Category Archives: Lawyer conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice

Ohio lawyer sentenced to 30 days in jail for pleading that “was an attempt to mislead the court, obstruct justice and prejudice the administration of justice”

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert which will discuss the recent Court Order imposing a 30 day jail sentence on an Ohio lawyer, who is general counsel to Bowling Green State University (BGSU), for, inter alia, filing a pleading that “was an attempt to mislead the court, obstruct justice and prejudice the administration of justice”. The case is Fitzgerald vs. Fitzgerald, Case No. 2017DR0012.  The April 4, 2019 Order and Notice of Appeal are here: https://images.law.com/contrib/content/uploads/documents/292/April-5-Wood-County-decision.pdf (PDF of Order courtesy of Law.com)

According to media reports, the lawyer is employed as BGSU’s general counsel and vice president, and was representing himself in a divorce proceeding from his wife in the Wood County (Ohio) Common Pleas Court Domestic Relations Division.  He was sentenced to 30 days in jail to begin on April 8, 2019 after a series of incidents during the proceedings.  He was then placed on paid leave by the university and he was also suspended from an appointment as an assistant attorney general through that position.

According to the Order, the lawyer objected to an attorney fee request filed by a lawyer who was representing one of his sons and told the judge he would be filing a grievance against that lawyer.  The Order states that “The Court finds that (the lawyer) was untruthful.  He claims to have filed a grievance against Mr. Mohler.  That was not true, no grievance was filed.  His pleading was an attempt to mislead the court, obstruct justice and prejudice the administration of justice.  Such a grievance, if true, would “impede of eliminate Mr. Mohler from representing his client.  This situation is magnified by the fact that Mr. Mohler has practiced before courts across Ohio, including this one, with calming superior legal skills, cogent writing and impeccable integrity. If Mr. FitzGerald had a grievance, he is duty bound to file it. He did not do so.”

“By his pleadings, e-mails and exhibits, Mr. FitzGerald has, at the least, been unprofessional toward the magistrate, Ms. Heringhaus; his former lawyer, Ms. Shope; the Guardian ad Litem, Ms.Cox; and his opposing counsel, Ms.Engwert-Loyd. During the last telephone pretrial, Mr. FitzGerald attacked Ms. Engwert-Loyd twice.”  The judge also found that the pleading violated the Ohio Rules of Professional Conduct and referred the matter to the Ohio disciplinary authorities.  The lawyer appealed the Order to the Ohio Sixth District Court of Appeals.

Bottom line: this lawyer apparently engaged in the misconduct while representing himself in a divorce proceeding from his spouse.  Notwithstanding the old adage that “he (or she) who represents him or herself has a —- for a client”, according to the Order, he attacked another lawyer who the judge “had practiced before courts across Ohio with calming superior legal skills, cogent writing and impeccable integrity.”

Be careful out there.

As always, if you have any questions about this Ethics Alert or may need assistance, analysis, and guidance regarding ethics, risk management, or other issues, do not hesitate to contact me.

My law firm focuses on review, analysis, and interpretation of the Rules Regulating The Florida Bar, advice and representation of lawyers in Bar disciplinary matters, defense of applicants for admission to The Florida Bar before the Board of Bar Examiners, defense of all Florida licensed professionals in discipline and admission matters before all state agencies and boards, expert ethics opinions, and practice management for lawyers and law firms.  If there is a lawyer or other Florida professional license involved, I can defend the complaint or help you get your license. 

If you have any questions or comments, please call me at (727) 799-1688 or e-mail me at jcorsmeier@jac-law.com.  You can find my law firm on the web at www.jac-law.com. In addition to handling individual cases, matters, problems and issues for my clients, I also am on retainer to provide ethics advice to numerous lawyers and law firms throughout the state of Florida.  I also provide legal assistance and advice to numerous individuals and non-legal entities to help insure compliance with the law and rules related to UPL and other issues.

You are receiving this ETHICS ALERT since you are a current or former client or you have requested that this Update be sent to you.  Please note that you may opt in or out of receiving this ETHICS ALERT any time.  If you would like to discontinue receipt of this ETHICS ALERT or if you would like to begin receiving it, simply send me an e-mail to me advising of your request.

If there are others at your firm who would like to be included on the distribution list, please feel free to forward this update to them or let us know in an email.  If you would like to forward this

Disclaimer:  this e-mail is not an advertisement, does not contain any legal advice, and does not create an attorney/client relationship and the comments herein should not be relied upon by anyone who reads it.

Joseph A. Corsmeier, Esquire

Law Office of Joseph A. Corsmeier, P.A.

