A lawyer who defended Newzbin at its 2010 trial has been indefinitely struck off, because it turned out he owned the file-sharing site.
The Bar Standards Board disbarred Brighton-based David Harris on Thursday, and also fined him £2,500 for insulting the prosecution lawyers in the case via the medium of Twitter. Tweeting as @Geeklawyer, he had called opposing lawyers names such as "slimebags" and "prick".
Until he was replaced eight days into the trial, Harris represented Newzbin while it was defending itself against a lawsuit brought about by Twentieth Century Fox and other major film studios. The studios wanted the UK-based Usenet aggregation service to stop helping people unlawfully share copyrighted films that they owned.
In the event, the judge granted the studios that injunction but denied them a blanket ban on Newzbin indexing all copyrighted material. Newzbin moved overseas, became Newzbin2 and in 2011 found itself the subject of a second, precedent-setting judgement ordering BT to block the site from its customers.
During the first trial, Harris told the court that all the shares in Newzbin were in his name, but only because he was holding them on behalf of someone else. He also said he did not know whether he had a significant pecuniary interest in Newzbin as such.
However, it turned out that both of these statements were false. Harris was holding the shares for himself and knew he had a real financial stake in Newzbin "because he had bought 100 percent of the company's issued share capital for a substantial purchase price in December 2009", according to charges admitted by Harris.
Harris did not admit to a charge of bringing the legal profession into disrepute by representing Newzbin when he knew he was likely to be called as a witness, but Judge Nicholas Riddell found the charge to be proved anyway.
The board also found Harris guilty of tweeting in a way that was "likely to diminish public confidence in the legal profession or the administration of justice or otherwise bring the legal profession into disrepute".
In one tweet, Harris — who had left his robes in a hotel room that day — said the judge had allowed him to appear in court without his wig, then asked the prosecution barrister to do the same. "Prick refused," Harris said.
Another tweet accused the opposing lawyers, who worked for chambers called Wiggin, of spying on him. "Ha! New [sic] I being spied on! You Wiggin slimebags are sooo fucking obvious," the message read.
"Oops Looks like I admitted something I should have denied. Oh. Dear me : ( (Gonna catch it in the neck for that)," another tweet read.
The tweets did not lead to the disbarring, but they did merit a £2,500 fine, the board decided. Harris also had to pay costs of £1,186. He was given 21 days to appeal against the findings and the disbarring.