Monday, January 31, 2011

Nowhere Lawyer

A Massachusetts attorney has been indefinitely suspended for his role in attempts to sell 24 videotapes depicting John Lennon and Yoko Ono after the tapes had been stolen from their owners. The buyer in the transaction was Yoko Ono. From the Bar's summary:

In January, 2000, John Fallon and Rober Grenier, Jr., purchased twenty-four original videotapes depicting John Lennon and Yoko Ono, along with beta tapes containing full copies thereof. The copyright to the videotapes was included in the sale. In March or early April, 2000, the videotapes were stolen from World Wide Video, LLC, the corporation established by Fallon and Grenier for purposes of marketing the videotapes or turning them into a documentary. World Wide Video then brought suit against John Messina alleging that Messina had stolen the videotapes. The respondent defended Messina in that action which ultimately was settled with payment made by Messina as well as his commitment to assist in securing the return of the videotapes.

While the videotapes remained outstanding, World Wide Video was approached by Anthony Pagola who purported to know where the videotapes were located. Pagola reached an agreement with Fallon and Grenier that, subject to approval by World Wide Video, granted him six months to find a buyer for the videotapes. On August 24, 2001, a certificate of incorporation was filed with the Delaware Secretary of State incorporating a business known as Inner Vision, Inc., that listed Pagola as the incorporator. The respondent's testimony regarding his involvement, as well as the involvement of Messina, is conflicting and non-credible but the respondent has admitted filling out and filing the 2001 Delaware Annual Franchise Tax Report for Inner Vision, Inc., in which he identified Pagola, Messina, and himself as directors.

In early 2002 overtures were made to attorneys representing Ono expressing interest in selling the videotapes to her. On February 27, 2002, a fax with respondent's name and fax number in the header was received by Ono's attorney that purported to be a sales agreement between an entity owned by Pagola and Inner Vision, Inc., transferring copyright and ownership of the videotapes. The document was dated March 23, 2000, but was created after the fact in an attempt to create a chain of title to the videotapes.1 Ono's attorney, however, was not satisfied that this document accounted for all potential claimants as he became aware that Fallon and Grenier had held an interest in the videotapes at some point in 2000. Accordingly, the attorney requested the document transferring title from Fallon and Grenier to Pagola's company. A fax purporting to be such a document, and bearing a header with the respondent's name and fax number, was then sent on March 11, 2002. Ono's representatives then continued negotiation of the transaction with what they believed to be a group of sellers represented by the respondent. Indeed, as a result of their communications with the respondent, Ono's attorneys believed that the respondent was representing World Wide Video in connection with the transaction though this was not the case.

Agreement was ultimately reached and a closing was arranged for May 17, 2002, in connection with which a release of Fallon and Grenier's rights to the videotapes was faxed from the respondent's office to Ono's attorneys. The release contained Fallon and Grenier's signatures and was notarized by the respondent. The signatures, however, were fraudulent. Rather than being the genuine signatures of Fallon and Grenier, written in ink and by hand, the signatures appear to be "cut and paste" copies of signatures excised from the Bill of Sale for Rights by which the men initially gained title to the videotapes.2

Following the closing, Ono believed herself to hold copyright to the videotapes. Fallon and Grenier similarly believed themselves to hold copyright to the videotapes which they had recovered by April, 2005. When Ono learned of Fallon and Grenier's plans to promote and show the videotapes she asserted her rights under the May 17, 2002, "release"; The parties' competing claims ultimately resulted in the filing of a lawsuit by World Wide Video in federal district court.

On October 25, 2007, the respondent testified under oath at the office of bar counsel regarding his notarization of the copyright transfer document and his involvement in the sale of the videotapes to Ono. The respondent stated that his first dealings with Pagola occurred on the day of the closing, that Pagola brought two men to the respondent's office who identified themselves as Fallon and Grenier, and that he notarized their signatures after they signed in his presence, and that he had no other involvement in the sale of the videotapes. The respondent made similar sworn statements at a November 26, 2008, deposition taken in the course of World Wide Video's Federal lawsuit.

All of these statements were material to the matters before bar counsel and in the federal litigation. The First of these statements was, at best, intentionally misleading as the respondent knew of Pagola and his involvement with the videotapes, Inner Vision, Inc., and Messina prior to May 17, 2002. The remainder of these statements were knowingly false. Far from being uninvolved in the fraudulent sale, the respondent was a knowing and active participant.

(Mike Frisch)

Bar Discipline & Process | Permalink

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