Smokey the Cat

January 5, 2014

“Jordan, have you ever done an eviction before?” my boss James asked me. I had been working for a small firm in suburban Pennsylvania for about three years now, and was beginning to hit my stride as a lawyer. James was letting me handle files from start to finish with more regularity.
“Nope. But I’m sure it’s not rocket science. Just give me the file, old man,” I said with a grin. “This one sounds boring.”

The case was simple enough. A woman named Agnes was renting a house from one of James’s biggest clients. She hadn’t paid her rent in a long, long time. The client decided he didn’t want her living there anymore. Too easy, or so I thought.

I drove to the courthouse that day and filed the paperwork. A few weeks later I had a default judgment and a writ of possession, meaning I could have the constables remove the tenant with force, if necessary. The constable posted notice on the house, and we made arrangements for the eviction. Again, too easy. Chalk this up as another win.

“How is the eviction case coming along, Jordan?” James asked me a few weeks later.
“Great! We got a default judgment. I’m going to the house tomorrow morning to remove her. Next time consider giving me an interesting assignment, old man,” I said laughing.
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The Plea

December 3, 2013

It is Tuesday at 9.30am and I am in the booth.

The booth is a tiny box where I have the honor of talking to my client through an inch of bullet-proof glass. I say “talking”, though it’s really more like yelling, since it’s pretty hard to hear through that glass.

“Booth” is a misnomer too. “Booth” reminds me of the precursor to something fun. You buy tickets to a movie or carnival rides at a booth. No such fun was happening today.

Really, the booth is purgatory, a limbo my clients sit in after they’ve made their way from the prison and to the courthouse basement’s holding cells, but before they enter the courtroom where they await final judgment.

This particular morning, I am wearing a navy flannel Brooks Brothers No. 1 sack suit, a white shirt I freshly pressed at 5.30 that morning, and a somber tie that reflected my mood.

In gross juxtaposition, my client is in an orange prison jumpsuit and has a thermal on underneath to keep warm. I guess this hell follows Dante’s rules.

My client is a good man who’d recently made a series of terrible decisions, all of which led to where he is today. Despite his cock-ups, he was truthful and admitted his mistakes not only to his family, but to members of his community.

Then the police became involved.

And he got arrested.

And his mistakes became a “case.”

And that’s how we ended up on opposite sides of the same sheet of glass on Tuesday at 9.32am.

Today, he is ready to plead guilty to the charges against him. In exchange for giving up his Constitutional right to a jury trial, he is offered a sentence far less than what he would see if he were found guilty at trial.

Though we’ve already done this before back up at prison, I review with him one last time his written guilty plea colloquy, and explain to him word by word the rights he is giving up by pleading guilty. I’m reading it to him like I’d read “Hop on Pop” to a kindergartner.

But he’s not a kindergartner. He’s a grown man. And this isn’t “Hop on Pop.”

It’s 9.34am. I’ve finished reviewing the colloquy with him. He’ll sign it out in the courtroom, since now his hands are shackled behind his back and we’re separated by an inch of bullet-proof glass.

It’s 9.35am, and I can only watch as my client sobs and tears stream down his face.

You see, up until this point he’s been a man of god. An educated guy, he’s worked the same job for the last 25 years, and been married to the woman he loves for the last 30. He’s lost all of that now.

(Did I miss the day in law school they taught you how to handle this?)

According to the arrangement with the District Attorney’s office, he faces up to five years in a state correctional institution for the crimes he’s pleading to. If he’s really good (including credit for time served) he’ll get out in about two years. If he runs into problems in prison, he’s going to miss his son’s high school graduation.

I ask him if he as any more questions for me before we go into the courtroom.

“Lord Jesus, what have I done? Will God forgive me? My wife’s left me. Leo, what am I going to do?”

He spits out this sentence between sobs. A man, broken. But in an instant, he musters up all the dignity he has left. He toughens up his features and tries to wipe his eyes on his elbow—which is difficult seeing as his arms are handcuffed behind his back—and puts on an air of stoicism.

And I tell him. “Bill [not his real name], when the court officer asks you how you plead, you say ‘Guilty’”.

He nods.

