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File-Sharing Judge Accused of Conflicts

The Swedish judge who last week sentenced four men to prison in the high-profile Pirate Bay file-sharing case is being accused by the lawyer for one of the four of having conflicts of interest that should compel a new trial. Just as Stockholm district court judge Tomas Norström found the four men guilty on Friday and sentenced each to a year in jail, it was revealed that he is a member of two pro-copyright groups, including one whose members include three of the lawyers who represented the plaintiffs in the trial.

The four defendants -- Peter Sunde, Gottfrid Svartholm Warg, Fredrik Neij and Carl Lundström -- were found guilty of having assisted in making 33 copyright-protected files available for sharing on the BitTorrent site The Pirate Bay. Sunde is seeking to have his conviction thrown out based on Norström's membership in the Swedish Copyright Association and the Swedish Association for Industrial Legal Protection. Three of the plaintiffs' lawyers in the trial -- Henrik Pontén, Peter Danowsky and Monique Wadsted -- are members of the Swedish Copyright Association.

The judge maintains that his memberships in the organizations do not make him biased. "Every time I take a case, I evaluate if I consider myself having a conflict of interest. In this case I didn't find to have one," he told Sveriges Radio, the national Swedish radio network that broke the story of his memberships in the two groups.

The blog Threat Level quotes Eric Bylander, senior lecturer in procedure law at Gothenburg University, as saying that it was not appropriate for the judge to preside over this case. "There are several circumstances which individually don't constitute partiality, but that put together can form a quite different picture. It's also a matter of what signal this sends to the citizens. Anyone who, on reasonable grounds, can be appear biased in a case should not judge that case."

The four defendants have also appealed on other grounds. Their fate now rests with the Svea Hovrätt, Sweden's high court of justice.

Posted by Robert J. Ambrogi on April 24, 2009 at 11:28 AM | Permalink | Comments (2)


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