Facebook sued for defamation by fugitive claimant’s lawyer

The small-town lawyer who sued Facebook Inc. over his client’s claim to own the social network has filed his own defamation suit against the company and co-founder Mark Zuckerberg.

(Bloomberg) -- The small-town lawyer who sued Facebook Inc. over his client’s claim to own the social network has filed his own defamation suit against the company and co-founder Mark Zuckerberg.

Attorney Paul Argentieri sued in San Francisco claiming Facebook falsely accused him of fraud in a public statement about his representation of Paul Ceglia, the western New York man who fled to avoid criminal charges he faked the 2003 contract and e-mails on which he based his claim. 

Argentieri said a 2014 statement by Facebook’s general counsel, Colin Stretch, that Ceglia’s lawyers "knew the case was based on forged documents" was untrue and damaged his reputation. Stretch is named as a defendant in addition to Facebook and Zuckerberg.

"It clearly exposes plaintiff to hatred, contempt, ridicule and obloquy because it attacks plaintiff’s integrity, honesty and professionalism as a lawyer and falsely accuses plaintiff of committing a crime and of knowingly perpetrating a fraud on the court," Argentieri said Monday in his state court complaint.

Debbie Frost, a spokeswoman for Facebook, didn’t immediately respond to voicemail and e-mail messages seeking comment on the suit.

Argentieri, who practiced as a solo attorney in Hornell, New York, filed the initial complaint against Facebook in 2010. Ceglia claimed 84 percent of Facebook and won a state court order briefly barring the company from transferring any assets. Ceglia later lowered his claim to half the company. Facebook said from the start that the case was fraudulent.

Ceglia was indicted in Manhattan federal court in 2012 on charges of mail fraud and wire fraud. U.S. District Judge Richard Arcara in Buffalo, New York, threw out Ceglia’s civil suit in 2013, finding “clear and convincing” evidence that he’d destroyed and faked evidence.

Argentieri is the only lawyer to have represented Ceglia throughout the case. At least two dozen lawyers from firms throughout the U.S. represented Ceglia during part of his multibillion-dollar litigation. At least one of the firms that dropped out of the case cited a belief that Ceglia’s claim was fraudulent, according to documents made public in court filings. Argentieri now lives in California.

Stretch’s comment was published in press accounts of a malicious prosecution suit Facebook filed in New York in 2014 against Argentieri and a group of lawyers that included former New York Attorney General Dennis Vacco, New York-based Milberg LLP and DLA Piper LLP, one of the biggest firms in the U.S. In the suit, Facebook claims the lawyers conspired with Ceglia in pursuing his fraudulent claim.

U.S. marshals are pursuing Ceglia, who removed an electronic ankle bracelet and fled his Wellsville, New York, home in March, disappearing with his wife, two sons and dog. They remain missing.

The case is Argentieri v. Zuckerberg, 15-548503, California Superior Court, San Francisco County (San Francisco).

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