Saturday, January 27, 2007

Travesty in the courtroom

As I was going to school yesterday morning, I noticed that there were more black cars than I'd ever seen in front of the courthouse, and a Ranger car. I decided to cut classes and see what was going on. What I saw made me sick, and just about too mad to type straight.

When I got inside, they were just starting to arraign the suspect. He's not a lot older than me (17, I found out), and he was looking like one sick puppy. (Later, I heard the Ranger say that he'd grabbed him as soon as he stepped off the plane that morning--he'd just flown in from Iceland--so maybe there was some jetlag, but he had more than jetlag to worry about.) He was charged with abetting grand theft before and after the fact, professional malpractice, and practicing software engineering without a license. He sure didn't seem old enough to have done all those things, and he pleaded Not Guilty.

The DA was handling the case himself, but there were two whole rows of out of town suits beside and and behind him. And the kid, turns out his name is David Josephssen, had the bad luck to get as his public defender the laziest attorney in the county: Al Legorry (everybody calls him DiagonAl, (pronounced die-AG-u-nal) 'cause that's the angle he sits at in the courtroom).

Well David was wide-eyed and paying real close attention, but DiagonAl was just slouching there, playing Tetris. Judge Bean had to ask him twice if there was any objection to moving directly to trial. He gave a jerk, said "Judge, no disrespect, but I was close to a personal best score there when you interrupted me. What was the question again?" He didn't object to going to trial. "I'm as ready as I'll ever be. Do you think we can finish this today?"

So the trial commenced right then and there. Turns out that David--everybody was calling him dvdjo--was accused of helping some John Doe (they never said much about him) to burglarize a virtual vault in a virtual bank in a secret virtual world called Third Life. Seemed to me that they should have had a virtual trial in their virtual world and given him a virtual sentence ("What happens in Third Life stays in Third Life"), but no, they wanted to punish him in Real Life.

There wasn't a lot of evidence. One night the virtual goodies were in the virtual vault when they closed up, and the next morning when they opened up, the goodies weren't there. But when they checked the virtual security log, the virtual tapes from the virtual security cameras, etc., they found nothing. That is, according to all the evidence, no one had been in or near the virtual vault all night. The virtual cops even virtually dusted the virtual combination lock for virtual fingerprints, but only found those of authorized employee "avatars" (I had to look this word up) of Fifth Third Life Bank (isn't that a crazy name? like they took it from phishing spam).

So they concluded that it was an inside job, and they decided it must be dvdjo, because he's the guy they'd hired to write a virtually invulnerable security system for the bank. They'd never even seen him before today and it came out that they didn't know he was only 15 when they virtually hired him to do the job. You'd think that there'd be a lot of suspects in an inside job, but somehow they decided it could only be him.

There was only one Texas witness, from the Texas Engineering Board, and all he said was that the Board had no records of any David Josephssen, either applying for or being granted a license to practice engineering on the Internet. They also asked about dvdjo, but the answer was still no.

The main witness was the bank's Chief Information Officer, John Quill Macavity. He looked a little nervous at first, until it became clear that DiagonAl wasn't going to ask any questions, wasn't even going to look up from his Tetris game and miss another chance for a high score. Then he got more confident and mean. It had to be dvdjo, he said. In the first place, dvdjo lied about being a software engineer. In the second place, none of the bank's fulltime employees would do a thing like that. (I wanted to ask how many employees they had, and whether they had checked them more carefully than they did dvdjo, but DiagonAl just kept playing Tetris.)

Macavity went on to say "We contracted with dvdjo to produce a virtually invulnerable system. The burglary proves that it wasn't. I can't be sure whether he bungled the software or whether he deliberately betrayed us, but if he'd done his job right there's no way that stuff could have been gotten out of the vault outside banking hours. I think that it was probably a setup from the beginning, and that he deliberately put a trapdoor in our software and then sold it to the highest bidder. What a despicable hacker. He doesn't deserve to be called a software engineer!"

