In the ongoing soap opera of the Paul Ceglia case, you've got to hand it to Mark Zuckerberg's Facebook lawyers. They really know how to make a guy look bad. Not that Ceglia needs much help.
As we all know, Ceglia is the Allegany County man who filed a lawsuit in 2010 claiming that he signed a contract with Facebook co-founder Zuckerberg that entitles him to a huge financial stake in the social networking company, now worth an estimated $80 billion.
What started out as an interesting, if fanciful tale, has devolved into what appears to be an increasingly sensational case of fraud. That's why we're glad to see that the courts have not turned a deaf ear to Facebook's pleas for dismissal in this case.
In the beginning, it seemed like a distantly plausible, if unlikely, story. Zuckerberg admitted to knowing and doing some work with Ceglia years ago. Then Ceglia produced a copy of a contract and emails that he said proved his legitimacy.
But it didn't take long for Zuckerberg's lawyers to bring everyone back down to earth. By early last year, they were using words like "convicted felon" and "scam artist" to describe Ceglia, and "forgeries" and "fraud" to describe his submitted evidence.
By last summer, The News had reported on Ceglia's history including a felony drug conviction in Texas, a trespassing conviction in Florida, real-estate swindles and a wood pellet fraud scheme that allegedly fleeced innocent people.
By fall, Ceglia had been ditched by three legal teams and was now on his fourth. He was wrestling with court orders to turn over required evidence and seemed to be on a permanent vacation outside the country.
By winter, Ceglia had been fined for contempt of court, ordered to pay $75,766 in Facebook attorneys' legal fees, and pressured into handing over access to hidden email accounts.
Which brings us to the present. Facebook lawyers have asked U.S. Magistrate Judge Leslie G. Foschio to dismiss Ceglia's case. In support of their request, they submitted a huge court filing last month outlining forensic evidence that they said shows Ceglia used special software to fake his contract with Zuckerberg, that he made up and backdated emails purportedly between Zuckerberg and himself, and that he may have destroyed at least six flash drives containing relevant documents.
Given the "avalanche of evidence" against Ceglia, Foschio said he would give Ceglia seven months to prove why his claim deserves to go to trial. He is allowing Ceglia to question Facebook's experts, but denying other requests that would undoubtedly and needlessly further delay proceedings.
We support the judge's measured response and his refusal to deny Facebook and Zuckerberg the chance to put a relatively quick end to this matter. Should this go to trial, it could take years to resolve. Zuckerberg, understandably, isn't considering any settlements.
Ceglia carries the burden of proof in this civil case, and he has carried it quite badly so far. It's hard to remember that he is the petitioner here because the unrelenting attacks on his credibility keep painting him as a scoundrel.
There are plenty of frivolous lawsuits clogging up our court system and costing taxpayers money, and Ceglia's appears to be another. Any consideration that moves this case out of that pipeline is a welcome one.