Few, if any, will feel sympathy for Mr. Hansmeier who, essentially, uploaded pornography onto the internet, made it accessible for download at no cost, and then used the court system to find out who took him up on his porn bargain, to threaten them with exposure and six-figure copyright infringement liability.
In response to threats, red-faced downloaders paid about $4,000 each to make this embarrassment go away.
Mr. Hansmeier’s scheme netted millions of dollars until courts started to catch on, asking Mr. Hansmeier to explain the claims in greater detail, at which time, Mr. Hansmeier gave courts misleading information about who was behind a wide variety of related entities, concealing that they were all, essentially, Mr. Hansmeier and his colleague, Mr. Steele.
Update (March 7, 2017): John Steele entered a plea agreement yesterday. Looks quite likely he will be going to prison and for a while. Minnesota Litigator focuses on civil litigation and we have no background or expertise in criminal law but the plea agreement appears to set out a Sentencing Guideline range of 97-121 months imprisonment, so 8-10 years…
Update (December 16, 2016): Now it is looking like Mr. Hansmeier and Mr. Steele (discussed at length, below) might be headed to prison for their $6 million porno shakedown operation…The indictment, incidentally, includes a simple and understandable description of how BitTorrent is used to distribute copyrighted work illegally. It also reveals that these University of Minnesota Law School grads actually filmed some of the porn that they peddled themselves. They are undoubtedly the proverbial jerks-of-all-trades…
Update (September 30, 2016): “Coda” is a musical term, originating from the Italian word for “tail.” It is a musical passage that brings a piece (or a movement) to an end. Counsel for an adversary of Mr. Hansmeier passed on this linked letter to me, apparently sent by Mr. Paul Hansmeier, the subject of the string of posts below.
Update (August 1, 2016): For multiple acts of misconduct, some of which are set out below, Mr. Paul Hansmeier has unconditionally admitted to the petition for discipline against him and, with the Director of Professional Responsibility “recommend[ed] that the appropriate discipline is a 4 year suspension.” We’ll see if the Minnesota Supreme Court goes along with that recommendation or opts for a longer term of discipline. It is unimaginable to me that the Minnesota Supreme Court, the final arbiter, will lessen the discipline.
Update (November 16, 2015): We all knew that the use of our courts to blackmail porn-viewers was probably not the best business model though, from the attached petition for discipline, it was pretty lucrative at one point. The icing on the sleaze cake, however, would appear to be the repetitive evasions (commonly referred to as “lying”) to courts when courts started looking at the full scope and methodology of the scam and to whom the cash from it went.
Update (August 19, 2015) (under the headline: Cat, Mouse, Dogged Pursuit, Muddy Pig): Congratulations to Ted Sheu of Best & Flanagan for notching the win at the Court of Appeals this week in the on-going dogged pursuit of Minnesota attorney Paul Hansmeier, discussed below (Minnesota attorney until when, one has to wonder?).
And now comes the easy part: collecting the money [insert quiet, knowing, chuckle here]. Mr. Hansmeier has had a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad few months lately. He has notched another sanctions order. He has filed for bankruptcy. And Ted Sheu’s dogged pursuit continues…
Update (February 4, 2015): The sham lawsuit of Guava v. Merkel, described below, is a sub-saga inside a larger multi-state multi-court tale of seedy unethical entrepreneurship by some lawyers (Paul Hansmeier and Michael Dugas).
The most recent chapter in the Guava v. Merkel story concerns the dogged pursuit of sleazy lawyers by determined lawyers like Ted Sheu of Best & Flanagan, who is trying to hold the sleazy lawyers financially accountable for their misconduct.
Sheu was recently successful in obtaining an order from Hennepin County District Court Judge Tanya M. Bransford amending a sanctions order post-judgment and post-appeal to add attorney Paul Hansmeier. Congratulations to Sheu!
I know what you’re thinking, though. Sheu might have an easier time getting a money judgment against Hansmeier than getting real money out of a disgraced lawyer like him, right? I have written before on the chasm between winning a judgment and getting the money.
But Hansmeier might just have the money to pay the judgment, having obtained it from The Muddy Pig. Ironic? Hansmeier has a new venture these days. He has started lawsuits against local restaurants and small business for allegedly violating the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Minnesota Human Rights Act (MHRA). It seems that Hansmeier has enlisted the same client to sue The Muddy Pig, Caribou Coffee shops, Sawatdee, etc. claiming ADA and MHRA violations related to lack of access for the disabled, curb heights, door widths, table heights, etc. These cases could have some legs and maybe Sheu will find some cash in Hansmeier’s coffers when all is said and done.)
Update (August 8, 2014) (under the subject line: Things They Do Not Teach You in Law School) : Law schools cannot possibly teach you everything you need to know. You need to know that using Minnesota courts to help you to extort money from people for downloading pornography from the internet is a bad business model. (The linked decision is an affirmance of sanctions against some University of Minnesota law school grads.)
(When you are sanctioned by the court for engaging in such conduct, should you consider suing your law school for failing to teach you otherwise?)
Update (April 7, 2014) (revised): (under the subject line: When the Referee, Calling Out of Bounds, Is Out of Bounds…) U.S. magistrate judges’ powers to hold parties or their lawyers in contempt are limited by law. That power is generally (if not exclusively) reserved for U.S. district court judges (or “Article III judges”). The punishment imposed, however, was de minimis so the client, to my frustration, elected not to object to the contempt finding to the district court.
Recently U.S. District Court Judge Joan N. Ericksen (D. Minn.) reined in U.S. Mag. Judge Franklin L. Noel (D. Minn.) when he stepped out of bounds to take a whack at lawyers in the “A.F. Holdings”/Prenda Law Firm extra-slime-vaganza. (The case is described more fully in the post and linked attachments below.)
Mag. Judge Noel found that the Prenda lawyers had committed fraud on the court. Judge Ericksen sustained the objections to Mag. Judge Noel’s order, finding that he did not have the authority to issue it and, even if it were a “report and recommendation” for action by the district court, the acts considered “a fraud on the court” did not actually meet the definition of a fraud on the court.
Original post (May 8, 2013): (under subject line, To Boldly Go Where No Court Has Gone Before… ($81,319.72 Sanction for Prenda Law): Jim Hammerand of the Minneapolis St. Paul Business Journal persists in digging up great stories and gets the credit for homing in on and brilliantly reporting this gem, a Star Trek reference-laden decision issuing sanctions against University of Minnesota Law grads whose dicey business model has been discussed previously on Minnesota Litigator.
You might need a subscription to view Hammerand’s post (I am not sure) but, if you are a trekkie, it might be worth it to you to enjoy Hammerand’s discussion, with an assist by Angelo Spenillo a solutions engineer at the Nerdery, who, Hammerand reports, recently passed the Minnesota bar. (Welcome aboard, Officer Spenillo!)