According to that fancy framed piece of paper from the Pennsylvania Supreme Court hanging on the wall of my office, I’m an attorney and counselor at law. But the three years of schooling and two years out in practice hadn’t prepared me for this—telling a grown man, through bullet proof glass, who until thirty seconds ago had been crying like a baby, that he was going to be spending the next five-ish years of his life outside of the city he’s lived in his whole life, shipped out to Bumblefuck, Pennsylvania (which alone would be enough of a shock) to take up residence at the taxpayer’s expense in a state correctional institution. And I can tell you that a state correctional institution is no Sandals resort. Hell, it’s not even a Howard Johnson.

“Leo, what am I going to do with the rest of my life?” He asks me. While his expression is still stoic, his bloodshot, watery eyes belie his terror. That look—the feeble attempt to cover fear with toughness—it’s a look that will quickly become familiar to me.

(Remind me, what the fuck did Two Ships Peerless do to prepare me for this?)

At 9.37am, two knocks on the door interrupt us. The court crier pokes his head in. “The Judge is ready,” he says, then shuts the door behind him.

I stand up. Bill stands up, hands cuffed behind his back, and the sheriff walks in prepared to lead him out to the courtroom.

Through the glass I shout: “Bill, I’ll see you inside. It’s been my honor to represent you. Remember — everyone is better than the worst thing they’ve ever done.”

I turn and walk out of the booth, prepared to meet my client in the courtroom for judgment.


In The Digital Age, What Is Privacy?

October 11, 2013

A few days ago I wrote about LinkedIn and how apparently they know who I email. After that, I began thinking about how much you can learn about a person just by their digital footprint, especially from an intelligence perspective. What’s interesting is just how much data private corporations like Amazon, Apple, and Microsoft know about everyone. So, exactly what kind of things could you figure out just looking at a person’s digital footprint? Let’s think about it…

Your daily travel habits. You know that function “location services”? While it’s cool to show the world that you’re posting something from Thailand, Philadelphia, or China, reviewing your location services history also would allow someone to put together a very accurate profile of where you generally are. Your laptop, and ergo third parties like Apple, know where you are every single day. 

Your interests, including what type of music, hobbies and literature they are into. If you’re like me, maybe you buy a lot of books and music in digital format. It’s easier than carrying stuff around everywhere. However, if someone were putting together a dossier on you, they could compile all the music, books, and games you are into. While we used to listen to tapes CDs, now Spotify broadcasts whatever I listen to all over the internet. 

Your social network. Just by looking at my Facebook page, you can make some obvious connections about me. Grew up in Downingtown, went to Villanova University, and then Temple Law. Looking at my “friends” section, you can put together a very clear picture of the people I associate with and how frequently. In the olden days, the government would have to subpoena your telephone records or conduct surveillance to figure out who you associate with. Today it’s much easier to simply look at who emails are sent to, and who you’re friends with on Facebook. Keep in mind, part of intelligence is being able to see how people are connected. 

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Unlike George Zimmerman, Most Criminal Defendants Cannot Afford A Fair Trial

July 15, 2013

Last week many of you saw the criminal justice system at its best. George Zimmerman had top notch attorneys and expert witnesses representing him. The trial lasted from June 24 through July 12, which is a lot longer trial than most criminal trials last.

Brian Tannebaum, Eric Mayer, Elie Mystal, Gideon, Popehat, and Scott Greenfield wrote the best pieces I’ve read about the verdict, so I am going to refrain from commentary. Everything that needs to be said has been said by bloggers better qualified than myself to express their opinions.

I think there is an aspect still worth discussing – George Zimmerman was able to afford a top notch defense. Those who can afford a top notch defense fare far better at trial than those who cannot. That is how our justice system works, which I don’t think most Americans realize. The more money you have for your defense, the stronger it is going to be. Someone has to pay those expert witnesses, court reporters, and private investigators.

And here someone paid a significant amount of money to ensure Zimmerman had a full and fair trial.

As a result, it seems like every person in America now thinks that every criminal defendant gets weeks of trial, expert testimony, and a full and fair opportunity to have their case tried fully and fairly. Most of you have never heard of a “meet and greet” plea, where the public defender meets their client for the first time when striking a plea.

