Private Parts: Denton Attorney Pursuing Porn Downloaders Runs Into Judge and the EFF

Private Parts: Denton Attorney Pursuing Porn Downloaders Runs Into Judge and the EFF

Our first mention of Denton lawyer Evan Stone and his court fight against porn pirates (recall: not that Evan Stone, though we heard he was in town this weekend) centered on his case representing Germany's Mick Haig Productions, and their Cassavetes-esque family drama, Der Gute Önkel.

Four months later, that one's become the first of Stone's BitTorrent porn downloading cases to close. Stone dropped the case a few days ago, and a court-appointed lawyer for the 670 John Doe defendants says it could set a precedent used in Stone's other cases too.

Stone tells Unfair Park he dropped his suit because it'd been four months since he filed his motion for discovery -- which he'd need to get names and mailing addresses for the John Does known only by their IP addresses -- and still hadn't heard a thing from U.S. District Judge David Godbey. Stone says at this point, he figured Gobey wasn't going to rule on discovery at all.

But Paul Levy, a lawyer with Public Citizen I've quoted before, says Stone dropped the case because Levy wrote him a letter complaining that he'd sent subpoenas to Internet providers without the judge's go-ahead -- which would apparently be some sort of ethical breach.

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Stone wouldn't comment on whether that was true, in case Levy raises the question in court later. "If he's moving with sanctions against me, he can do whatever he feels like he's big enough to do," Stone says.

Stone points out that of the separate 16 cases he's filed in the Northern District Court of Texas, against 12,812 defendants, this is the only time a judge has gone to what he calls the "unprecedented step" of appointing an attorney for the John Does before he could get to discovery. "It was totally bizarre for the judge to have reached out to the EFF," referring to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the group appointed along with Public Citizen and referred to in Stone's dismissal notice as "a trio of attorneys renowned for defending internet piracy and renowned for their general disregard for intellectual property law." (The notice is posted below.)

"He's angry, and he's misstated the facts because he's angry," Levy tells us. "He's a reliatively junior lawyer, and junior lawyers make mistakes." Levy says he's not out to protect pirates of course, but his main concern is guarding people's anonymity when they deserve it, and "trying to establish a standard for judges to decide whether to order ISPs to identify anonymous Internet users," Levy says.

Even though it never went to trial, Levy says, the Önkel case is an important precedent for cases with anonymous defendants. As Levy writes at Public Citizen:

Judges should demand some evidence of wrongdoing before they allow discovery to identify the alleged wrongdoers, and if they are not sure of their ability to evaluate the papers in their own chambers, they should consider appointing pro bono counsel to respond to the motion.

Stone says he doubts he'll see this issue come up again, calling Godbey "the black sheep" among the federal judges in town. "I've got too many other things going on to worry about that," Stone says.

Stone only had the one case in Godbey's court, but he's been filing a new case each of the last few weeks -- over titles like Sara Jay in Heat, Broke Amateurs: Brianna and The Sexxxtons -- most of which have been reassigned so that 13 of Stone's 15 open cases are in Judge Royal Furgeson's court.

By Stone's count, he's already been granted discovery to get names from ISPs in all but three or four of those cases so far -- including two more in just the last week.
Haig v Does Notice of Dismissal


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