When asked if he was sure that dvdjo was the only one who could have cleaned up the security logs, he replied "Damn straight! He was the only one who had the admin password. He's the one who printed out the logs for us to check--he could have sabotaged them right then, if he didn't do it before. And ever since we told him we knew he was involved in the theft, the little swine [David's about 6' 7", but he was probably thinking about the dvdjo avatar] has stopped resetting passwords for us when we forget them. Now about half the staff and 80% of our customers can't log in any more! [David looked up and actually smiled at this. It was the only time I saw him smile all day. DiagonAl didn't notice.] When I get my hands on the rat, I'm going to hold his feet to the fire until he coughs it all up..." At this point Judge Bean interrupted and asked him to answer just the questions.

Macavity looked so fat and smug and mean, I'd pick him out as the most likely criminal in the room, but I don't think he's smart enough to have done this job.

Then the DA wrapped up, and the Judge asked DiagonAl if he wanted to call any defense witnesses. "Hell, no, Judge. I'm getting paid by the case." I think that surprised even Judge Bean, because he said "The record will show that the defense declined to call any witnesses."

So the judge charged the jury and sent them out to deliberate. It only took them about 15 minutes. "We find the defendent guilty on all charges, including the aggravated felony of practicing software engineering without a license in furtherance of a crime."

At that point, both the DA and DiagonAl wanted to go directly to the sentencing hearing, but Judge Bean wasn't having any of it. "I note that the time is 4:05. It is a standing policy of this court that employees shall be free to leave at 4:30 on Fridays. [This isn't true, but it's a trick he likes to pull on out of town lawyers.] This court is adjourned until 9:00 on Monday morning. [Bang!] I'm sure all you fancy out of town lawyers will manage to bill your clients for the whole weekend, whether you do any work or not. [Bang!]

By that time the Ranger and the Sheriff were hustling David out of the courtroom to the county jail, and making sure that no one got a chance to talk to him, and everyone else was scattering.

I feel so helpless. SOMEBODY ought to be able to do something to help that poor kid, but I don't know how. If any lawyer or capable grown-up reads this, please get in touch with me,, as soon as you can.


  1. Unlicensed EngineerFebruary 15, 2007 at 2:50 PM

    I've been practicing engineering (practice makes perfect) in Texas since April 1, 1901, and I never bought a license from anyone. Engineering's not like law or medicine, where you've gotta know something or know somebody to do the job.

    PRACTICING SANITARY ENGINEERING WITHOUT A LICENSE! What a farce! I bet that not one garbage collector in ten has took any courses in sanitary engineering. I know for a fact that my Java garbage collector hasn't.

  2. This case should be of concern to all programmers, whether they consider themselves "software engineers" or not.

    I am writing a column for the Communications of the ACM on this case. I would appreciate any additional information that readers of this blog can supply.

    Jim H.

  3. Law west of the Pecos is like law anywere else -- all the justice you can afford! Even Judge Bean should recognize incompetence at this level. Truly American justice gone mad!

  4. know the difference between coding and engineeringFebruary 28, 2007 at 10:29 AM

    If dvdjo wrote the code with a back door and raided the virtual goodies, he probably violated his contract with the bank -- a civil matter -- and if he used that backdoor he maybe committed fraud.

    But where do these guys get off claiming he was practicing engineering? Did he ever call himself an engineer? Did he work on anything that matters to public safety?

    Just because he wrote some code doesn't make him an engineer. I'm getting sick and tired of people confusing programming with engineering, and it doesn't help that every wet-behind-the-ears coder wants to call himself by a fancy engineering title.

  5. Can someone please post instructions for getting into Third Life from Second Life? I fell into it through a trap door, and it was wonderful, but then an angle with a flaming sword threw me out, and I can't seem to find my way back in.

  6. I'm surprised that no one seems to have picked up on the jurisdiction issues here. There seem to be at least two important questions here:

    1) Do First Life laws apply to actions performed purely in Third Life?

    2) Do Texas laws apply to actions by non-Texas persons, merely because the Internet extends into Texas?

    Unless the answer to both questions is Yes, it is hard to see how the court in Diagon can have jurisdiction.

  7. 2ndHollywoodMogulMarch 7, 2007 at 10:40 AM

    The "word on the street" in Second Life is that the RIAA was behind the prosecution of dvdjo, and has launched a parallel civil suit seeking damages for loss of intellectual property. Some of the theories of why they have done this and what they have lost are pretty bizarre, and I hesitate to repeat them here.

