Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Jammie Thomas gets new counsel; Kiwi Camara back in the spotlight; a Nesson connection?

Back in 2002, Harvard Law School erupted in rage over a three-letter word.

A 17-year-old 1L named K. A. D. "Kiwi" Camara -- the youngest student ever to enroll at HLS -- had posted his outlines to a web site, apparently to share them with other students. The problem? Camara used the word "nig" several times to refer to black people. Outrage predictably ensued -- outrage that was only compounded when another student, voicing disapproval over what he viewed as African-American classmates' overreaction, sent out an email saying, "I have actually begun using the word 'nigger' more often than before the incident."

One Harvard Law School professor -- any guesses who? -- saw this as a teaching moment:
Two days later, Professor Charles R. Nesson ’60 went into another instructor’s class and revealed the anonymous e-mailer to be first-year law student Matthias Scholl (who had given Nesson permission to disclose his identity). Nesson proposed that the class hold a mock trial of Scholl. For that proposal, Nesson would eventually be asked by a dean to stop teaching his freshman torts class.
The incident garnered national attention, and Camara apologized repeatedly for his use of the offensive term (he was still apologizing years later), but the controversy has continued to dog him, thwarting what appeared to be a promising academic career and leading to a walkout by Yale students and even then-Dean Harold Koh at a 2006 speech.

Well, it looks like Camara has now thrust himself back in the national spotlight -- this time as trial counsel to accused peer-to-peer infringer Jammie Thomas, who faces a June 15 re-trial in Duluth, Minnesota. (The record label plaintiffs won the first round in 2007, convincing a jury to award them $222,000 in statutory damages, only to have that verdict overturned when the judge decided one of his jury instructions was faulty.)

Today Thomas' current counsel Brian Toder filed a motion to substitute out of the case and be replaced by Camara, now a partner at Houston's Camara & Sibley, and Garrett Blanchfield of Reinhardt, Wendorf & Blanchfield of St. Paul. The motion indicates that Thomas will not request a continuance of the June 15 trial date:
Grounds for the motion are that movant has caused there to be highly competent, substituted counsel, intimately familiar with the case, who do not require a continuance respecting any of the scheduled proceedings, including trial.
It's not clear to me whether either Camara or Blanchfield has previous copyright experience. Blanchfield's firm specializes in plaintiffs' class action work, and his own bio does not mention any copyright matters. Camara's list of recent cases doesn't include any copyright matters. But his firm brochure does contain this intriguing endorsement:
"In some 40 years at the Harvard Law School, I have never seen a combination of lawyers quite like Camara & Sibley."

- Professor Charles R. Nesson, Harvard Law School, co-counsel with Camara & Sibley against the RIAA
The brochure does not specify on which case Professor Nesson and Camara are co-counsel. Nesson himself may be headed for a June trial in another matter.

(h/t Recording Industry vs. The People)

UPDATE: Buried on Camara's web site (which strangely doesn't include separate URLs for different pages) under "pro bono" is the following:

With Professor Charles Nesson of the Harvard Law School, we are defending Brittany English, a junior and cheerleader at Case Western Reserve University in a prosecution brought by the recording industry under the Copyright Act for allegedly illegal music downloading and sharing. Brittany is counter-suing the Recording Industry Association of America, its members, and the individuals who organized its litigation campaign.

Armed with the threat of $150,000 in statutory damages per illegal download (a $1.5M judgment in a small, 10-song case, where the actual damages are about $10, the price of 10 songs on iTunes), the recording industry has obtained more than $100M in settlements from individuals like Brittany. We are asking the courts to declare that statutory damages like these — 150,000:1 — are unconstitutional and that the RIAA’s campaign to extract settlements from individuals by the threat of such unconstitutional damages is itself unlawful, enjoin the RIAA’s unlawful campaign, and order the RIAA to return the $100M+ that it obtained as a result of its unlawful campaign.

So it appears Camara does have experience with this kind of case. Here's the complaint in UMG v. English, filed March 11, 2009 (and here's the list of allegedly infringed songs). And here's the answer filed by Camara. I see no indication in the record that Nesson has officially appeared.


  1. Is it incorrect to omit "the" before "Harvard Law School"? Kiwi and Nesson favor the "the." I am partial to The The. Underrated.

  2. @ Bruce Boyden:

    Yeah, it annoys me as well when people use terms from criminal law like "prosecution" and "guilty" when discussing civil cases. The case that Camara is referring to is clearly a civil copyright action -- no prosecutors, only plaintiffs.

  3. On people using the term terms "prosecution" and "guilty":

    My pet peeve is courts that use the phrase "illegal copying." It implies a moral judgment, that often isn't appropriate. Infringement is better.

  4. That law school is actually the One Whose Name May Not Be Spoken

  5. Mel Gibson's prenup = douche

  6. I don't care how much of a "prodigy" he may be. He's still an immature, racist jackass. He'll never outlive the outline controversy, and I'm glad. His "apologies" were forced and insincere, and I'm sure he still has the same beliefs. Lest he forget that he's a minority himself; he's not even U.S.-born. He needs to be slapped.


Comments here are moderated. I appreciate substantive comments, whether or not they agree with what I've written. Stay on topic, and be civil. Comments that contain name-calling, personal attacks, or the like will be rejected. If you want to rant about how evil the RIAA and MPAA are, and how entertainment companies' employees and attorneys are bad people, there are plenty of other places for you to go.