defendant AWOL

One of the Internet's most sought-after and controversial domain names was back in court Friday, as the second day of a trial to determine liability related to the heisting of the prized URL gets under way. Judge James Ware of the US District Court in San Jose is presiding over the case.

Notably absent from the proceedings, however, is defendant Stephen Michael Cohen, who stands accused of stealing the domain from plaintiff Gary Kremen of San Francisco, who registered it in 1994. Cohen could be liable for millions should the court rule against him.

Cohen already is subject to a bench warrant for his arrest, a copy of which was obtained by The Standard. The warrant relates to Cohen's failure to appear in court at a previous hearing, as well as his failure to place a US$25 million deposit with the court to cover potential damages in the case, according to the warrant.

While Cohen has maintained that he legitimately acquired the domain, a judge ruled in November that Kremen was the rightful owner. Although that ruling did not specifically indict Cohen for purloining the domain, it ordered that the URL be returned to Kremen.

Cohen's whereabouts are unknown though his lawyers told the court that he was unable appear for a court date last week because he had been placed under house arrest in Mexico, according to Tim Fox, an attorney for the law firm of Kerr & Wagstaffe who is representing the plaintiff.

Cohen's attorney was in court Thursday and Friday but did not return calls requesting comment. Because Cohen was a no-show, his testimony will be based upon the several hundred pages of depositions he's given during the past two years, according to Fox.

Although Kremen, 37, did register the domain, he never created a site to accompany the URL. A year after he registered it, Internet registrar Network Solutions Inc. transferred ownership of the domain name to Stephen Cohen, after receiving what Kremen has claimed was a bogus authorization letter.

Kremen's attorneys contend that Cohen raked in millions of dollars during the next five years from a pornographic site he operated at Now Kremen is trying to recoup all the profits that Cohen collected while was under his stewardship. To win the case, Kremen will have to prove that Cohen is indeed responsible for stealing the domain.

Another legally tricky matter will be determining the actual amount of money Cohen made from operating, given that Cohen has yet to disclose any information concerning how much money he netted from the site. Kremen's attorneys are requesting $43 million in damages based upon testimonies of former employees regarding banner ad sales and based upon the flow of money to several of Cohen's offshore accounts during that time, according to Fox.

Because the case is a bench trial, meaning that the case will be heard by a judge rather than a jury, the pace and duration of the proceedings are entirely up to the judge's discretion. Fox said he expects a verdict within the next two weeks.

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