    Go to Second Hollywood and Vine, and chat up those who have gathered there for the latest gossip.

  8. @ leagleBeagle

    Habeas grabus works much like extraordinary rendition. If you have custody of the criminal, you have jurisdiction.


    It has come to our attention that certain contributors to this blog have posted libelous remarks about the Recording Industry of American Avatars (RIAA) in connection with the David Josephssen case.

    The facts are that this case was brought by the District Attorney of Diagon purely on the basis of violations of Texas law. While it is true that lawyers from our firm were present in the courtroom, they were there purely as observers for the RIAA and had no part in the prosecution of the case.

    We have demanded that the owner of this blog delete all defamatory posts. If he does not do so within 24 hours, we will request Blogger to terminate this blog, without prejudice to our right to identify and pursue legal remedies against individual posters.

    We further warn the author of this blog and all potential commenters that this blog will remain under scrutiny for possible future violations.

    Ima Ghofer, Attorney-at-Law
    Dewey, Cheatham & Howe

  10. And I heard that it's not the RIAA at all, but a J. K. Rowling publicity stunt that misfired. They say that heads will be rolling over this. But not mine.

  11. This case has started attracting attention across the Atlantic here in the UK. Concern has been expressed that, now that our Government has passed a law under which UK citizens accused of a crime by a US court can be extradited to face trial - without bothering to get the US to pass a similar reciprocal law - innocent programmers here might find themselves hauled across to Texas to face charges of not just practicing, but actually undertaking, unlicensed software engineering. I trust that Dr Horning will deal with this issue in his article.

  12. What I find most surprising about this case is the apparent belief that dvdjo could carry out such a crime unaided - surely such a crime would have had to involve several accomplices, in all probability located safely in Virtual China or Russia?

  13. 7th generation TejanMarch 9, 2007 at 10:07 PM

    This whole professional license thang is an insult to everything that has made Tejas great. Ever since my great-great-great-grandpaw ran a few head of cows out in Pecos country, Tejas has been the place where you make your own place.

    Telling people they have to get a license to work is an outrage! It's nothing more than a land grab where the folks already in the trade keep other folks out.

  14. Dear Freind,

    I am a personal treasurer to Mikhail Khodorkovsky the Richest man in Russia and owner of the following companies: Chairman CEO:YUKOS OIL (Russian Largest Oil Company) Chairman CEO:Menatep SBP Virtual Bank (A well reputable financial institution with its Branches all over the world, employing only the most highly-qualified engineers of software in its IT Departmant)

    I have a profiling amount in an excess of US$100.5M, which I seek your Partnership in accommodating for me. You will be rewarded with 4% of The total sum for your partnership. Can you be my partner on this?

    As a personal consultant to him, authority Was handed over to me in transfer of money of an American oil merchant For his last oil deal with my boss Mikhail Khodorkovsky.

    Already the funds have left the shore of Russia to an European private Bank where the final crediting is expected to be carried out. While I was on the process, My Boss got arrested for his Involvement in politics by financing the leading And opposing political parties.

    All I need from you is to stand as the beneficiary of the Above quoted Sum and I will re-profile the funds with your name, which will enable The European bank transfer the sum to you. I have decided to use this Sum to relocate to American continent.

    As Soon as I confirm your readiness to conclude the transaction with me, I Will provide you with the details.


    Thank you very much


    Ruik Gordievsky

  15. Real Software EngineerMarch 10, 2007 at 5:27 PM

    @ AST

    What I find surprising is that everyone seems to assume that the contents of the vault were stolen.

    As far as we know, the only evidence is that the contents of the vault disappeared. Using Occam's Razor, it seems far more likely that the contents were lost than stolen.

    My bet is that this is a case of memory corruption, rather than intrusion. There could have been a buffer overflow, a memory leak, a race condition. And it wouldn't have had to be in the security software at all--it could have been anywhere in the FTLB software. For that matter, it could have been in the Second and Third Life software or in Windows. In a system this complex, it could also have been a simple hardware error, a network communication error, or even an operator error. There's no way that a court, any court, could have sorted out these possible causes in a single day.

