Paul Ceglia, the New York businessman who sued Facebook three years ago claiming that he owns a 50 percent stake in the social networking behemoth, has had lots of trouble getting his attorneys to stick around. Amid accusations by Facebook’s lawyers at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher that the contract at the heart of Ceglia’s case is a forgery, nine different firms including Milberg and DLA Piper have opted to ditch the case without explanation.
Now, with Facebook’s motion to dismiss still pending and Ceglia facing criminal charges over his alleged fraud, the court has apparently had enough. On Wednesday Buffalo, N.Y., federal magistrate judge Leslie Foschio denied a motion by long-time Ceglia counsel Dean Boland to withdraw from the case, ruling that the personal reasons Boland cited in his request didn’t cut it. Moreover, Boland and his current co-counsel, Paul Argentieri, may soon have company: In a letter sent to the judge this week, Argentieri wrote that a new "nationally recognized" law firm is about to enter the case on Ceglia’s behalf.
Boland, a solo practitioner from Cleveland who joined the case in late 2011, moved to withdraw his appearance just days after federal prosecutors in Manhattan indicted Ceglia last October. In the motion, he strenuously denied that his request had anything to do with the new fraud charges against Ceglia. Instead, he described purported personal problems driving his decision in a confidential submission to the judge.
Facebook’s lawyers initially told Foschio they wouldn’t oppose the withdrawal as long as it didn’t delay the case, but then they learned during a November phone conference that Ceglia himself opposed Boland’s withdrawal. Ceglia said at the conference that Boland had cited "threats" and "fear for his own safety" as his motives for bailing out.
According to the judge’s order on Wednesday, Boland also expressed concern in his in camera submission about "possible entanglement with the recent criminal charges pending against Plaintiff arising from this action." Separately, in a development that likely added to Boland’s personal travails, a federal appeals court ruled in November that Boland must pay $300,000 for creating mock-ups of child pornography while serving as an expert witness in an unrelated case.
Ceglia later changed his mind about opposing Boland’s withdrawal, stating in a March 19 declaration that he was confident that Argentieri was up to the task. He also declared that he’d reached an agreement with another law firm to join his legal team. A letter from Argentieri to the judge dated March 18 fills in the picture slightly, revealing that "Mr. Ceglia has agreed to retain a highly respected, nationally recognized law firm to litigate the remainder of his lawsuit."
What’s the identity of this supposedly major new law firm? We wish we knew. Gibson Dunn’s Orin Snyder wouldn’t comment, and neither Argentieri nor Boland returned our calls. Argentieri’s letter says the new firm plans to file pro hac vice applications this week.
In the meantime, Boland and Ceglia are stuck with each other. Foschio ruled Wednesday that Boland’s personal excuses for wanting out weren’t enough to risk prejudice to Ceglia from losing one of the two lawyers he’s managed to keep this long.