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The law might finally be catching up to some of the Internet's least favorite lawyers. An attorney from the infamous Prenda Law firm is currently facing disciplinary action in Illinois. That lawyer, John Steele, and his partner Paul Hansmeier, are thought to be the "masterminds" behind Prenda Law's long running copyright trolling shakedown scheme, according to Arstechnica.
A Lucrative Scheme, Until You're Disbarred
How'd the Prenda Law scheme work? Prenda Law would send out demand letters to hapless suckers caught downloading porn, accusing them of violating porn companies' copyrights. According to the letters, which were essentially shakedowns, the downloaders could pay a few thousand dollars to easily settle the dispute or face lawsuits and public embarrassment.
After that approach got them hit with a series of sanctions, Prenda Law didn't give up. Hansmeier and Steele continued the ruse through a new law firm, Alpha Law. Hansmeier was recently sanctioned in Minnesota for setting up sham lawsuits for a company that probably didn't exist -- all for the purposes of subpoenaing more porn downloaders' information in order to keep the demand letter shakedowns going. Hansmeier also took a shot at a few meritless (and clientless) ADA-based suits as well.
A Prenda Top Ten List
The complaint against Steele, filed by the Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission, reads like a top ten list of slimy lawyering tactics. Steele is accused of defrauding courts, abusing discovery, filing frivolous lawsuits, and extorting potential defendants. Seven counts detail how Steele and Prenda Law engaged in alleged "conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation."
The complaint starts with Prenda's first big failure, Ingenuity 13 v. John Doe. In that, Prenda Law represented a porn copyright holding company supposedly "managed" by Steele's housekeeper -- who later claimed Steele simply stole his identity. Steele's own mother-in-law made the same accusation soon after. Abusing discovery, failing to respond to court inquiries, and filing lawsuits without supporting facts all got Prenda Law slapped with hefty sanctions.
The accusations go on and on. There's the Minnesota case from above. There's the time Prenda Law sued AT&T and Comcast, in order to get customer information on almost 7,000 "co-conspirators." There, Prenda was sanctioned again, for the "utter nonsense" of "simply filing a lawsuit to do discovery to find out if you can sue somebody." That wasn't Prenda's only Comcast conflict, however. The firm later petitioned a court in Illinois seeking discovery against Comcast before even filing suit.
Years of reprimands and sanctions don't seem to have stopped Steele or his partners from their alleged misdeeds. Perhaps disbarment actually will.