29605 U.S. Highway 19 N. Suite 150

Clearwater, Florida 33761

Office (727) 799-1688

Fax     (727) 799-1670

jcorsmeier@jac-law.com

www.jac-law.com

Joseph Corsmeier

about.me/corsmeierethicsblogs

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Attorney discipline, Attorney Ethics, joe corsmeier, Joseph Corsmeier, Lawyer bad conduct, Lawyer conduct adversely affecting fitness to practice, Lawyer conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice, Lawyer ethics, Lawyer Ethics and Professionalism, Lawyer misconduct jail sentence, Lawyer sanctions, Lawyer threatening Bar complaint, Lawyer threatening disciplinary charge, Lawyer threats and discipline, Uncategorized

Louisiana Supreme Court disbars former Assistant U.S. Attorney for making anonymous improper internet comments

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert which will discuss the recent Louisiana Supreme Court disciplinary opinion which disbarred a former Assistant U.S. Attorney for making numerous anonymous improper and inflammatory comments on the internet related to pending criminal cases.  The disciplinary case is: Supreme Court of Louisiana v. In Re: Salvador R. Perricone, NO. 2018-B-1233 (12/5/18) and the link to the case is here:  https://www.ladb.org/DR/Default.aspx?DocID=9113&TAB=SC

According to the opinion, the underlying facts in the case were mostly undisputed.  The lawyer began employment as an Assistant United States Attorney with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Louisiana in 1991. At all times relevant to these proceedings, the lawyer was a Senior Litigation Counsel and the USAO’s training officer.

During the time period of the allegations in the Complaint, The New Orleans Times-Picayune newspaper maintained an Internet website called nola.com which permitted readers to post comments to news stories using pseudonyms and anonymous identities.

Beginning in November 2007 through March 14, 2012, the lawyer posted numerous comments on various subjects on nola.com, including statements about pending criminal cases to which he and other prosecutors were assigned. “Of the more than 2,600 comments respondent posted, between one hundred and two hundred – less than one percent – related to matters being prosecuted by (the U.S. Attorney’s Office). None of the comments identified respondent by name or as an employee of the USAO. Rather, respondent posted on nola.com using at least five online identities: ‘campstblue’, ‘legacyusa’, ‘dramatis personae’, “Henry L. Mencken1951’, and ‘fed up.’”

The anonymous comments included, inter alia, statements such as:

“Heebe’s (the defendant) goose is cooked.”

“I read the indictment…there is no legitimate reason for this type of behavior in such a short period of time and for a limited purpose. GUILTY!!!”

“Looks like Fazzio got a lemon. That book you refer to Mr. Rioux is about all of his losses. The guy is a clown and Fazzio is going down.”

The allegations were reported to the presiding judge who found the lawyer’s conduct improper and reversed the criminal convictions against the defendants and ordered a new trial.  The judge also found that the lawyer “viewed posting of highly-opinionated comments as a ‘public service.”  A disciplinary complaint was opened against the lawyer and, after disciplinary proceedings were completed, the Louisiana Disciplinary Board recommended that the lawyer be found guilty of the Bar Rule violations and disbarred.

The Louisiana Supreme Court opinion rejected post-traumatic stress as mitigation and stated that “the focus of the inquiry in the instant case is on the second factor – namely, whether respondent’s PTSD caused the misconduct at issue. Based on our review of the record, we find no clear and convincing support for the conclusion that respondent’s mental condition may have caused his misconduct.”  After reviewing aggravating and mitigating factors and case law, the opinion further stated:

“In this age of social media, it is important for all attorneys to bear in mind that “[t]he vigorous advocacy we demand of the legal profession is accepted because it takes place under the neutral, dispassionate control of the judicial system.” Gentile v. State Bar of Nevada, 501 U.S. 1030, 1058 (1991). As the Court in Gentile wisely explained, “[a] profession which takes just pride in these traditions may consider them disserved if lawyers use their skills and insight to make untested allegations in the press instead of in the courtroom.” Id. Respondent’s conscious decision to vent his anger by posting caustic, extrajudicial comments about pending cases strikes at the heart of the neutral dispassionate control which is the foundation of our system. Our decision today must send a strong message to respondent and to all the members of the bar that a lawyer’s ethical obligations are not diminished by the mask of anonymity provided by the Internet.

In summary, considering respondent’s position of public trust as a prosecutor, his knowing and intentional decision to post these comments despite his acknowledgment that it was improper to do so, and the serious harm respondent’s conduct has caused both to individual litigants and to the legal profession as a whole, we must conclude he has failed to comply with the high ethical standards we require of lawyers who are granted the privilege to practice law in this state. The only appropriate sanction under these facts is disbarment.”

