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Opinion

Federal judge puts Internet pioneer in civil lockdown

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Opinion,Barbara Hollingsworth

When Jeff Baron came to Washington this month, he was wearing a borrowed suit.

Once upon a time, the Internet pioneer -- who taught himself computer programming and created innovative software to register domain names -- lived the good life in a Dallas suburb.

His company, Ondova, was a cash cow, pulling in $1.5 million in profit each month.

It all started unraveling when Baron, now 44, hired some high-powered Texas attorneys to help manage his holdings, and he was approached by a potential business partner who promised to turn Ondova into the next Google.

Baron admits he was naive and failed to perform due diligence as his lawyers set up an "elaborate" network of businesses offshore and his erstwhile partner turned out to be a convicted felon who sold porn online.

After a lengthy series of legal battles, Ondova was eventually forced into bankruptcy. But it wasn't until Baron found himself in the Dallas courtroom of U.S. District Judge Royal Furgeson that his real nightmare began.

At a June 19, 2009, hearing in his civil case, Judge Furgeson warned Baron that "failure to comply" with a previous court order to renew Ondova's domain names would be considered "contempt, punishable by lots of dollars, punishable by possible jail, death. ... You are a fool, a fool, a fool to screw with a federal judge, and if you don't understand that, I can make you understand it. I have the force of the Navy, Army, Marines and Navy (sic) behind me."

A shaken Baron agreed to give up half of his Internet assets to "buy peace." In 2010, he signed a Global Settlement Agreement for all outstanding claims against him. "There were 1,500 filings. I complied with the settlement agreement 100 percent," he told The Washington Examiner.

On Nov. 14, 2010, three days after Baron "mildly" objected to what he characterized as inflated legal bills, Judge Furgeson made good on his threat, issuing an ex parte order that placed all of Baron's business and personal assets, including his $1.2 million individual retirement account and a $60 million juvenile diabetes trust fund -- and incredibly, Baron himself -- into receivership. Baron's former attorney, Peter Vogel, was given "exclusive control over any and all Receivership Parties, which term shall include Jeffrey Baron."

A Dec. 2, 2010, email to Baron by Barry Golden, Vogel's attorney, clarified exactly what this meant: "you are expressly prohibited from retaining any legal counsel ... you are expressly prohibited from disbursing any Receiver Funds provided to you by the Receiver for anything other than the following daily-living expenses for yourself only: local transportation, meals, home utilities, medical care and medicine."

According to LawInjustice.com, there are no other reported cases in American history in which a person has been placed in receivership. Baron, as well as his home, car, personal bank accounts and even his clothes, remain under Vogel's total control.

He can be jailed for contempt if he removes anything from the Northern District of Texas, including the shirt on his back. To seek help from Congress, "I literally borrowed clothes to come to D.C.", he told us.

On Jan. 31, Dallas attorney Gary Schepps filed an emergency motion in the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in an unsuccessful attempt to stop Furgeson's order to "immediately liquidate $60 million in assets for $0.02 cents on the dollar in pre-arranged secret sales" for two of Baron's companies, neither of which "was the party to any claim in the District court."

A former multimillionaire doesn't get much sympathy nowadays. But if Jeff Baron can be held in this weird form of civil lockdown even though he's never been charged with any crime and never had any judgments against him, what are you going to do when they come for you?

Barbara F. Hollingsworth is The Examiner's local opinion editor.

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