LAWYERLAND—Last week was not a particularly good one for a few lawyers working the John Doe copyright infringement wave of lawsuits. Whether the recent situations signal a trend or not remains to be seen, but at the very least they can be considered fair warning to other attorneys who think end-user litigation is an easy and automatic road to riches.
The most recent situation involves 27 copyright infringement cases that were put on hold Feb. 16 by Judge Robert Hinkle of the Northern District Court of Florida because of allegations by three of the defendants that the attorney for all of the plaintiffs, Tarik Hashmi of the Transnational Law Group, has "no authority to practice law in Florida or in this court."
It seems Hashmi is a resident of the state but not licensed to practice law in it. According to the court, Hashmi does not have to be a member of the Florida bar to be a member of the court's bar, "so long as [he] is a member in good standing of the bar of another state. The rule is intended to allow membership in our bar by an out-of-state attorney who is a member of the bar in the attorney’s home state. An attorney who resides in Florida but who is not a member of the Florida Bar cannot properly appear in this court. This has been this court’s consistent interpretation of the local rule, and it also is a corollary of the Florida state-law prohibition on the unauthorized practice of law in the state."
Hinkle's order gives Hashmi until March 9 to show cause why all of the cases should not be dismissed on the grounds that he is unauthorized to practice in the state or the court.
"Until this issue is resolved by a further order of this court," the order concludes, "Mr. Hashmi must not attempt to settle any of these cases, must not accept any payment in settlement of any of these cases, and must not take any other action in any of these cases. ... This order does not, however, prevent Mr. Hashmi from attempting to arrange representation of a plaintiff by another attorney, so long as Mr. Hashmi does not demand or accept an unlawful fee for doing so."
Hashni's client studios include Third Degree Films, Digital Sin, Next Phaze Distribution, Patrick Collins, Zero Tolerance, Media Products, SBO Pictures, Metro Interactive, Evasive Angles, Elegant Angel and Exquisite Multimedia.
Hashni's pain, which appears to be self-inflicted, can be felt by another John Doe adherent, West Virginia's Kenneth J. Ford, who, according to Ars Techina's Nate Anderson, "filed more than 22,000 'John Doe' lawsuits in 2010 against people across the country, accusing them of downloading super-raunchy films like Teen Anal Nightmare 2 and Juicy White Anal Booty 4 from the Internet."
Within the last month, however, Ford himself was charged with at least one felony for forging a court order and defrauding a client, and was then hit with more charges alleging "felony false pretenses" after "two additional alleged victims who came forward and accused Ford of failing to perform legal services he was hired to do."
Such troubles are reportedly not new for Ford. Anderson, digging into his background, "found that he had been the target of numerous official complaints, complaints for which he had been admonished several times. He had also had his law license suspended five times since 2006."
Even worse, wrote Anderson, "The court documents also show that Ford's marriage recently crumbled, making the whole situation that much more depressing. Ford no longer appears to be listed on the Dunlap Grubb & Weaver cases in which he was previously named, and the firm did not respond to a request for comment about its relationship to Ford."
To be sure, the folk over at EFF and Ars Technica are hardly depressed about the fact that these "copyright trolls" are messing up. "Evidently, it's hard to find good attorneys to sue random people over their pornography consumption," wrote Ars Technica's Timothy B. Lee, hardly able to contain his glee.
For adult studios, on the other hand, it is unlikely that the message from this is that the legal strategy has no merit, though they would probably agree that some of the lawyers they've been using are not exactly A-listers.