While Prenda’s federal cases are closely watched and reported (thanks to immediate availability of court documents via Pacer), cases filed in state courts are difficult to follow as the majority of local courts don’t provide online access to the filings. This post addresses one of the cases that flew under the radar for a while. This is the story of cowardice, sloppiness and douchebaggery by Lightspeed/Prenda on the one side and courage on the other. It has a happy ending, and victims of extortionists deserve to know about it, a healthy dose of Schadenfreude never hurts.
Pornographer Steve Jones
This fiasco stems from a previous action — a poorly conceived Lightspeed Media Corporation v. John Doe “hacking” lawsuit that was filed in a hellhole of St Clair County, IL. It was obvious even from reading an extremely vague complaint that this lawsuit was merely a fishing expedition to uncover and harass owners of more than 6000 IP addresses, produced by a random number generator called “Arcadia Security” (a “forensic company” owned by the plaintiff). Judge LeChien, who raised many brows by disproportionally favoring Prenda, tried to defy common sense by stubbornly dismissing numerous motions to quash until the Superior Court of Illinois slapped him on the wrist. Then the case was removed to the federal level and ended with a remarkable defeat of the extortionists. An unbelievable Chutzpah (the decision to add ISPs to the defendants list), defense attorneys’ intellectual superiority, and the inherent frivolousness of the action — all these factors contributed to this spectacular downfall — a $261,025.31 judgment against John Steele, Paul Hansmeier and Paul Duffy personally.
These fireworks took place last month, but 1.5 years ago Prenda’s spine was not yet broken. In order to maintain the level of pressure on hapless Does, Prenda started a couple of showcase lawsuits in various states. One of these, Lightspeed Media Corporation v. Adam Sekora, was filed in the Arizona Superior Court (Maricopa county) on 5/25/2012 (CV2012-053194).
Who are the parties?
Plaintiff Lightspeed Media Corporation, which is run by a slimeball Steve Jones and his wife, is a low-budget pornography producer who earned a fortune exploiting gullibility and natural stupidity of 18-19 year old girls, whom he films.
Defendant Adam Sekora, an IT professional, ran a TOR exit mode on the date his IP address was harvested by Jones’s script.
So, we have a “businessman” (in reality a parasite), who lacks basic ethics, and a productive citizen who donated his resources to a valuable cause by running a TOR exit node:
Using free software, Tor has enabled roughly 36 million people around the world to experience freedom of access and expression on the Internet while keeping them in control of their privacy and anonymity. Its network has proved pivotal in dissident movements in both Iran and more recently Egypt.
If Lightspeed was not disgusting enough already, this contrast makes him look like a cockroach. It is absolutely natural that John Steele and Steve Jones were attracted to each other.
Evasiveness and lies
Adam was served with the complaint on 6/22/2012 and quickly retained Aaron Kelly and Paul Ticen of the Kelly Warner, PLLC. The Answer was filed on 7/10/2012. Before and after Kelly started representing Adam, both Prenda’s paralegal Mark Lutz and robots were harassing Adam, pushing him to settle.
In addition, the complaint was posted on now defunct Prenda’s website wefightpiracy.com, and that could potentially damage Sekora’s reputation. I don’t know if it did, but unproven allegations can cause a real harm: employers and prospective creditors are reluctant to deal with people involved in litigation, especially when the other party is a pornographer.
Arizona has very strict disclosure rules, maybe the strictest in the country. There is no “hiding the ball,” without putting one’s right to put on evidence at serious risk. So, the defense naturally requested the evidence of “hacking.” Fast forward, no such evidence was ever disclosed: it seems that Prenda/Lightspeed trespassed Adam’s life based only on the recorded IP address, and they did absolutely nothing to further investigate the allegations: a cursory search would immediately show that the IP address in question ran a TOR exit node.
Scared by the mounted defense, Brett Gibbs approached Sekora with a walk-away offer, and was flabbergasted by Adam’s refusal. Immediately after that John Steele called Adam’s attorneys with infamous bragging/threats:
Mr. Steele inquired why my client didn’t accept Plaintiff s settlement proposal and during the course of the conversation I mentioned that Plaintiff is deliberately withholding critical evidence; Mr. Steele responded that they have sufficient numbers of young attorneys” to get “crafty.”
Still not getting necessary evidence, on 11/1/2012 defense filed a motion to compel and for sanctions, and, after Judge’s order, Lightspeed spat out an ostensive piece of evidence: the server logs for the “stolen” username (“rick14”) that Adam purportedly used to access Lightspeed’s smut. It turned out to be questionable though,
CCBill recently produced documents in response to the subpoena clearly showing that the account associated with user name “rick14” was deactivated on November 3, 2004. These records will be disclosed via a supplemental disclosure statement. Surprisingly, this fact was never disclosed nor was it disclosed that the account or this particular user name was reactivated at some point within the following seven years. Further, Lightspeed failed to even disclose what password Mr. Sekora allegedly used to access the website and all password changes made under this username. The password in the CCBill document differs from what was posted online.
By that time it was clear that the entire case is nothing but a bluff.
An amended complaint that removed some of the allegations was filed on 12/12/2012, and the defense answered on 1/9/2013 (I currently don’t have these documents).
Dismissal and judgment
At this time the Coopergate was quickly unfolding, and the entire Prenda train started accelerating towards its inevitable derailment. Seemingly, Prenda was overwhelmed by troubles, and on 5/15/2013 the case was dismissed for lack of prosecution. The defense moved for attorney fees (in the amount of $34,053) on 5/28. I have embedded this motion because it includes a comprehensive history of the case:
Plaintiff opposed on 6/11 (you can hear Steele’s snarky and arrogant voice while reading this document), and on 6/21 Ticen filed a resounding reply.
Judge Alfred Fenzel was not moved by Lightspeed’s/Prenda’s lame lawyering, and on 8/5/2013 he ordered the plaintiff to pay $29K (and a 4.25% interest started ticking).
Is anyone surprised that Prenda/Lightspeed simply ignored the debt? I’m not. So, when defense’s patience was finally exhausted, two Writs of Garnishment were issued (to CCBill on 11/7/2013 and to Bank of America on 11/13). Those institutions replied (1, 2): Lightspeed had enough funds to cover the debt, and after the stipulation between the defense and garnishees, judge ordered that
1. Garnishee Defendant Bank of America, N.A. shall turn over $25,939.17 by check payable to “Adam Sekora and Kelly / Warner, PLLC, his attorneys’ of record.”
2. Garnishee Defendant CCBILL, LLC shall turn over $3,577.68 by check payable to “Adam Sekora and Kelly / Warner, PLLC, his attorneys’ of record.”
3. Both Garnishee Defendants shall mail/deliver the check to Kelly / Warner at 8283 North Hayden Road, #229, Scottsdale, Arizona 85258.
This event took place on Thursday, December 5, 2013, exactly two years after Adam’s TOR exit node IP address was recorded by the software that had never been independently scrutinized. Kudos to Sekora and his lawyers for fighting and winning, yet it is worth recalling those innocents who succumbed to threats, fearing for their careers, relationships and community relations.