    My money is on the disappearance having nothing at all to do with dvdjo.

  16. @ WSC:


    Pooh on your pride! You Europeans think you own Software Engineering because the first two workshops on the subject were held in Europe.

    Let me remind you that a leading figure in both of those conferences was Prof. Ed Dijkstra of the University of Texas!

    Europe hasn't even gotten around to standardizing a SWEBOK for the EU. What do you know about licensing Software Engineers?

    Trespassers W!

  17. @Mogul, @SmallFry,

    I work for a very prestigious Second Life advertising agency. Late last year, we were well along with developing an ad campaign for the RIAA with the theme "Bling, Don't Sing, when suddenly the whole thing was canceled. All the RIAA would tell us is that it was "that dvdjo thing," but they never explained that.

    At the time, I thought it was a reference to DVD-Jon. It is only reading this blog that I've been able to put two and 2 together.

    Anyone know what "Bling, Don't Sing" could mean? The campaign was very abstract, featuring very gaudily dressed avatars with enormous round earrings and pendants, but there was never any explanation. Maybe that would have come later in the campaign.

  18. I know the Josephssen family. I grew up with them near Josephson Junction Texas. They're
    good people. As I recall
    David was a bright kid, always tinkering around with computers. I think he made his first computer by rewiring a crystal radio.

    This kind of persecution shouldn't be happening to him.

  19. I am Erik Erikssen, Honorary Consul from Iceland to the state of Texas. I look for any and all information about the place where approximately David Josephssen of Reykjavik is. I would ask also all possible information, on the position by Diagon, TX, by Judge Roy Bean or by other officials of its court to be given.

    On Thursday, 25 January 2007, Erik and Kristina Josephssen reported the Reykjavik police that her son David had not home returned. Iceland is a small island, in which everyone has well-known, therefore our police not much experience, if they seek out missing persons. Some days, before everyone thought, were to be examined over airline recordings and that David from Reykjavik had flown to Austin, TX discovered. But there, as you say, "the trail went to cold weather."

    US State Department said, only that David permitted US on 26 January had come and that he "was not in Federal custody within the United States." This not very useful was, but understand we that US are a large country and cannot around each person worry itself. But in Iceland we do worry.

    Texas is much larger than Iceland, and I know not all parts of it and certainly know not all its people. I really did not know, where one turns for assistance. But David Josephssen is not a common name, even in Iceland, therefore I finally thought its name to Google and discovered this blog.

    Is not apparent "texasdirt" to communicate to this blog more but, if everyone, which reads this, has possible information at everything, which would help us to try contact with David, whether he has sufficient certified representation, I became most grateful. I am sure that the large spirit of the large state of Texas collects, in order to help us somehow!

    With most sincere thanks,

    Erik Erikssen

  20. So according to the news last week there's this deaf woman who clearly killed someone horribly and is claiming that she shouldn't be subject to the death penalty because she can't take part in her own defense.

    The argument seems to be that legal stuff doesn't translate into American Sign Language.

    Can't dvdjo make the same case? Surely Icelandic is different enough from English -- let alone legalese -- that it's just as hard to translate to Icelandic as to ASL.

  21. @ inquiring,

    Is that precedent binding in Texas? More particularly, in Diagon, TX?

  22. David could have saved himself a lot of trouble by using Self-Healing Systems. Or is it Elf-Healing Systems? There seems to be some debate about this, but I lean to the Elves.

  23. Nice story. For the record Texas does license engineers, but software engineers get a pass as long as they don't call themselves a "Professional Engineer" or use the letters "P.E." without a license.

  24. My column about David Josephsen's case has appeared in the April issue of the Communications of the Association for Computing Machinery.

    Non-members of the ACM can access it in Peter Neumann's Inside Risks Archive.

    I have also posted on my blog.

    Hopefully, this will help to get the word out.

  25. Nice joke - but if David has parents, they will not generally have the same last name, as patronymics are still being used in this male chauvinistic country. If his Dad's name is "Erik" then his name would be "David Eriksson" (o, not e) unless his is just the son of Kristina with an unknown dad, making him "David Kristinasson".

    Isn't there a law in Texas about fake journalists?


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