Bottom line:  This is another disciplinary case involving a criminal prosecutor improperly using the internet, this time it is a federal prosecutor who made biased and inflammatory comments.  The Louisiana Supreme Court (and other courts) have made it very clear that it will not tolerate lawyers, especially those in a position of “public trust”, who anonymously (or otherwise) make biased, improper, and inflammatory comments on the internet.

Be careful out there.

As always, if you have any questions about this Ethics Alert or need assistance, analysis, and guidance regarding ethics, risk management, or other issues, please do not hesitate to contact me.

My law firm focuses on review, analysis, and interpretation of the Rules Regulating The Florida Bar, advice and representation of lawyers in Bar disciplinary matters, defense of applicants for admission to The Florida Bar before the Board of Bar Examiners, defense of all Florida licensed professionals in discipline and admission matters before all state agencies and boards, expert ethics opinions, and practice management for lawyers and law firms.  If there is a lawyer or other Florida professional license involved, I can defend the complaint or help you get your license. 

If you have any questions or comments, please call me at (727) 799-1688 or e-mail me at jcorsmeier@jac-law.com.  You can find my law firm on the web at www.jac-law.com. In addition to handling individual cases, matters, problems and issues for my clients, I also am on retainer to provide ethics advice to numerous lawyers and law firms throughout the state of Florida.  I also provide legal assistance and advice to numerous individuals and non-legal entities to help insure compliance with the law and rules related to UPL and other issues.

You are receiving this ETHICS ALERT since you are a current or former client or you have requested that this Update be sent to you.  Please note that you may opt in or out of receiving this ETHICS ALERT any time.  If you would like to discontinue receipt of this ETHICS ALERT or if you would like to begin receiving it, simply send me an e-mail to me advising of your request.

If there are others at your firm who would like to be included on the distribution list, please feel free to forward this update to them or let us know in an email.  If you would like to forward this Ethics Alert to any person or entity please feel free do so as long as it is not for personal gain and you forward the entire email, including all contact information and disclaimers. 

Disclaimer:  this e-mail is not an advertisement, does not contain any legal advice, and does not create an attorney/client relationship and the comments herein should not be relied upon by anyone who reads it.

Joseph A. Corsmeier, Esquire

Law Office of Joseph A. Corsmeier, P.A.

29605 U.S. Highway 19 N. Suite 150

Clearwater, Florida 33761

Office (727) 799-1688

Fax     (727) 799-1670

jcorsmeier@jac-law.com

www.jac-law.com

Joseph Corsmeier

about.me/corsmeierethicsblogs

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New Jersey lawyer censured for stating to nonpaying client that he would not prepare for trial and to “HAVE FUN IN PRISON”

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert which will discuss the recent New Jersey Supreme Court Order imposing a a censure on a lawyer who told a client who was behind on payment of fees that he would not prepare for his criminal trial and to “have fun in prison”.  The case style is: In the Matter of Logan M. Terry, No. DRB 17-417 (November 1, 2018).  the Order and New Jersey Disciplinary Review Board’s Decision are here:  http://drblookupportal.judiciary.state.nj.us/DocumentHandler.ashx?document_id=1105750  and here: http://drblookupportal.judiciary.state.nj.us/DocumentHandler.ashx?document_id=1098836.

According to the Disciplinary Review Board’s decision, the attorney represented a client facing criminal charges of sexual assault on four minors and:

In the days immediately prior to a jury trial scheduled for June 7, 2016, respondent communicated with his client in an attempt to collect outstanding fees, informing AM that respondent could not “provide an adequate defense” unless AM ……… paid respondent’s legal fees. Furthermore, in a text message, respondent warned AM that he would not prepare for the trial during the weekend immediately preceding it, unless he was first paid. He then wrote, “HAVE FUN IN PRISON.” The maximum sentence that AM could have received exceeded 200 years.

The lawyer had previously asked the judge to allow him to withdraw twice and the judge refused to allow the withdrawal.  At the beginning of the June 7, 2016 trial (after the jury had been picked), the client told the trial judge about the lawyer’s communications, showed the judge copies of the communications, and stated that he wanted to terminate the lawyer’s legal services.  The lawyer was then removed and the trial was continued.

The New Jersey disciplinary agency opened an investigation on the lawyer and, in a letter to the agency, the lawyer admitted that his actions had been unethical and stated that the client had not cooperated in preparing a defense to the charges and had refused a plea offer that the lawyer considered to be favorable.

The Disciplinary Review Board found that the lawyer’s actions constituted a conflict of interest because he “placed his own personal interest in receiving a legal fee above his client’s interest in receiving the best possible defense to the charges against him.”  The Board also found that the lawyer’s text was prejudicial to the administration of justice because the judge was required to release the jury and reschedule the trial.

