Pando

Cool dude lawyer sends Pando very uncool (and super secret!) legal threat

By Sarah Lacy and Paul Bradley Carr , written on October 6, 2015

From The Inside Baseball Desk

As regular readers will know, Pando has a longstanding policy of publishing any and all legal threats we receive, no matter how ridiculous.  

This promise of transparency, which we inherited from our time at TechCrunch, operates as a safeguard to ensure that readers always know if anyone is trying to shut down our reporting or otherwise prevent us from doing the job Pando readers expect us to do. The policy is particularly important when, as below, a lawyer threatens dire legal penalties if we publish the truth.

Unfortunately the policy also means that from time to time, readers are forced to endure an incredibly inside baseball post like this one. Perhaps you’ll find it an interesting example of the kind of problem lots of startups have to deal with with but few talk about publicly. If not, you can safely skip all that follows and still consider your day complete.

The TL;DR version: A lawyer acting for a company called Indri Logistics is demanding $65k to cover various invoices and legal fees they claim to be owed by Pando. If we don’t pay immediately, they say they’ll sue us. The lawyer is also demanding that we don’t publish details of the threatened lawsuit on Pando otherwise Indri Logistics will file a defamation suit against us.

Now, here’s the long version...

Until last week, in the history of Pando, we’d only ever received one legal threat: a $300m threatened lawsuit on behalf of a crony of Governor Chris Christie. Per our policy, we published the threat and our lawyer’s response. Ultimately, Christie’s pal decided not to sue.

A couple of weeks ago, we received our second ever threat. And while this one is for a lot less money -- around $65k vs $300m -- it’s no less strange than the previous. Honestly, we have no idea if it’s a mistake, a hoax or perhaps something even more sinister. Maybe all of the above. We’ll let Pando’s readers decide.  We’ll also try to keep the commentary to a minimum for now – we expect the full facts to emerge in court and we want to keep our powder dry.

Also, Sarah is not long home from the hospital after being struck down by a particularly nasty case of pneumonia so we really, really don’t have either the time nor the mental energy to deal with too much other craziness.

Enter, lawyer number one: Erika Copenhaver

This particular craziness began in July, when we received a bizarre letter from an attorney called Erika Copenhaver at a firm called Galanti & Copenhaver in Santa Rosa. In the letter, Copenhaver said that her firm was acting for Indri Logistics, a freelance events planning company that had helped us plan some of our Pando events.

A few weeks earlier, we had terminated our working relationship with Indri Logistics, and its owner Leah Kahn, for a variety of very good reasons. But those can wait for the courtroom, or at least for a later post.

The thrust of Galanti & Copenhaver’s letter was that Indri Logistics was demanding an immediate payment of $55,871.61 for what Copenhaver claimed were “severely delinquent” invoices owed by Pando to her client.

Fifty five grand!

Worse, if we didn’t pay the $55k within ten days, the attorney said she would file a lawsuit claiming that we were deliberately withholding the money with the intention of harming Ms Kahn’s business. Or, as Ms Copenhaver put it, they would tell the world that:

“PandoMedia is directly taking advantage of a small business, owned and operated by a female entrepreneur….”

And just in case we hadn’t got the point, the letter added:

“Any court involvement will most definitely tarnish the reputation PandoMedia currently enjoys.”

That’s a meaningful threat: Given the recent attempts by Uber to smear Sarah and Pando, it’d look really bad if we were sued for trying to damage someone else’s business. The “female entrepreneur” line was a particularly nice touch. Presumably the lawyer understood that, and expected us to pay up, quickly and quietly, to avoid a scandal.

Instead we launched an internal investigation to determine whether any of Indri Logistics’s claims was true. Could it really be possible that we’d failed to pay over $55k in invoices to a supplier? And if so, why?

Spoiler alert: The letter was total bullshit.

We checked with our accounts payable team -- an independent accountancy firm -- who confirmed that they had no record of a single outstanding invoice received from Indri Logistics or Leah Kahn.

Weirder still, as we began to dig through the invoices attached to the attorney’s letter, all of which seemed to have been backdated to appear way overdue, it became clear that they were riddled with errors and inconsistencies. In one particularly egregious example, Indri Logistics was demanding a “bonus” payment of $7,000 for doing such a great job on the event we fired it over. In another, Indri Logistics’s lawyer had accidentally sent us two versions of the same invoice -- effectively a ‘before’ and ‘after’ -- showing how Indri had seemingly padded the number of billable hours its employees had worked.  Then there were backdated invoices for an event that hadn’t even occurred yet, claims for reimbursements for items Indri hadn’t actually paid… and on and on.  

