Lawyer Fined For Defying Judge and Sending Subpoenas to ISPs

A prominent lawyer involved in the ever-growing pay-up-or-else anti-filesharing schemes in the United States has been admonished and punished by a judge. Evan Stone had asked the whether he could contact ISPs in order to discover the identities of alleged file-sharers, but the court said he'd have to wait. Stone ignored the court but was ultimately found out, which resulted in him picking up a $10,000 fine.

Texas lawyer Evan Stone is one of the more colorful characters in the U.S. file-sharing settlement sphere.

The self-described programmer, filmmaker and musician, who when speaking of his pirate-chasing lifestyle says “I was born to do this shit,” is perhaps best known for his attacks on BitTorrent users sharing anime. But like many of his counterparts, Stone also dabbles in pornography.

Last year, Stone filed a suit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas on behalf of Mick Haig Production, which targeted 670 BitTorrent users who allegedly shared the movie Der Gute Onkel. Now his behavior in the case has drawn the ire of District Court Judge David C. Godbey.

Earlier, Judge Godbey had denied Stone’s request to start sending subpoenas to the ISPs. Stone had wanted to start straight away on matching his collected IP addresses with real-life identities. Instead, Judge Godbey ordered the ISPs to store the information for a later date and the EFF were brought in to represent the interests of, by definition, the as-yet unnamed ‘Does’ in the suit.

But events had already taken a turn for the strange. Internet users started to receive letters from Stone requesting cash settlements, despite the fact that only their ISPs knew their identities and Stone had not yet been given permission to access the information.

Soon the situation became clear. According to the EFF, despite the Judge’s earlier refusal to allow the sending of subpoenas to ISPs, Stone had contacted them anyway. Without a court order, ISPs had been handing over information on their subscribers to Stone and he had been contacting them for cash settlements.

Then in January 2011, Stone and his client dismissed the entire case with prejudice, which brought it to a complete conclusion. Their justification was that there was no “meaningful opportunity to pursue justice in this matter” because there was “little chance of discovery in sight,” this, despite already receiving settlements.

The pair also took the opportunity to bemoan the EFF’s involvement in the case, describing them as a group “renowned for defending internet piracy.”

In court papers dated last Friday, District Court Judge David C. Godbey is scathing of Stone’s conduct.

“To say that the subpoenas imposed an undue burden on their targets fails to capture the gravity of Stone’s abdication of responsibility,” writes the Judge.

“Because Stone obtained information that he had no right to receive, the subpoenas falsity transformed the access of the Does’ information from a bona fide state-sanctioned inspection into private snooping.”

“The Court appointed the Ad Litems [EFF and Public Citizen] to argue whether Stone could send the subpoenas. Stone argued that the Court should allow him to – even though he had already done so – and eventually dismissed the case ostensibly because the Court was taking too long to make a decision,” Judge Godbey continues.

“All the while, Stone was receiving identifying information and communicating with some Does, likely about settlement. The Court rarely has encountered a more textbook example of conduct deserving of sanctions.”

But for this clear and gross misconduct, the Judge fine Stone a mere $10,000. Texas lawyer Robert Cashman, who defends individuals targeted by file-sharing lawsuits, says he’s not impressed by the amount.

“This seems like pennies to an attorney who is bringing in $2,500 per settlement at what he claims is a 45% settlement rate. Ten thousand dollars is merely the equivalent of FOUR settlements,” Cashman writes.

“With the hundreds of letters that went out, even if he is lying about the settlement rate, don’t you think he made at MANY TIMES that amount? Think about it. There is nothing punitive about this order.

“Assume Evan Stone merely sent out 100 letters and had only a 20% success rate at $2,500 per settlement. This alone amounts to $50,000. The Mick Haig Productions case had *670* defendants.

“In short, while $10,000 may be a lot to a starving attorney, my opinion is that the sanctions wouldn’t even cover the IRS’ federal income taxes Mick Haig Productions would pay on the settlements they received from this misstep,” Cashman concludes.

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