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Full Tilt, Chris Ferguson Targeted in Possible California Greenmail Action

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Three corporate entities connected to Full Tilt Poker and famed Full Tilt player Chris Ferguson have been targeted in a California lawsuit seeking injunctive relief and an unspecified payment for attorney’s fees. The action alleges non-specific violations of the 2006 Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA) and various statutes from the California Business and Professions Code.

The suit, filed on April 29, 2009 by attorney James B. Hicks of Los Angeles firm Hicks Park LLC, was brought in the United States District Court’s Central District of California, Western Division, and lists Tiltware LLC,, Tilt Proof Inc., Ferguson, and “[John] Does 1 through 100” as defendants. The action asks for “temporary, preliminary and permanent injunctive relief” against the defendants, and “for an award of [Hicks’] reasonable costs and attorney’s fees against defendants.”

In filing the action, attorney Hicks claimed to be a member of the Full Tilt online poker site in an attempt to establish standing to bring his claim. However, he did not specifically allege in the suit that he had actually played poker for money on the site, which combined with the lack of specific damages leaves the motivation for the case unclear. The crux of Hicks' claim is that Full Tilt is liable under California law simply for being accessible via the Internet to California residents. Despite the possible “financial settlement” motives of Hicks in bringing the case, the core issues could prove to be an interesting legal test for the skill-vs.-chance debate surrounding poker were the case ever to go to court.

Of interest, information posted on the poker news blog site (the first poker site to publish information on the case) appears to show that Hicks has been cited for ethical violations while pursuing other cases against presumed “deep pocket” corporations. One such episode in 2002, as archived on the legal site and publicized on pokerati, detailed a lawsuit by Hicks on behalf of a fledgling dollmaker against industry giant Mattel alleging copyright infringement; that case was quickly tossed (and a “frivolous lawsuit” judgment issued against Hicks) when a quick examination of the Barbie dolls in question showed a copyright date stamped on each doll’s head that predated by years the launching of the other dollmaker’s line.

Separately, Hicks had his law license suspended for 30 days earlier this year and remains in a two-year probation period for his actions in another case. The California state bar papers in that matter originate from a 2006 medical case where Hicks asserted but could not provide proof of proper legal summons, resulting in the temporary issuance of a default judgment. The papers regarding Hicks’ subsequent ethical hearing include notations such as “Respondent’s misconduct harmed the administration of justice.” In that matter, Hicks was fined over $10,000, referred to legal ethics school, and required to pass the Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination to return to active law practice. "Greenmail," the practice of filing lawsuits in order to win quick settlements from corporations, is a growing legal practice.

A Full Tilt representative only recently became aware of the lawsuit and was unable to provide a statement for this report.

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