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Brian Sims Owns Daryl Metcalfe For Silencing Him On The PA State House Floor Because Metcalfe Believes Marriage Equality Violates “God’s Law”

June 28, 2013
cc2011036 - Gays to Watch for G Philly

State Representative Brian Sims in GQ Magazine

This week it was reported that Downingtown’s own State Representative Brian Sims was going to introduce marriage equality laws here in Pennsylvania. Brian happens to be openly gay, and a really great guy from my hometown. As everyone is aware, last week the Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act, and in doing so held:

The federal statute is invalid, for no legitimate purpose overcomes the purpose and effect to disparage and injure those whom the State, by its marriage laws, sought to protect in personhood and dignity. By seeking to displace this protection and treating those persons as living in marriages less respected than others.

In other words, the constitution forbids congress from passing laws based on discrimination. I thought we figured that out a long time ago, but whatever.

On Wednesday, Brian was going to address the Supreme Court’s historic ruling striking down DOMA. However, Representative Daryl Metcalfe didn’t want to hear Brian had to say about it.

Why? Because according to Metcalfe:

I did not believe that as a member of that body that I should allow someone to make comments such as he was preparing to make that ultimately were just open rebellion against what the word of God has said, what God has said, and just open rebellion against God’s law

Now, I don’t know about you, but God has never explicitly told me that homosexuality is wrong. I know it kinda sorta says it in the Old Testament, but let’s be honest… the the Old Testament says a lot of things that we don’t follow in a civilized society. Things like not eating shellfish, selling your daughters into slavery, beating your wife, not trimming your beard, and not wearing polyester.

As a theology minor, no one has ever been able to convince me there is a valid theological basis for discriminating against our gay brothers and sisters. My interpretation of the Bible is that Jesus would be ashamed that Christians are using His name to promote their bigotry and political agendas.

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Talking Torrents: Judge Baylson Issues Final Memorandum Opinion on the Bellwether Trial; Kills Mass Joinder Torrent Actions

June 19, 2013

Today the Bellwether case officially concluded. Judge Baylson has issued his final memorandum opinion, found here.

Notably, you may recall that we filed a motion to dismiss at the outset of the case, arguing that all of the swarm are indispensable parties. Joinder is either proper or its not. The court rejected that argument and denied our motion.

Interestingly, the court’s opinion memorandum opinion issued today held that joinder is not approprriate in a bittorrent case:

I now believe that joinder of multiple defendants in a single complaint alleging copyright infringement through the use of BitTorrent technology is neither necessary nor appropriate. …  As I held then and believe even more firmly now, members of BitTorrent “swarms” are not essential parties for copyright infringement suits involving BitTorrent technology because the “swarm” is formed automatically by the software, and not by any actual association of these defendants. Moreover, there are downsides to allowing permissive joinder. As trial judges are well aware, a large number of defendants in a single complaint poses significant management problems and often delays disposition of cases. Further, joining multiple defendants allows the plaintiff to avoid separate filing fees, and also pressures individual defendants to settle because their costs of defending a multi-party case are likely to be larger than if there is only one defendant. For these reasons, and based on the record made in this case, I recommend against requiring joinder under Rule 19 and also against allowing it under Rule 20(a).

While this opinion will most likely end the era of massively joined bittorrent actions, I don’t think this is the end of torrent lawsuits. I suspect you will see more actions filed against individuals accused of massive infringement.

But absent massive joinder actions, is this the end of what is popularly characterized as “copyright trolling?” Does this mean that now plaintiffs will be more willing to take their cases to trial?

We shall see.

You may also recall that last year, I wrote an article suggesting that mass joinder actions may be better for individual John Doe defendants.

There is a lot going on in this opinion, and I’m sure you will all have interesting takeaways from it.


Talking Torrents: Some Thoughts on Prosecuting and Defending Bittorrent Cases

June 16, 2013

600px-US-CopyrightOffice-SealMany of you have heard of bittorrent litigation by now. In short, copyright holders will sue a group of people sharing their work on bittorrent. Often the lawsuits involve pornographic movies. Many of these lawsuits also involve large amounts of defendants, e.g., Media Company v. Does 1-50, which has lead to significant amounts of criticism. This month I had the pleasure of defending the first ever bittorent case to ever see the inside of a courtroom in the Bellwether Trial – Malibu Media v. Does 1, 13, and 16.

When it comes to the nuts and bolts of litigating bittorrent cases, there is a popular narrative on the internet. It goes something like this: all the cases are a mass extortion scheme, the people accused were picked out of a hat, no one pirates anything on the internet, nothing could ever be proven in court, and if you just fight them a little bit these guys will run away and probably get sanctioned like Prenda Law.

