on YouTube?

I did not before making this post, no.
posted by T.D. Strange at 6:46 PM on May 4, 2015 [2 favorites]


This is the oral argument everybody has nightmares about having when they're on moot court. Or maybe just me. Except that nobody assigns an argument for moot court that requires you to be an idiot and an asshole.
posted by Sequence at 6:50 PM on May 4, 2015 [7 favorites]


(what is the supreme court afraid of?)

But if it weren't for their camera ban, we wouldn't have Real Animals, Fake Paws reenactments of arguments!

Downside is people seem to have lost interest and I don't see many posted for more recent arguments. Though I did find one short one for Walker v. Texas Div., Sons of Confederate Veterans, Inc. from March.
posted by asperity at 6:56 PM on May 4, 2015 [1 favorite]


Because the story isn't as gleefully hilarious when they (Prenda) sail off into the sunset with their misbegotten gains.

That's always a possibility, which is one of the reasons it's a little curious that no further criminal proceedings seem to have been initiated (that we know about) in the past two years. Prosecutors have their hands full and white collar crime, which is what Prenda is, has taken a back seat to low level drug war crime and flashy terrorism cases since 9/11 and before, but you'd think some prosecutor in one of the many, many jurisdictions with Prenda ties would've jumped on the case by now.

But today's argument seems like the approach of a denouement, even if Prenda wins, they go back down to Judge Otis Wright with explicit instructions to hold criminal contempt proceedings, which would involve a full trial. At that point the ongoing legal extortion at least will have to come to an end, no lawyer can continue practicing with a criminal contempt charge pending, much less a conviction. So there's the silver lining, even if Steele et al fled to a beach in Belize with whatever millions they have left, it should be the end of their abuse of the judicial system.
posted by T.D. Strange at 6:57 PM on May 4, 2015 [3 favorites]


Ken White (the blogger) is a national treasure.
posted by Mr. Justice at 8:05 PM on May 4, 2015 [1 favorite]




Pregerson: And you're a great lawyer.
Voelker: I appreciate you saying that, Your Honor.
Pregerson: I mean, it says so, right there on your web site.


Okay, so to fully appreciate this gem, we need to talk about the context leading up to it. Pregerson is the ninety-one-year-old judge. After he's had enough of Voelker's nonsense, he launches into a ten-minute-long old man ramble that boils down to You and your clients think you're so clever? You're nothing. I've taken down bigger men than you. All Voelker can do is wait patiently, and let Pregerson get under his skin.

Then as soon as Pregerson says something that can be plausibly construed as a question, Voelker pounces and goes for the same talking point he's been making for the entire hearing — that his clients want their day in court. Even if it means facing criminal sanctions.

This leads to Pregerson suggesting that Voelker might face sanctions along with his clients. Voelker demurs. And that moment is when Pregerson swings his "great lawyer" hook.

You think you can distance yourself from these crooks? Good luck with that!

Pregerson keeps on punching, getting in an even better burn and making Voelker take his lumps until he sits down. It's crotchety sass at its best, and a transcript wouldn't do it justice. So just watch.
posted by Banknote of the year at 8:26 PM on May 4, 2015 [19 favorites]


So just watch.

Just finished - it ended with them calling recess until 9am tomorrow. Does that mean they'll come back with a ruling then?
posted by oh yeah! at 9:18 PM on May 4, 2015


About 19.5 minutes in "[the document] was delivered by the tooth fairy?"
posted by blueberry at 9:25 PM on May 4, 2015


Being a judge must be the best job in the world if you're a crotchety old man. You ramble on as long and as slowly as you like about Alexander Hamilton and everyone is required to listen.
posted by echo target at 10:01 PM on May 4, 2015 [18 favorites]


It's even better than that. If you're on the Supreme Court and you draft the majority opinion - anything you say is right. Legally, anyway. As long as you can tie it in to the verdict: "... something something and people mumble on the phone nowadays so the defendants lose" becomes "And people mumble on the phone, see Plaintiffs v Defendents."
posted by Joe in Australia at 10:41 PM on May 4, 2015 [1 favorite]


"John, you're an asshole." (A shocking statment for a teacher at the time--it's the first time I ever heard a teacher swear.)

You should find him and get him to make a statement.
posted by boilermonster at 11:03 PM on May 4, 2015 [3 favorites]


aaaaaaaaaaaand I have a new hero in my adult life.

"Judge Pregerson — who began the day by announcing it was the 70th anniversary of his battle wound on Okinawa — was relentless."

Semper Fi, No Bullshit Edition
posted by C.A.S. at 12:12 AM on May 5, 2015 [5 favorites]


Being a judge must be the best job in the world if you're a crotchety old man. You ramble on as long and as slowly as you like about Alexander Hamilton and everyone is required to listen.

I kept choosing the wrong career all my life.
posted by pjern at 1:32 AM on May 5, 2015 [4 favorites]


Just finished - it ended with them calling recess until 9am tomorrow. Does that mean they'll come back with a ruling then?

