The once-obscure lawsuit between Mark Zuckerberg and a New York man claiming ownership of 50 percent of Facebook is attracting renewed interest this week with the release of new e-mails between the men that support the plaintiff's claim. As of now, there's no way to tell if the emails are fraudulent or not (Business Insiders's Henry Blodget has a smart rundown of how that discovery process will play out in the coming months). But in either instance, if the emails are deemed fake, like Facebook insists, or if they're the real deal, the impact of that assessment will have major consequences. Here's what's at stake for Zuckerberg, the plaintiff Paul Ceglia and the firm that represents him.
If the Emails Are Fake
One of the reasons so many people are paying attention to this case is because Ceglia's claim is being taken up by DLA Piper, a massive international law firm with 3,000 lawyers and nearly $2 billion in revenue. It's not just Ceglia who has something to lose here, as Joe Mullin at Paid Content points out. "If the firm is found to be representing a fraudster with outrageous claims against Facebook, the reputational damage could be severe," he writes. "If these e-mails are bogus, this lawsuit is going to end up looking like nothing more than a shakedown attempt—albeit an incredibly bold one. Other tech companies might be reluctant to hire a law firm that associated itself with a fraudulent attack against one of their own." Blodget agrees with Mullin. "One of the few things lawyers get disciplined for, one corporate attorney told us, is encouraging clients to fabricate evidence (or knowingly using fabricated evidence)." As for Ceglia, Blodget says if he did fabricate these documents "he has committed criminal fraud." If Facebook can prove it, it will likely warrant Department of Justice involvement and jail time for Ceglia.