Judge's ruling is 'vindication' for 20,000 Prenda targets, lawyer says
A defense attorney who was awarded fees in a copyright infringement case unraveling in California federal court believes the judge’s order is a “major victory” for his client. Morgan Pietz, of the Pietz Law Firm in Beverly Hills, Calif., said the order issued Monday by U.S. District Judge Otis Wright, II not only is vindication for his client but also for more than 20,000 people he says have been targeted in the last two to three years by lawyers from the Prenda Law firm in Chicago. The firm has filed suits in a number of jurisdictions across the country – including St. Clair County - accusing defendants by name (or potential defendants by their Internet Protocols) of illegally downloading pornography. “In some ways, Judge Wright's order is vindication for all of Prenda's victims,” Pietz said. As a punitive measure, Wright doubled fees and defense costs, awarding a total of $81,319.72. He also ordered the referral of attorneys Paul Duffy of Prenda Law, John Steele and Paul Hansmeier of Steele Hansmeier in Chicago and Brett Gibbs of San Francisco to the criminal investigation unit of the Internal Revenue Service, the U.S. Attorney in Central California and their respective state and federal bars where they are admitted to practice. Wright found the lawyers had engaged in “brazen misconduct and relentless fraud” and that attorneys Duffy, Steele and Hansmeier created business entities for the sole purpose of litigating copyright infringement cases. Duffy is the lead plaintiff attorney in litigation unfolding in St. Clair County Circuit Court. A case filed in January, LW Systems v. Christopher Hubbard, is presided over by Circuit Judge Andrew Gleeson. A broad discovery order in LW Systems was signed early on by Chief Judge John Baricevic. The order has allowed LW Systems to subpoena the names, addresses, phone numbers, email addresses and Media Access Control addresses associated with particular IP’s from 325 Internet service providers (ISPs). A Belleville attorney representing several John Does in LW Systems has said there could be as many as 15,000 targets in the case. Pietz said he represents approximately 60 clients in similar litigation across the country. He has said he could get involved in the St. Clair County case. As far as the impact of Wright’s order, Pietz said, “word travels fast about things like this.” “Defense lawyers are already beginning to file copies of Judge Wright's order in other pending Prenda cases around the country,” he said. “Moreover, the Court in California seems to be contemplating some kind of direct notice to other judges presiding over Prenda cases. So I think there will absolutely be an impact around the country.” According to Pietz, the Prenda Law Firm seems to be filing most, if not all, of their new cases in St. Clair County. Duffy filed at least two other similar cases in St. Clair County on behalf of Lightspeed Media in 2011. Another case styled Guava LLC v. Comcast was filed by an associate of Duffy, Brett Gibbs of San Francisco, in 2012. Local counsel for Duffy and Gibbs is Kevin Hoerner of Belleville. Pietz said he believes “St. Clair County has an important role to play in where the Prenda story goes from here.” Citing Wright’s order that was “peppered with references to Star Trek,” Pietz said, “Prenda has made it pretty clear that they view St. Clair County as ‘the final frontier.’” In the LW Systems’ case, ISPs CenturyTel Service Group, Comcast and Verizon Online will appear before Gleeson at 10 a.m. on May 16 to present their joint motion to quash and/or motion for protective order. In addition, hundreds of John Does have been fighting the subpoenas of their identities in the LW Systems’ case. Their motions to quash are set to be heard on June 26. (Editor's note: This story has been updated).