The court ruling that granted DotConnectAfrica a preliminary injunction preventing ICANN delegating .africa seems to be based to a large extent on a huge error by the judge.
In explaining why he was allowing DCA v ICANN to proceed, despite DCA’s signing away its right to sue when it filed its new gTLD application, California district judge Gary Klausner seems to have confused DCA with rival .africa applicant ZACR.
In his Tuesday ruling, Klausner said that evidence supports the claim that ICANN was determined to flunk DCA’s application no matter what.
The key evidence, according to the judge, is that the Initial Evaluation of DCA’s application found that it did have enough support from African governments to pass its Geographic Names Review, but that ICANN subsequently reversed that view in Extended Evaluation.
DCA claims that “the process ICANN put Plaintiff through was a sham with a predetermined ending – ICANN’s denial of Plaintiff’s application so that ICANN could steer the gTLD to ZACR.”
In support, DCA offers the following evidence. ICANN’s initial evaluation report in July 2013 stated that DCA’s endorsement letters “met all relevant criteria in Section 126.96.36.199.3 of the Applicant Guidebook.” (Bekele Decl. ¶ 40, Ex. 27, ECF No. 17.) After the IRP Decision, ICANN performed a second evaluation on the same information originally submitted by DCA. In the second evaluation, however, ICANN found that the endorsement letters did not meet the same criteria applied in the first evaluation
He later writes:
Despite ICANN’s contention, the evidence presents serious questions pointing in favor of DCA’s argument. First, a March 2013 email from ICC to ICANN stated that ICANN needs to clarify AUC’s endorsements since AUC properly endorsed both DCA and ZACR. (Bekele Decl. ¶ 30, Ex. 19, ECF No. 17.) Subsequently, ICANN’s July 2013 initial evaluation report found that the endorsement letters have “met all relevant criteria in Section 188.8.131.52.3 of the Applicant Guidebook.” (Bekele Decl. ¶ 40, Ex. 27, ECF No. 17.) Because ICANN found DCA’s application passed the geographic names evaluation in the July 2013 initial evaluation report, the Court finds serious questions in DCA’s favor as to whether DCA’s application should have proceeded to the delegation stage following the IRP Decision.
The document “Bekele Decl. ¶ 40, Ex. 27” referred to is exhibit 27 of DCA CEO Sophia Bekele’s March 1 declaration, filed in support of its preliminary injunction motion.
The problem is that that exhibit is not the Initial Evaluation report for DCA’s .africa bid, it’s the IE report for rival ZACR (aka UniForum).
Read it here (pdf).
DCA’s own application never received a scored IE report. At least, one was never published.
It only got this (pdf), which states simply “Overall Initial Evaluation Summary: Incomplete”. That document is dated July 3, 2013, almost two weeks before the ZACR report.
Bekele’s declaration even states that exhibit 27 is the IE report for the ZACR application.
It’s not clear to this non-lawyer how important this pretty basic error is to Klausner’s thinking, but as a layman it looks pretty crucial.
It certainly seems like something that needs to be addressed, given that the apparent misunderstanding plays into both the decision to allow the lawsuit to proceed and the decision that DCA’s complaint may have merit.
Several other exhibits cited in the ruling — including emails from the InterConnect Communications evaluators who carried out the Geographic Names Review — have been redacted by the court.
It’s possible there are smoking guns contained within these censored documents that were more influential on the ruling.
It’s also notable that ICANN is continuing to redact the court documents it publishes on its web site, beyond those filed under seal and censored by the court.