Naturally, we replied to the attorney demanding an explanation. She responded by repeating her demand for immediate payment of the full amount, otherwise her client would sue. After weeks of back and forth with us trying to determine the facts behind the threat, and Indri’s lawyer refusing to answer even basic questions, it seemed more and more like we were being shaken down.

Our patience finally exhausted, we wrote an email back to the attorney, saying -- in short -- we’ve shown you beyond all doubt that your client is – uh -- factually challenged (note: we wanted to use a different phrase here but… lawyers) -- so if you really believe we owe this money, go ahead and file your lawsuit. Courts are pretty good at getting to the facts in situations like this. We also explained our policy of publishing any legal threat we receive right here on Pando so readers can decide the truth for themselves. In addition, we filed a complaint with the California State Bar, asking them to investigate Copenhaver’s role in the whole murky business.

Lo and behold, as soon as we asked the State Bar to help us uncover the truth, Ms. Copenhaver disappeared.  

Exit, lawyer number one.

Enter, lawyer number two: Clayton Gaddis

We hoped that would be the end of things. But no. Late last week, via our attorneys, we suddenly received a brand new letter from a brand new lawyer -- this one with a law firm in Oklahoma -- also claiming to act for Leah Kahn and Indri Logistics. The letter, sent from a gmail address, appeared to be from this guy…

...from a firm called Whitebook and Gaddis. According to Clayton Gaddis’ LinkedIn profile he is “nice to animals.” As all the very best people are.

Gaddis’ letter to Pando, embedded below, contains a demand for a still different settlement amount: $65,000 on the nose. Once again, it threatens a lawsuit if we don’t pay up within ten days.

But here's the kicker: the new demand comes with extra conditions: Along with the payment, which now includes some unspecified amount to cover his own fees, Gaddis demands that we sign a nondisclosure agreement, promising not to tell anyone about our interactions with Indri Logistics, or the threatened lawsuit. In fact, if we publish any of the letters we’ve received from any of Indri Logistics’s ever-changing cast of legal characters, or any of the proof we have of falsified invoices etc, Mr Gaddis says Indri Logistics will sue us for “libel or slander.”

That’s right, Indri Logistics and its lawyer say they’ll sue us for defamation if we publish their own letters.

Honestly, we’re at a loss. We have no idea if we’re being scammed, extorted, pranked, bluffed or are just dealing with a disgruntled former contractor who is really bad at math and/or is being given horrible legal advice. What we do know is that we have a huge pile of documentary proof of inaccurate invoicing, deception, overbilling and more -- and that, for whatever reason, Indri and its attorney really don’t want us to share any of it with you.

We also know that there’s no way in hell we’re signing a gag agreement or giving in to extortion. It’ll almost certainly cost us way more to fight a lawsuit than it would to just settle (again, that’s likely what Indri and its attorneys are banking on) but, once you settle one baseless lawsuit, they never stop coming.

And so, despite the fact that Sarah is just out of hospital, recovering from pneumonia, and despite the fact that as a startup we really, really don’t want to spend the time or money to fight a insane baseless lawsuit, we really have no choice but to call Indri Logistics and Gaddis’ bluff.

After hours spent sifting through the latest set of revised documents submitted by Indri Logistics’s attorneys we’ve isolated an initial batch of invoices that (finally) seem to reflect something approaching reality. The total of those invoices comes to around one tenth of what Gaddis is demanding. Our attorney -- Roger Myers, a former journalist who has previously defended Wikileaks -- has written a formal response to Gaddis, sharing that total and pointing out the absurdity of Indri Logistics’s threats. You can read Myers’ letter below.

Myers concludes by making clear that Gaddis’ threatened defamation lawsuit will not stop Pando from informing its readers about threatened lawsuits and, in effect, if Gaddis or his client has a problem with that policy they are very welcome to sue us.  We’ve been dealing with this nonsense for months now and it’s time to let a court help us figure out what’s really going on.

Whatever happens next -- and, frankly, at this point nothing will surprise us -- we’ll publish it right here on Pando, along with our lawyer’s response and all the supporting documentation, so readers can make up their own minds. And in the event that Gaddis and Indri file a defamation suit in response to this post, we’ll publish that too. Sunlight is the best disinfectant, as they say.