A federal judge is refusing to let Righthaven LLC off the hook, reviving action in one of its cases Tuesday after saying it "fell through the cracks."
Righthaven, the copyright enforcement partner of the Las Vegas Review-Journal and formerly of the Denver Post, has been mostly dormant this year after a series of courtroom defeats left it broke.
The company filed 275 no-warning lawsuits in 2010 and 2011 in three states claiming parties in North America and Europe had stolen content from those newspapers and re-posted it online.
Righthaven collapsed after judges found it lacked standing to sue because the papers maintained control of the material it sued over, defendants were protected by fair use, or both. It was also ordered to pay some $318,000 in prevailing defendants’ legal fees, but hasn’t paid them.
A court-appointed receiver claims to now control the company so she can find money to pay off creditors — but Righthaven’s CEO insists he’s still in charge and their legal dispute has yet to be resolved. U.S. District Judge Philip Pro in Las Vegas plans a hearing next month that may clarify who’s in charge of Righthaven.
Another problem for Righthaven emerged Tuesday when U.S. Magistrate Judge Peggy Leen, also in Las Vegas, revived action in Righthaven’s lawsuit against Thomas DiBiase, which has sat dormant since March.
"This matter 'fell through the proverbial cracks' and has not been decided," Leen wrote in an order Tuesday.
The revival of the suit poses a problem for Righthaven and its CEO, Las Vegas attorney Steven Gibson, because when Leen last addressed the case she had hit Righthaven with an order to show cause why it should not be held in contempt of court for failing to produce financial information to attorneys for DiBiase.
The attorneys are with the digital rights group the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) in San Francisco and they’re seeking the financial information to see if Righthaven has assets to satisfy an attorney’s fee award of $119,488 that DiBiase gained against Righthaven after DiBiase beat the Righthaven suit against him.
When Leen last addressed the case, the EFF was seeking a fine of $500 per day against Righthaven and Gibson to coerce them into complying with the court order.
Leen, in setting an Oct. 16 hearing in the case, wrote in her order Tuesday that the problems in the case developed as outside Righthaven attorney Shawn Mangano failed to respond to her orders in the case.
Mangano early this year without explanation stopped communicating with Gibson and opposing attorneys in Righthaven cases and didn’t file required briefs or attend hearings.
"The court was recently advised in an unrelated matter that Mr. Mangano was behind in his professional obligations as a result of family health matters," Leen wrote in her order Tuesday, saying she's giving Mangano one last chance to file a required brief by Oct. 2 and to attend the Oct. 16 hearing.
"Failure to appear at the hearing will result in an order directed to the U.S. Marshal’s office to find and bring Mr. Mangano before the court. Failure to respond to this order by Mr. Mangano may result in sanctions, including contempt of court against Mr. Mangano," Leen wrote in her order.
While Leen's order focused on Mangano, and Gibson has blamed Mangano for problems in this case and others, the EFF has said it's Gibson's responsibility to make sure Righthaven complies with court orders.
Separately, nine more Righthaven cases in Las Vegas have been dismissed since Aug. 23 after Righthaven failed to prosecute them.
They were against Marion Valentine; Richard Rawlings and the United States Marijuana Party; Thomas Hoefling and America’s Independent Party of Iowa; Carl Burrell and an entity called Flick & Tea; Ozean Group and Thomas Wahl; former Las Vegas sports broadcaster Ron Futrell; Viewwerx Inc. and Shawn Herrin; Imperial Hotel Management College Inc. and Randolph Grant.
That leaves just seven of Righthaven’s lawsuits still open, and they’ll likely be dismissed too unless Gibson can figure out a way to revive the company.
One of the reasons Gibson hopes to stay on as Righthaven CEO is so that the company can pursue a case in the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco — an appeal Gibson hopes will reinstate Righthaven’s standing to sue.