Judge Threatens New Sanctions Against Would-Be Facebook Owner

Paul Ceglia

Likening his legal tactics to a “fishing expedition,” a federal judge is threatening to impose more monetary sanctions against a Buffalo man who claims in a lawsuit that he owns half of Facebook.

Paul Ceglia alleges in a 2-year-old lawsuit that Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg promised him half the company when Zuckerberg was a Harvard University student in 2003. Ceglia claims he has the e-mailed contract to prove it, while Zuckerberg claims it and other e-mails are fabricated.

At stake is control over the social-networking company that just went public, now with a $66 billion market cap.

Ceglia has already coughed up $97,000 in sanctions and fees for stonewalling an order to provide his passwords to e-mail accounts so Facebook’s forensics experts could examine them.

U.S. Magistrate Leslie Foschio on Thursday gave Ceglia’s legal team 10 days to explain why Ceglia shouldn’t pay fines because of his latest legal tactics. The various motions, including one to disqualify Facebook’s lawyers, “gives rise to more than suspicion that such motions were filed solely to unreasonably and vexatiously multiply the proceedings,” Foschio wrote.

What’s more, Foschio ordered Ceglia, of New York, to hand over a potentially damaging document that could explain why one of his eight law firms left the legal fight. Because of a procedural error, Foschio said the document is no longer privileged.

Facebook, the defendant in the case, believes the document “will establish that the Kasowitz law firm decided to withdraw as co-counsel for plaintiff upon learning that certain forensic experts retained by plaintiff had determined the contract is a forgery,” Foschio wrote. (.pdf)

Facebook’s experts say forensic evidence, including an examination of Ceglia’s hard drive, proves that Ceglia had forged e-mails and a 2003 contract between himself and Zuckerberg — a contract that is at the center of Ceglia’s New York federal court lawsuit. Zuckerberg has maintained that the contract only involved Ceglia hiring Zuckerberg to work on Ceglia’s then-StreetFax company nearly a decade ago.

Ceglia alleges the contract included fronting Zuckerberg $2,000 in exchange for half of Facebook when Zuckerberg was a young Harvard University computer science student.

Ceglia’s experts have concluded that the contract was “an authentic, unaltered document.” (.pdf)

Litigation is pending. No hearing date has been set.