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A lawyer wants to make a deal: name my friend as only nominal defendant in exchange for a questionable agreement. Is it legal?

Minneapolis, MN |

Lawyer (L) says my friend (F) hacked his client’s site and posted stolen passwords on forums. F did not do it, but his system was likely used by others.

F was threatened with a lawsuit unless he agrees to do something questionable.
L said that his forensic company collected thousands of IP addresses of people who used the passwords. L will name F as defendant and ask court to order ISPs to unmask IP owners to help him investigate the hack. I suspect L wants to intimidate these people and coerce payments from them. L said that judges are reluctant to issue such orders to ISPs, so F has to sign a document that he agrees: judges don’t ask questions if sides agree. L promised F will be a nominal defendant and pay nothing.

What if this agreement becomes public? Can F be criminally charged?

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Attorney answers 1


If Lawyer "L" has shown your friend convincing (to your friend) evidence that a computer from his IP address or a computer nominally owned by him or under his control did indeed hack the client site and posted stolen passwords on forums, even though your friend "F" claims "it wasn't me", but your friend F is convinced the forensic evidence is legitimate and he has some criminal or financial liability exposure, I think the deal, although questionable, may be "legal" if the goal is to ferret out other wrongdoers.

I'd ask the lawyer "L" to (1) make sure other unknown "John Doe" defendants are identified in the litigation who may be responsible pending further discovery with the ISP data, and (2) that L executes a side agreement to release him from any liability or claims from L for monetary damages.

This is totally off the top of my head here, however, and a dicey proposition as I'm sure you recognize (which is why you asked). I'd also have F get his own attorney to do more research into the full facts and legality of this transaction and any ethical concerns and to negotiate the terms of this transaction with L and make sure he's not exposed either for the damage to the client site, criminal charges or participating in frivolous litigation or fraud.

Take this free advice for what it is. Free advice that could be way off the mark on further investigation. Note disclaimer below! Other attorneys, please feel free to chime in with your thoughts....

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Thank you for your reply. I convinced my friend to retain an attorney, and he did, and a good one, familiar with Prenda practices. If you want to know who is Prenda and why this knowledge is relevant, have a look at the following article. Seems like exactly the same situation as my friend's.

Jack Richard Lebowitz

Jack Richard Lebowitz


Yeah, not surprised. I've heard of similar shakedowns that have affected some people I know, where threats about commission of internet piracy and unwarranted settlement demands are the business model (google "Rightshaven" and "Getty Images" settlement demands)