A California state court judge has granted a request by Facebook Inc. to get information from lawyers for a litigation opponent to probe how confidential company documents ended up in the hands of government investigators and journalists.
San Mateo Superior Court Judge V. Raymond Swope found that Facebook’s lawyers at Durie Tangri had made a preliminary case that the “crime-fraud exception” applies to what would normally be attorney-client privileged communications.
The ruling arises in the case of app developer Six4Three LLC, which created an app that combed Facebook for pictures of women in bikinis and sued the social-networking company in 2015 for blocking its access to user photos. Six4Three founder Ted Kramer handed over confidential documents from the case last year to a British Parliament committee investigating disinformation and fake news on the Facebook platform.
“The evidence reflects that Six4Three, through its principal Mr. Kramer, utilized the services of counsel to aid in committing a crime or fraud,” Swope wrote in the March 15 order. In particular, the judge found that Kramer had reached out to a member of Parliament about finding an “appropriate mechanism” to disclose information to the investigating committee. The judge also found that summaries of legal filings that lawyers in the case had shared with journalists and government agencies not only summarized the allegations in the case “but also analyze in detail the confidential information obtained from Facebook.”
Reached by email March 15, Facebook deputy general counsel Paul Grewal said “we appreciate the court’s attention to these matters.”
Friday’s order applies to Six4Three, Kramer, and lawyers Thomas Scaramellino; David Godkin and James Kruzer of Birnbaum & Godkin in Boston; and Stuart Gross of Gross & Klein in San Francisco. It requires them to provide documents showing all communications they had with media and government entities related to certain court filings and the identities of who they communicated with.
Jack Russo of Computerlaw Group in Palo Alto, who represents Kramer and Scaramellino in their individual capacities, said via email that it is “incongruous to imagine that my clients or any of these licensed lawyers or firms, all in good standing would ever engage in any type of fraud simply by complying with the orders of Parliament in the U.K.” He pointed in particular to a declaration Kramer filed with the court describing how he came to hand over documents to Parliament, which claims he provided them to avoid “serious, potentially criminal, consequences.”
Contacted Friday, Gross of Gross & Klein said that the court concluded he had potential involvement since he was copied on an email sent to two other individuals in the wake of the alleged wrongdoing. “I strongly disagree with the finding and look forward to vindicating my reputation,” Gross said via email.
Godkin and Kruzer didn’t respond to emails seeking comment Friday.
Read the order: