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Ceglia faces deadline in Facebook suit; Judge gives Wellsville man 7 months to prove why claim should go to trial

An Allegany County man who claims to own half of Facebook was given seven months Wednesday to overcome the "avalanche of evidence" against him.

A federal judge rejected, at least for now, Facebook's request that the ownership suit be dismissed and instead gave Paul Ceglia more time to prove why his civil suit should go to trial.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Leslie G. Foschio granted the Wellsville man permission to question Facebook's experts in the case but denied his request for access to computers owned by Harvard University and Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg.

Foschio issued his ruling after a lengthy and often contentious court proceeding that focused on the mounting evidence against Ceglia and his insistence that he deserves his day in court.

"What other discovery do you need to combat this avalanche of evidence?" Foschio asked at one point Wednesday.

Dean Boland, one of Ceglia's attorneys, argued that the case against his client might not look like an avalanche if he was given a chance to develop his own evidence.

"We haven't heard half the story," Boland said. "Your first instinct about something is not always right."

Facebook's lawyers responded by characterizing Ceglia's request as a "fishing expedition" and suggested that any further delay would only assist him in achieving his ultimate goal -- a cash settlement with the social networking giant.

"This is a serial felon who has been ripping people off for years," said Orin Snyder, one of Facebook's lawyers.

The company's court papers portray Ceglia as a longtime criminal whose past crimes include stealing retirement funds from senior citizens and tricking local residents into buying nonexistent wood pellets.

Facebook's motion to dismiss, filed last month, came nearly two years after Ceglia filed suit against Facebook and Zuckerberg. At the heart of his suit is the contention that he and Zuckerberg entered into a contract in 2003 that gives him a stake in the company.

Zuckerberg acknowledges working with Ceglia on another Internet project while Zuckerberg was a student at Harvard but said it had nothing to do with Facebook.

The two sides spent more than four hours exchanging allegations of wrongdoing before Foschio ordered an end to the session and ruled from the bench.

Boland at one point claimed that Zuckerberg has a history of hacking into other people's computers -- he stopped short of accusing him of planting a fake contract on Ceglia's computer -- and that at least one of his experts in the case is well known for engaging in "junk science."

Snyder countered by suggesting that Ceglia's brother may have played a role and that Ceglia may have used a hex editor, a computer program commonly used by electronic forgers, to create several versions of what Facebook alleges is his fake contract with Zuckerberg.

In its motion to dismiss, Facebook argued that Ceglia forged his contract with Zuckerberg and then compounded the fraud by creating bogus emails, backdating documents and destroying key evidence.

The company's efforts to end the lawsuit follow a series of legal setbacks for Ceglia.

In February, Foschio ordered Ceglia to pay $75,000 to Facebook as part of court-ordered sanctions against him. That was on top of the $5,000 the judge ordered him to pay the court.

The sanctions stem from Ceglia's role in obstructing one of Foschio's court orders last year requiring him to provide Facebook with information about his personal email accounts.

email: pfairbanks@buffnews.com