No, there will be a written opinion sometime in as little as maybe six weeks, or maybe several months. Gears of Justice, a Federal judge rules exactly when he means to, etc.
posted by T.D. Strange at 4:38 AM on May 5, 2015


"Recess" just means that the same court (but probably with different judges) will convene again to hear more cases at that time.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 5:08 AM on May 5, 2015


Prendarasts

Heh.
posted by Halloween Jack at 5:15 AM on May 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


See, now I watch the 91 year old judge going on and on and on, going off on unrelated tangents (yes, I want to pay my attorney $750 an hour to listen to a judge ramble about what famous American was born in Nieves). and I think it's yet another example of how the system is broken. This judge hardly seems aware of what facts he should be paying attention to. I'm not a lawyer, I'm pretty lacking in knowledge about what should be happening here, but the other two judges in the video appear to be asking specific questions about specific actions taken by a district court, while the elder judge talks about generalities of the overall case and the evilness which are embodied in the defendants.

In this case it's funny because it's some bad guys getting spanked, but don't a lot of major legal arguments need to go through the 9th appellate and this guy?
posted by newpotato at 5:45 AM on May 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


Well, Pregerson is just like that, he's old and seems to revel in dismantling a shoddy argument, and the presenting attorney, when the opportunity arises. But watching the video, he's got just as good of a command of the case as Tallman does, at the beginning of his extended rant, he's specifically discussing the Prenda scheme and understands what bittorrent is. Here's another example where the government is on the receiving end of crotchety Pregerson, after a US Attorney just cold made crap up in a closing statement:

7:27 — Defense counsel John Lemon explains what he would have said to counter these new facts if he’d been granted a surrebuttal. Setting up the greatest “I’m an old man so I can snark whenever I want” question ever from Judge Pregerson, “What you wanted was a fair trial, is that right?” Can this exchange get better? Sure. After everyone gets done laughing, Chief Judge Kozinski makes a quip that keeps the room going and Judge Pregerson wryly says, “Now that was funny — I have to turn up my hearing aid so tell me what you just said.” After making Kozinski repeat himself, Pregerson stone-cold says, “Oh… I heard that.” Gangsta.

posted by T.D. Strange at 6:35 AM on May 5, 2015 [4 favorites]


See, now I watch the 91 year old judge going on and on and on, going off on unrelated tangents (yes, I want to pay my attorney $750 an hour to listen to a judge ramble about what famous American was born in Nieves). and I think it's yet another example of how the system is broken.

I have some sympathy for this argument. Some of those tangents seemed rather far afield.

This judge hardly seems aware of what facts he should be paying attention to. I'm not a lawyer, I'm pretty lacking in knowledge about what should be happening here, but the other two judges in the video appear to be asking specific questions about specific actions taken by a district court, while the elder judge talks about generalities of the overall case and the evilness which are embodied in the defendants.

But on the other hand, I don't agree with this bit. I mean, if he were the sole judge presiding over the case and were acting the exact same way, I might. But in this case it seemed like the three members of the panel were working well together, in different roles.

You're right; the other two judges put their focus on the minutiae of the case, and the technical reasons why the particular sort of sanctions imposed in this case might or might not have been properly imposed by the lower court. So that was being taken care of. It seemed to me that Pregerson's role was in deliberately putting the focus on the big picture—not because he was unaware of the important facts, but because he felt it was important not to lose sight of the forest for examining the trees.

As I understood it, part of the defense's argument was that Prenda had deliberately gamed the legal system itself for use in an extortion scheme, and that judges ought to have the ability to quash such—well, rules-lawyering—even if the rules don't explicitly cover such an eventuality, because it poses a threat to the integrity of the justice system. That's a big-picture argument. The devil is in the details, and Pregerson left the other two judges free to engage with those details, but both perspectives seemed appropriate here.
posted by Shmuel510 at 6:49 AM on May 5, 2015


This judge hardly seems aware of what facts he should be paying attention to.

Are you kidding? That 91 year old judge displayed a familiarity with IP addresses, the way bittorrent works and the likelihood that the Prenda group were seeding the swarms themselves, the sham companies, the identity theft and fraud on the court, etc, and repeatedly tried to get Voelker to discuss the facts. His seemingly tangential crack about computer history and computer fraud segued neatly into a succinct and withering description of Prenda's 'operation.'

Maybe his musings and tangents and the deliberate pace of his speech added..what...twenty or thirty minutes to the proceedings? At the most. I promise you the small increase in fees for that time is dwarfed by the time spent out of court. And are we really concerned with Prenda Law's legal fees? Pregerson had a point to make in raking Voelker over the coals in the manner he did.
posted by snuffleupagus at 7:04 AM on May 5, 2015 [10 favorites]


Usually when I read a transcript of powerful remarks, it ends us being better than a video because I can imagine it being as forceful as possible.

Except that video. That video exceeds my expectations and really captures the scorn in the judges voices. I love it.
posted by yeti at 7:26 AM on May 5, 2015 [3 favorites]


Shoulda called Saul.
posted by Poldo at 10:56 AM on May 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


I liked Tallman. He has the most withering explanation of the adverse inference thing, something about it made me LOL. It seemed like Nguyen felt sorry for Voelker and tried to throw him a bone a couple of times, but he was already committed to his strategy and refused to budge and she was like, ok then, whatev. I'll just be here on my computer looking up something to club you over the head with later.

I actually thought Pregerson might have passed out during one long pause during the rebuttal. I also though he had completely forgotten what he was talking about at one point, but he came back.

I'm curious though, is circuit court really that different in expectations from the Supreme Court? All of the SC oral arguments I've read, when the judge asks a question, the attorneys answer the damn question even if they don't like it.
posted by ctmf at 8:44 PM on May 5, 2015


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