The opinion of the court was delivered by: Otis D. Wright, II United States District Judge
"The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few." -Spock, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982).
Plaintiffs*fn1 have outmaneuvered the legal system.*fn2 They've discovered the nexus of antiquated copyright laws, paralyzing social stigma, and unaffordable defense costs. And they exploit this anomaly by accusing individuals of illegally downloading a single pornographic video. Then they offer to settle-for a sum calculated to be just below the cost of a bare-bones defense. For these individuals, resistance is futile; most reluctantly pay rather than have their names associated with illegally downloading porn. So now, copyright laws originally designed to compensate starving artists allow, starving attorneys in this electronic-media era to plunder the citizenry.
Plaintiffs do have a right to assert their intellectual-property rights, so long as they do it right. But Plaintiffs' filing of cases using the same boilerplate complaint against dozens of defendants raised the Court's alert. It was when the Court realized Plaintiffs engaged their cloak of shell companies and fraud that the Court went to battlestations.
The Court issued its February 7, 2013 Order to Show Cause re Sanctions to allow counsel, Brett Gibbs, to explain why he ignored the Court's discovery-stay Order, filed complaints without reasonable investigation, and defrauded the Court by asserting a copyright assignment secured with a stolen identity. (ECF No. 48.) As evidence materialized, it turned out that Gibbs was just a redshirt.
Gibbs's behavior in the porno-trolling collective was controlled by several attorneys, under whom other individuals also took their orders. Because it was conceivable that these attorneys (and others) were culpable for Gibbs's conduct, the Court ordered these parties to appear.
The following additional parties were ordered to appear: (a) John Steele, of Steele Hansmeier PLLC, Prenda Law, Inc., and/or Livewire Holdings LLC; (b) Paul Hansmeier, of Steele Hansmeier PLLC and/or Livewire Holdings LLC; (c) Paul Duffy, of Prenda Law, Inc.; (d) Angela Van Den Hemel, of Prenda Law, Inc.; (e) Mark Lutz, of Prenda Law, Inc., AF Holdings LLC, and/or Ingenuity 13 LLC; (f) Alan Cooper, of AF Holdings LLC; (g) Peter Hansemeier, of 6881 Forensics, LLC; (h) Prenda Law, Inc.; (i) Livewire Holdings LLC; (j) Steele Hansmeier PLLC; (k) AF Holdings LLC; (l) Ingenuity 13 LLC; (m) 6881 Forensics, LLC; and (n) Alan Cooper, of 2170 Highway 47 North, Isle, MN 56342. (ECF Nos. 66, 86.) These parties were ordered to show cause why they should not be sanctioned for their behind-the-scenes role in the conduct facially perpetrated by Gibbs. These parties were also ordered to explain the nature of their operations, relationships, and financial interests.
The Court has a duty to supervise the conduct of attorneys appearing before it. Erickson v. Newmar Corp., 87 F.3d 298, 301 (9th Cir. 1996). The power to punish contempt and to coerce compliance with issued orders is based on statutes and the Court's inherent authority. Int'l Union, United Mine Workers of Am. v. Bagwell, 512 U.S. 821, 831 (1994). Though this power must be exercised with restraint, the Court has wide latitude in fashioning appropriate sanctions to fit the conduct. See Roadway Express, Inc. v. Piper, 447 U.S. 752, 764--65 (1980).
Under the Court's inherent authority, parties and their lawyers may be sanctioned for improper conduct. Fink v. Gomez, 239 F.3d 989, 991 (9th Cir. 2001). This inherent power extends to a full range of litigation abuses, the litigant must have engaged in bad faith or willful disobedience of a court's order. Id. at 992. Sanctions under the Court's inherent authority are particularly appropriate for fraud perpetrated on the court. See Chambers v. NASCO, Inc., 501 U.S. 32, 54 (1991).