1988 Academy Awards red carpet (Photo: Alan Light via Wikimedia Commons)
Domain-name registrar GoDaddy.com Inc. has lost an effort to force the recusal of a federal judge based on alleged bias toward the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, whose own attorney it said referred to her as “the Academy’s judge.”
In 2010, the Academy, which hosts the Oscars awards show, sued GoDaddy.com for cybersquatting. The suit alleges that GoDaddy.com offers a program by which its customers can “park” a Web page—in this case, allegedly under infringing domain names—for the sole purpose of collecting ad revenue derived when users click onto the sites.
Among the more than 100 domain names at issue are oscarlist.com and academyawardsinc.com. The case is scheduled to go to trial later this year.
Although the case originally was assigned to U.S. District Judge Dale Fischer in Los Angeles, the Academy successfully moved to transfer the litigation to U.S. District Judge Audrey Collins, who is overseeing related cases over its trademarks.
During a hearing Monday, Fischer rejected GoDaddy’s motion to recuse Collins, saying she would issue a written ruling soon. “The Court finds that the motion is untimely, frivolous, and that defense has provided no evidence that a reasonable person could conclude that there is any bias by Judge Collins,” Fischer concluded, according to a minute order of the proceedings.
“Her ruling began by characterizing the motion as both untimely and frivolous and concluded by noting that GoDaddy had blatantly misrepresented the facts,” said David Quinto, a partner at Los Angeles-based Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan and the Academy’s longtime trademark attorney.
The organization’s counsel of record, Stuart Singer, a partner in Boies, Schiller & Flexner’s Fort Lauderdale office, said he was “gratified by Judge Fischer’s decision.”
GoDaddy.com did not respond to a request for comment, and its attorney, Aaron McKown of Wrenn Bender in Irvine, Calif., did not return a call for comment.
Among other things, GoDaddy.com’s attorneys claimed in a Dec. 31 motion that the Academy has attempted “to game the system” by steering all its cases before Collins, who has overseen 25 of its disputes within the past 15 years. In this case, they noted that Collins had ruled for the Academy on a number of motions, including for dismissal and summary judgment. Collins has allegedly encouraged GoDaddy.com to settle the case while suggesting the Academy file a second suit.
The Academy, in turn, has used its leverage with Collins, whose daughter is an actress, in settlement negotiations, the motion asserts. During a 2012 meeting on potential settlement terms, for example, Quinto allegedly told GoDaddy.com’s attorneys that they should know Collins is “the Academy’s judge.”
In court papers, the Academy’s attorneys called GoDaddy.com’s claims “outrageous and sanctionable.” In a Jan. 13 opposition filing, they noted that GoDaddy.com did not object at the time the case was transferred. They brushed aside arguments about Collins’ daughter, who is not an Academy member, and called accusations about the judge’s statements misleading. They also defended their own settlement discussions.
Quinto said his reference to Collins as “the Academy judge”—not, he insisted, “the Academy’s judge” as GoDaddy.com contends—simply meant she “was familiar with the academy’s intellectual properties.”
“GoDaddy’s motion struck me as baseless and Judge Collins is a very well respected judge,” he added. “Let’s just say that in my career, I’ve never seen something like this.”
Contact Amanda Bronstad at firstname.lastname@example.org.