- Associated Press - Monday, November 16, 2015

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) - A state ethics board for lawyers wants a Minneapolis attorney disciplined over “porn trolling” lawsuits, according to a petition made public Monday.

The Minnesota Office of Lawyers Professional Responsibility is asking the state Supreme Court to disbar or suspend Paul Hansmeier, 34, who built a career suing people nationwide for downloading Internet porn. He then turned to filing what some call “nuisance lawsuits” against small businesses that allegedly fail to comply with disability access laws.

The disciplinary petition was signed Oct. 28 and made public Monday. In recommending discipline, the ethics board cited numerous rulings against Hansmeier characterizing the “porn trolling” suits as “vexation litigation designed to coerce settlement.”

The petition’s release comes just days after a U.S. Bankruptcy Court trustee sought to liquidate Hansmeier’s assets forcibly, arguing he tried to get court protection from creditors in “bad faith,” the Star Tribune (https://strib.mn/1ONtE76 ) reported.

Hansmeier has 20 days to answer the petition’s allegations. His attorney, Eric Cooperstein, declined specific comment on Monday, saying only that he looked forward to presenting “our side of the case” later.



Hansmeier and his associates in the porn trolling cases were hit with hundreds of thousands of dollars in court-ordered sanctions. He now makes a living suing bars, restaurants, stores and other small businesses alleging they don’t comply with disability access laws, a practice denounced by chambers of commerce and some politicians.

As Hansmeier’s creditors closed in, he filed for bankruptcy protection seeking to reorganize more than $1.5 million in debts, taxes and court sanctions. He has asked a federal bankruptcy court to let him restructure his debts.

Neither his creditors nor the bankruptcy trustee think that should happen. They filed more than 500 pages of documents late last week objecting to his plan.

U.S. Bankruptcy Trustee Daniel McDermott characterizes Hansemeier’s financial disclosures as incomplete and misleading. McDermott alleges Hansmeier made fraudulent transfers of assets to his wife, Padraigin Browne, and that they’re selling their condominium in a downtown Minneapolis luxury high-rise without court approval. The couple now rent a home in Woodbury.

Colin Kreutziger, an attorney representing the trustee, wrote that Hansmeier’s conduct leading up to bankruptcy indicates he filed his petition solely to keep creditors at bay.

“The underlying conduct giving rise to most of the debtor’s debts is nothing short of egregious,” Kreutziger wrote. He said Hansmeier and Browne, who also is a lawyer, don’t have the wherewithal to pay their creditors as promised under the proposed plan.

Hansmeier and another University of Minnesota law school graduate started a lucrative practice suing what they called Internet pirates who illegally download copyrighted pornography. But the way they went about it - suing “John Doe” defendants to extract the identities behind the Internet addresses used to access the porn, then demanding settlements - drew rebukes and sanctions from judges. One denounced Hansmeier and his associates for their “relentless willingness to lie to the court on paper and in person.”

A federal judge in California referred them to criminal investigative authorities, though no charges have resulted.

Patrick Burns, a spokesman for the lawyers board, said it was aware of the bankruptcy trustee’s allegations, which closely mirror those in the board’s complaint. Burns said the disciplinary process could take up to a year to play out if Hansmeier contests the matter.

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Information from: Star Tribune, https://www.startribune.com

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