Five lawyers have already parted ways with Paul Ceglia, the man who claims he obtained control of Facebook for $1,000 in 2003. A sixth lawyer hasn’t be so lucky.
[Update: In an order on Friday, the judge confirmed Ceglia's lawyer would not be permitted to withdraw from the case until he obtained a signature from Facebook's lawyers permitting him to do so. The order reads in part: "Accordingly, it is ineffective to permit Mr. Lake's withdrawal and must be struck."]
The latest development in the strange case comes after a judge cast doubt on the hapless lawyer’s application to drop his client. In an order on Thursday, U.S. Magistrate Judge Leslie Foschio wrote that Jeffrey A. Lake had failed to comply with procedural rules and ordered him to explain why the withdrawal application should not be thrown out.
Meanwhile, in a separate filing, Facebook asked the Buffalo court not to approve Ceglia’s request for a three-week delay to find a new lawyer. Facebook’s attorneys said the request was an attempt by Ceglia to buy additional time in order to destroy evidence and manipulate the case from “his apparent hideout in Ireland.”
The lawsuit has taken on a surreal quality in recent weeks. It all began last year when Ceglia, who was convicted in a 2009 scam involving wood pellets, grabbed international attention with his claim that he had a contract showing that Mark Zuckerberg had signed over 50 to 84 percent of Facebook in exchange for $1,000. The possibility of sharing billions in riches proved irresistible to several law firms, including prestigious DLA Piper, which signed on to represent Ceglia in April. The firm, like others before, quietly dropped the case a short time later.
Facebook appeared to get the upper hand in the case in August after obtaining forensic evidence from Ceglia’s computers that apparently proved the contract was a fake. The company has since filed for misconduct sanctions against Ceglia and his lawyers. The lawyers, including Lake, filed a response imploring the court not to sanction them and stating that Ceglia instructed them not to comply with court orders. Lake applied to withdraw from the case last week, but the order yesterday means he may be forced to stay on a while longer. In much the same way that surgeons can’t just walk out on a patient mid-procedure, lawyers are bound by professional rules that set out how and when they can cease representing a client.
Federal rules provide judges with a broad range of disciplinary measures for those who breach orders or procedure. These can include fines, suspension or disbarment. The outlook for Team Ceglia does not look like it will brighten anytime soon as Ceglia is currently in Ireland, where Facebook says he is hiding after destroying USB devices containing evidence.
“We believe that Ceglia and his counsel should be held accountable for their extreme and disturbing behavior,” Orin Snyder, a partner at Gibson Dunn and an attorney for Zuckerberg and Facebook, wrote in a statement earlier this week.