When Paul Ceglia first claimed he owned half of Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook shares, not too many people paid attention. But when he hired lawyers from megafirm DLA Piper to re-file his lawsuit in federal court-and attached a bunch of alleged email exchanges with Zuckerberg-he started getting headlines in a big way. Now Ceglia’s big-firm lawyers have unceremoniously withdrawn from the case.
Ceglia was actually represented by two law firms: DLA Piper, which is one of the largest firms in the world; and Lippes Mathias Wexler Friedman, a mid-size Buffalo law firm that was also on the case.
A spokesman for DLA Piper said only: “We have withdrawn from the case and no longer represent Paul Ceglia. Due to our attorney-client privilege obligations, there will be no further comment.” An attorney with the Lippes Mathias firm, Dennis Vacco, also declined to comment on the personnel changes.
After they took the case, DLA Piper lawyers said the firm had done “weeks” of due diligence analyzing Ceglia’s claims before taking on the case. But their quick withdrawal-in the face of a pile of evidence about Ceglia put together by investigators hired by Facebook-suggests that the firm’s background checks might not have been all that.
It’s generally not a good sign when a plaintiff or defendant in a lawsuit keeps changing law firms. It can suggest there’s problems with either the case or the client is particularly tough to deal with. In the course of the past year, three different law firms have signed on to Ceglia’s case, gone through the evidence-and then dropped it.
Before Lippes Mathias and DLA Piper withdrew, Ceglia was represented by a prominent Buffalo attorney, Terrence Connors. But Connors withdrew from the case before Ceglia filed his new complaint in April-the one with all the alleged email exchanges between himself and Zuckerberg. Connors declined to tell Reuters (NYSE: TRI) why he jumped ship from Ceglia’s case.
The document filed in court today indicates that Ceglia has acquired a new lawyer, Jeffrey Lake of San Diego. Contacted about the change by paidContent, Lake didn’t say anything about why the change took place, but did say in an email that he would have a press release out tomorrow, adding: “In the meantime we are pleased to confirm that our firm has been retained to represent Mr. Ceglia to bring this case to trial so that a jury may review the evidence and decide the case on its merits.”
Ceglia continues to be represented by Paul Argentieri, a local upstate New York lawyer who has been with him since the beginning of this saga. Argentieri has also defended Ceglia against claims that he defrauded locals through a scheme to sell wood pellets.
Facebook’s lawyers have said that the emails mentioned in Ceglia’s lawsuit are fake and the contract that the contract Ceglia brought into court is a “cut-and-paste job.” They acknowledge that Zuckerberg agreed to do some work on a (now defunct) website that Ceglia owned called StreetFax.com, but say Zuckerberg and Ceglia didn’t have any interactions at all that involved Facebook.