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Judge suggests Ceglia motions aim to stall Facebook case

Man suing for half ownership of the social network may face further sanctions if he can't prove that dismissed motions weren't filed to stall discovery.

Steven Musil Night Editor / News
Steven Musil is the night news editor at CNET News. He's been hooked on tech since learning BASIC in the late '70s. When not cleaning up after his daughter and son, Steven can be found pedaling around the San Francisco Bay Area. Before joining CNET in 2000, Steven spent 10 years at various Bay Area newspapers.
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Steven Musil
3 min read

The judge hearing pretrial motions in Paul Ceglia's lawsuit against Facebook suspects the man suing for half of the social-networking giant is trying to stall the legal proceedings and has suggested that further sanctions might be necessary as a result.

Federal Magistrate Leslie G. Foschio, of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of New York, sometimes used strong language today in explaining his reasons for dismissing five motions filed by Ceglia. The motions included requests to have expert testimony stricken and Facebook's attorneys disqualified from the case.

Foschio said the "complete dearth of any evidence" supporting the motions that were dismissed, as well as the "requests to stay discovery pending resolution of such motions, gives rise to more than suspicion that such motions were filed solely to unreasonably and vexatiously multiply the proceedings, and especially to derail the schedule for the limited discovery of experts" as ordered in April.

Noting that the court has "'inherent power' to award attorneys' fees against the offending party and his attorney when it is determined a party has 'acted in bad faith, vexatiously, wantonly, or for oppressive reasons,'" Foschio gave Ceglia 10 days to persuade the court that sanctions should not be assessed.

This isn't the first time Ceglia has faced possible sanctions in the case. In February, Foschio ordered Ceglia to reimburse Facebook $75,766.70 in attorneys' fees related to the case. The fees were in addition to a $5,000 contempt sanction Ceglia was ordered to pay for delays in making e-mails available in his case against Facebook.

Facebook representatives declined to comment on the actions. CNET has contacted Ceglia attorney Dean Boland for comment and will update this report when we learn more.

In his 43-page decision (see below), Foschio denied five Ceglia motions, including a request to strike a report by an expert forensic document examiner for alleged perjury for failing to disclose previous case testimonies. In dismissing the motion, the judge said "the construction urged by plaintiff of [the expert's] testimony in the omitted cases is, at best, strained, and, more correctly, a gross misrepresentation which would be detected by even the marginally literate."

In another motion dismissal, Foschio characterized Ceglia's attempt to have Facebook's attorneys disqualified from the case for alleged conflict of interest as "quixotic attempts to create issues where none exist." He went on to say that, "To suggest, as plaintiff does, that the failure of one attorney of record to sign a particular document filed by another attorney for a party somehow implies the existence of a disagreement is a bald non-sequitur and specious."

Ceglia's 2010 lawsuit claims he hired Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg through a Craigslist ad in 2003 to write code for a project called StreetFax and paid Zuckerberg $1,000 for coding work; he also allegedly invested $1,000 in Zuckerberg's The Face Book project, which he claims gives him a 50 percent interest in the company.

Ceglia has cited more than a dozen e-mails purportedly between himself and Zuckerberg that detail discussions on design, development, business plans regarding the development of Facebook. He said he cut and pasted the e-mails into a word processing program and printed them out. Zuckerberg and Facebook have called the alleged Facebook contract a "cut-and-paste job" and described the purported e-mails as "complete fabrications."

Ceglia Decision and Order (6/28/12)

Correction at 7:50 a.m. PT June 29: An earlier version of this story erroneously reported that the judge granted a motion from Ceglia to compel Facebook to produce a letter. The motion that was granted actually came from Facebook, requiring Ceglia to produce a letter included in an earlier court order.