Lawyers Fleeing Would-Be Facebook Co-Owner

The New York man who claims half ownership of Facebook has churned through at least eight law firms in his two-year legal quest to assume a 50 percent stake in the social-networking site, according to court records.

The latest dropouts of three firms, including at least five attorneys, were approved Tuesday by the Buffalo, New York judge presiding over the litigation. The approval comes a day after experts for would-be Facebook owner Paul Ceglia say they authenticated a contract and e-mail between Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg and Ceglia giving Ceglia half of Facebook — a contract and communications which Zuckerberg’s experts claim are forgeries.

Paul Ceglia

The developments come weeks after Facebook’s faltering IPO that now leaves it with a market cap of $55 billion, making the lawsuit a high-stakes legal battle with billions of dollars at stake.

Orin Snyder, Facebook’s attorney, said the lawsuit was a “fraud” underscored by the “revolving door” of Ceglia lawyers.

“The revolving door of lawyers is yet additional evidence that this abusive lawsuit is a hoax and a fraud,” he said in an e-mail.

Ceglia, a Buffalo wood chip salesman, lambasted this Wired reporter for inquiring about his lawyers.

“What kind of Corporate Duche [sic] wants to talk about my lawyers when we just released expert reports that prove that the contract and the emails are real?” he wrote.

In a follow up e-mail, he said: “I don’t care how big the reputation of a law firm is, I’m the client and they they [sic] counsel. I tell them, they don’t tell me. Doesn’t seem to matter how many times I say it, every big firm seems to think that I must do as they say. That shit just ain’t gonna fly, even if your Gerry Spence.”

The Palo Alto-based social-networking company’s experts claim 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 nearly 2-year-old 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, however, alleges the contract included fronting Zuckerberg $2,000 in exchange for half of Facebook when Zuckerberg was a young Harvard University computer science student.

Zuckerberg’s experts claim Ceglia employed a hex editor to manipulate the text of the disputed contract and employed a method called “baking” by which he allegedly exposed a forged contract to light, which produced tan lines where Ceglia appeared to have used clothespins or binder clips to suspend the document and expose it to sunlight.

But that’s all false, according to James Blanco, a San Francisco forensic document examiner for Ceglia.

The tan lines could be the “result of finger or thumb imprints that had lotion (or other chemicals or substances) on the hand, the result of gloved or ungloved hands touching the face/exposed arms then inadvertently leaving a protective coating on the document pages thus protecting those areas from exposure. That is, either gloved or ungloved fingers, having touched/rubbed the skin thus being contaminated with a cream or suntan lotion,” he wrote (.pdf) U.S. District Judge Richard Arcara in a legal filing.

He concluded that the contract was “an authentic, unaltered document.”

The latest law firms to drop out were Millberg; Calihan Law; and Jones & Skivington. Firms that left earlier include Edelson McGuire; Kasowitz Benson Torres & Friedman; Lippes Mathias Wexler Friedman; DLA Piper Global Law Firm; Connors & Vilardo.

Litigation is pending. No court date has been set.

Photo: Zrendavir_/Flickr