Not long ago, Paul Ceglia was grabbing attention with a tale about a contract he said he had signed with Mark Zuckerberg that entitled him to 84% of Facebook. Now Ceglia is AWOL in Ireland, and his lawyers are asking a judge not to spank them for misbehavior.
The latest in the Ceglia case comes via a court filing last Friday that appears to mark the denouement to a story of Facebook riches that for months tantalized the media and even a major law firm.
If you missed it, Ceglia is a small-town huckster who engaged in a wood pellet scam that led to charges in 2009 and a warning from the current governor of New York to steer clear of him. The next year, Ceglia reinvented himself as an honest man wronged by Mark Zuckerberg. He claimed to have given Zuckerberg $1,000 in 2003 in exchange for a large share of Facebook and — better yet — he had a contract to prove it.
The media could not resist a storyline seemingly ripped from The Social Network, and neither could an illustrious global law firm. Apparently undeterred by the hopeless case of the Winklevii (since reduced to performing pistachio commercials), the DLA Piper firm gave Ceglia newfound credibility by taking up his case last spring. But, as explained in a merry account by a popular legal blog, the firm and Ceglia abruptly parted ways a short time later.
The case came unraveled once and for all this August when a forensic analysis of Ceglia’s computers unearthed an apparent smoking gun — one that pointed to Ceglia. Shortly after, the would-be owner of the social network decamped to Ireland, possibly fearing that a a ticked-off Facebook would level criminal fraud charges. Ceglia’s remaining lawyers are now left to pick up the pieces of the legal mess.
In a filing late last week, the lawyers asked the court not to hit them with sanctions for failing to produce evidence. Part of their explanation is that Ceglia refused to comply with the court’s instructions. Ceglia and his lawyers have not formally thrown in the towel in the case and are still accusing Facebook of bad behavior. But it’s never a good sign when the plaintiff in a case skips the country, and lawyers are blaming their own client.
In the end, the Ceglia saga is looking less like The Social Network than a cautionary tale for lawyers about taking on clients with shady backgrounds.
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