Cook County Record

Saturday, February 22, 2020

Status hearing over Prenda Law's libel lawsuit set for Aug. 14

By Bethany Krajelis | Jul 23, 2013


An August status hearing has been set in a libel lawsuit that pits a Chicago law firm against two Minnesota men and several John Does.

Prenda Law Inc. sued Minnesota attorney Paul Godfread and his client, Alan Cooper, as well as at least 10 John Does, in February in the St. Clair County Circuit Court.

The suit was later transferred to southern Illinois’ federal court and again in June to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois.

Electronic court records show that a status hearing in the case – Prenda Law v. Godfread, et al.--has been scheduled for 9:30 a.m. August 14 before U.S. District Judge John W. Darrah.

Chicago attorney Paul Duffy of Prenda Law represents his firm in the suit. Chicago attorney Erin Kathryn Russell and Massachusetts attorney Jason Sweet represent the defendants.

Chief Judge David Herndon of the Southern District of Illinois presided over the matter before transferring it to Chicago’s federal court, where, he noted in his June order, “a virtually identical, first-filed action is currently pending.”

That suit — Duffy v. Godfread, et al. — was filed in February in Cook County Circuit Court and was removed to Chicago’s federal court later that same month. The two cases have since been consolidated.

In its suit, Prenda Law claims that Godfread, Cooper and several John Does “belong to a community of Internet ‘commentators’ fearful of being identified and have falsely accused Plaintiff of, among other things, criminal offenses; want of integrity in the discharge of employment; lack of ability in its profession; and the commission of fornication and adultery.”

Prenda Law contends that the defendants made the allegedly libelous statements because it represents plaintiffs in suits against individuals accused of hacking into their clients’ computer systems to illegally download pornographic movies.

The defendants, however, assert that Duffy and fellow Prenda Law attorneys John Steele and Paul Hansmeier “have developed a lucrative practice monetizing allegations of copyright infringement of pornographic films.”

They basically claim the firm has sent letters to individuals accused of illegally downloading movies to offer them the chance to settle the matter for a few thousand dollars instead of being sued.

According to an affidavit filed in a Minnesota case in which Prenda Law represents the plaintiff, the firm allegedly finds one John Doe to be a named defendant and then discovers the names of others by issuing subpoenas to Internet Service Providers (ISP).

In a different case Prenda Law brought in January in St. Clair County, a judge signed an agreed order that let its client, LW Systems, subpoena personal information associated with certain Internet Protocol (IP) addresses from 325 ISPs in an attempt to identify potential defendants.

Defense attorneys representing some of the John Does identified through their IP addresses in that case – LW Systems v. Christopher Hubbard, et al. -- have referred to the litigation in court documents as a “shakedown” designed to coerce settlement.

The subpoenas were later deemed invalid because they were issued out of Cook County, as opposed to St. Clair County.

A Sept. 3 hearing has been set in that case over an ISP's motion for costs and a protective order in relation to the issuance of the invalid subpoena.

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