If you read the internet, you would think everyone who gets sued in a torrent case is an unsuspecting victim forced to settle because it’s the cheaper route. And it doesn’t matter because none of theses case could ever be taken to trial anyway.

I disagree, and I think there is a lot of untrue information out there on the internet. This is my two cents, take it for what it’s worth…

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The Bellwether Trial (Malibu Media v. Does) – What Have We Learned? My Five Takeaways From the Trial

June 11, 2013

Flag_of_Edward_EnglandThis week I had the pleasure of trying the first ever bittorrent case to reach a verdict. Many thanks to my trial co-counsel, Leonard J. French and Ron Smith. Credit is also due to Charles Thomas and Thad Gelsinger, whose clients settled before trial. Finally, kudos to Malibu Media’s counsel, Keith Lipscomb and Chris Fiore, who demonstrated that they are exceptional litigators and trial lawyers. It was a hard fought battle among worthy adversaries.

If you are interested, you can listen to the Bellwether Trial in its entirety here:

Part 1 - Trial Audio (IPP Limited, Patrick Paige, court appointed expert Louis Cinquanto)

Part 2 - Trial Audio (John Doe Defendants, Judge Baylson’s final rulings)

(I can’t figure out how to embed it.)

So… what is this all about?

Last October, Judge Baylson ordered Malibu Media to take a bittorrent case to trial. Some had concerns that a bittorrent case could never be tried successfully in court.

That proved to be wrong… on June 10, 2013, Malibu Media tried three John Does accused of copyright infringement to a verdict.

A $112,500 verdict was entered against John Doe 16, in addition to attorney’s fees and costs. The judgment will be close to $500,000 once costs and attorney’s fees are entered.

No money damages were entered against Doe 1 and Doe 13 because they settled before trial to avoid an entry of a damage award.

Doe 16 was accused, and ultimately found guilty of, very serious perjury. In discovery he turned over a hard drive that had been wiped clean, with evidence planted on it to look as though it were operational. Malibu proved that Doe 16′s hard drive had been wiped, and that evidence had been planted on it. Doe 16 later admitted his wrongdoing and confessed after the court appointed its own expert. (it is a lot more complex than that, but you get the gist).

Doe 1 denied downloading the movies in a civil deposition, but later recanted.

Doe 13 never denied infringing on the copyrighted material, but made legal arguments as to why he should not be held liable. The court said Doe 13 had a legal right to do that.

At the end of the trial, the court rejected the legal arguments and found in favor of Malibu Media.

Now that the trial is over, there are many things we can take away from the Bellwether Trial for lawyers, Doe Defendants, and people who are generally interested in copyright law. These are a few things I thought were notable:

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Self promotion — but at what cost to clients?

June 1, 2013

ShamelessSelfPromotionI’ve been struggling recently with the concept of lawyers’ self-promotion via the media.

Recently, I’ve noticed attorneys in several high-profile cases end up with a camera in front of them and a reporter shoving a microphone into their face, asking them for a comment. Some of these lawyers are younger; others have been around long enough that I presume they know what they’re doing.

Until the lawyer gives a soundbite that could not possibly help their client, and seems calculated only  to get the lawyer’s name out in the evening news.

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It All Matters

April 29, 2013

Last night, some Tweets by @tcita caught my eye:

Protip: don’t do anything that might upset those who hold the keys to seeing your client. And also control every moment of his day.

.@jrushie It never ceases to amaze me how little lawyers think about their interactions with guards.

It seems like common sense when you say it like that. How you interact with the guards might not be a legal paper or proceeding, but how you treat them could affect your client’s interests. So treating the guards right is important.

Her Tweets took me back to an exchange I had with Chris Bradley a few weeks ago. Chris wrote a piece about how he just showed up to a deposition, having no idea what he was doing, but sometimes showing up is enough. I started to take him to town on it, but I ended up writing a sort of incomplete, half-assed blog post about how to defend depositions. Alex Craigie was kind enough to remind me that my summary was inadequate with some tips of his own. Scott Greenfield mentioned the discussion today on his blog.

The more I think about it… it was never about how to take and defend depositions. And my response to Chris missed the boat. It ended up being another inadequate pieces about depositions.

This is the piece I should have written: it all matters. That is why you don’t just show up.

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