The Spam Diaries

News and musings about the fight against spam.
 by Edward Falk

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

About the lawsuits

I am involved in two lawsuits at the moment. The first is a defamation case brought by porn spammer Jerry Reynolds (suing me as "John Doe"). He objects to me identifying him as a porn spammer. The second lawsuit is a computer crime lawsuit against fellow spam-fighter David Ritz and myself, brought by Reynolds' company Sierra Corporate Designs. They accuse us of making "unauthorized access" to his servers and downloading confidential data.

The story:

I have been maintaining my spam-tracking web site since 1997, keeping case files on over 400 spammers and spamming isps. The spam quick reference tracks hundreds more.

In August 2004, I started getting letters from Jerry Reynolds' lawyer, Christopher Harristhal, insisting that I take down my web page. I updated the case file in question to reflect things that had changed over time, and removed information I couldn't verify, but otherwise left it alone. I received one more letter demanding that I remove the page entirely, which I duly ignored.

In late 2004, I was contacted out of the blue by a lawyer in North Dakota. She had a client who was being sued for defamation by one Jerry Reynolds, who my spam tracking site lists as having been the owner of Netzilla, the worst porn spammer on the internet from 1997-1999. Her client was being sued for — among other things — saying that Jerry Reynolds was a pornographer. Was it possible, she asked, that I could send her any documentation to back up the claims on my web site, since her client was using my web site as part of her defense.

I sent her what little I had, and heard no more, other than that the case had eventually been dismissed.

I now suspected I had a reason for Reynolds' sudden harassment of me — he wanted my website taken down so that the local victim of his legal bullying would not have access to the information on it.

In February of 2005, I received a phone call from a reporter in North Dakota asking me about the lawsuit which had been filed against me. I knew immediately without being told that this was Reynolds making good on his threats. I talked to the reporter for a while, and then set about looking for a lawyer. I also checked with the other anti-spammers for information that would help defend myself in court. David Ritz was especially helpful, providing old whois and dns lookups to prove that I was right and that Reynolds was obeying the first rule of spammers.

I added the new evidence provided by Ritz to the Netzilla case file, and sat back to wait to see if I would actually get served.

Of course, Reynolds, true to form, wasn't about to sit back and let someone help a victim of his bullying. He almost immediately filed a lawsuit against Ritz (naming me as a co-defendant.) He's suing Ritz for — and I'm not making this up — hacking into his servers by doing unauthorized whois, smtp, and dns lookups. I'm named as co-defendant for linking to the information provided by Ritz from my web site, thus "exposing" Reynolds' servers to more break-ins.

The judge in this case has been listening to Reynolds' version of events for nearly a year now, without allowing Ritz or myself to tell our sides of it. Frankly, even an hour spent with his own I.T. folks at the courthouse would have cleared up all of this nonsense. Seriously, if the Fargo court house was run by computer professionals instead of legal professionals, Reynolds would be sitting in a jail cell right now on contempt charges just for filing such a ridiculous lawsuit.

Now it's trivially obvious that neither lawsuit has a chance in hell of going anywhere, but that's not the point. The point is to a) cost Ritz and myself as much money as possible defending ourselves, and to b) censor as thoroughly as possible any information about him on the internet (see my other post "Gag me" for more on this.)

So here we are. Reynolds serves us with one insane motion after another. I've had my computers subpoenaed and their disks copied. Ritz has had his copied three times. He's also been deposed twice for a total of eleven hours, each time requiring him to drive for hours to the law offices. I've got about six inches of paperwork in my file cabinet so far — I suspect Ritz has far more.

In the latest round of filings, Harristhal is insisting that I travel to North Dakota to attend the jurisdiction hearing. Although it's permissible and commonplace to handle such things by phone or video conference, Harristhal insists that I attend in person, along with any expert witnesses I might bring. This, in turn, leads us to another round of motions and counter-motions just to determine if I need to travel to North Dakota for a hearing to determine if I need to travel to North Dakota for a lawsuit. Obviously there's no real reason for us to attend the jurisdiction hearing in person, but the point of this exercise is to rack up my expenses, not to win the case.

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