The decision found as an aggravating factor that the trial had been previously rescheduled because the lawyer had failed to pay the annual fee to the New Jersey Lawyers’ Fund for Client Protection.  According to the decision:  “(t)o be sure, (the lawyer) was in a difficult position, having been required to continue representing an uncooperative, nonpaying client in a criminal matter. Nevertheless, (the lawyer’s) reaction to that predicament was one of defiance—to subvert the court’s directive by ‘poisoning’ the representation on the eve of trial.”

The New Jersey Supreme Court upheld the Board’s findings and imposed a censure and required the lawyer to pay the costs of the disciplinary proceeding.

Bottom line:  This lawyer clearly became frustrated with the client’s lack of cooperation and failure to pay his fee; however, the lawyer’s communications were obviously improper and he was fortunate to receive only a censure for his conduct.

Be careful out there, and don’t do this…

Disclaimer:  this Ethics Alert is not an advertisement, does not contain any legal advice, and does not create an attorney/client relationship and the comments herein should not be relied upon by anyone who reads it.

Joseph A. Corsmeier, Esquire

Law Office of Joseph A. Corsmeier, P.A.

29605 U.S. Highway 19, N., Suite 150

Clearwater, Florida 33761

Office (727) 799-1688

Fax     (727) 799-1670

jcorsmeier@jac-law.com

www.jac-law.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Florida lawyer suspended for 18 months for engaging in personal misconduct while acting pro se as a party in a dissolution proceeding

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert which will discuss a Florida Supreme Court opinion wherein the Court imposed an 18 month suspension on a lawyer who engaged in misconduct while representing himself as a party in a dissolution and child support proceeding.  The case is The Florida Bar v. Madsen Marcellus, Jr., No. SC16-1773 and the July 19, 2018 Supreme Court opinion is here:  http://www.floridasupremecourt.org/decisions/2018/sc16-1773.pdf

According to the opinion, a 2010 Order in the dissolution matter required the lawyer to refinance the marital home, remove his ex-wife’s name from the property since he had moved out, or sell the home. Before the closing of a pending sale and the ex-wife had vacated, the lawyer moved back in and the sale fell through.

The lawyer was then unable to refinance the house and, in an attempt to obtain a modification of the mortgage, a friend of the lawyer who was a notary signed the ex-wife’s name on the application in front of the lawyer and notarized it without the ex-wife’s knowledge or consent.

The ex-wife became aware of false notarization after the lawyer failed to make payments under the modified mortgage and she was served as part of a foreclosure filing.  The ex-wife then filed a motion for contempt since her name had not been removed from the house title as ordered. The trial judge withheld a contempt finding, but did order the lawyer to pay $2,500.00 the ex-wife’s fees.

The lawyer was served with discovery requests in the dissolution matter in 2013 related to his alleged failure to pay child support.  He failed to respond and also failed to appear in court when he was ordered to do so by the judge.  The lawyer was later sanctioned and ordered to pay the ex-wife’s fees.  He also remained in violation of several family court orders throughout the disciplinary matter.

The referee rejected the lawyer’s claim he missed some court appearances because he was representing clients, and noted that he made no attempt to advise the court of any conflicts. The referee also found the lawyer was deceptive in the disciplinary process.

The opinion upheld the referee’s factual findings and the findings that the lawyer violated various Bar rules in his actions related to his dissolution and child support matters but increased the referee’s recommended discipline from a 12-month suspension to an 18-month suspension.

The opinion referred to various previous Bar cases where lawyers had committed less serious Bar rule violations and received one-year suspensions.  The opinion also stated, as it has in previous Bar discipline opinions, that “the Court has ‘moved toward imposing stronger sanctions for unethical and unprofessional conduct.’ Fla. Bar v. Rosenberg, 169 So. 3d 1155, 1162 (Fla. 2015).”

In addition, “(the lawyer’s) conduct was entirely unbecoming of a lawyer, who is held within a position of trust and respect in our society, and cannot be tolerated,” the court said in its opinion. “Although [the attorney] committed this misconduct as a party to his own divorce, lawyers ‘do not cast aside the oath they take as an attorney or their professional responsibilities’ just because they are litigants in personal matters. Fla. Bar v. Cibula, 725 So. 2d 360, 365 (Fla. 1998).”

Bottom line:  This case involves a lawyer who engaged in personal ethical misconduct as a party to a personal dissolution matter.  The Supreme Court opinion points out that the Court has “moved toward imposing stronger sanctions for unethical and unprofessional conduct” and lawyers “do not cast aside the oath they take as an attorney….just because they are litigants in personal matters.”  Lawyers must comply with the Florida Bar rules, even while acting as a party in a personal civil matter.

Be careful out there.

Disclaimer:  this Ethics Alert is not an advertisement, does not contain any legal advice, and does not create an attorney/client relationship and the comments herein should not be relied upon by anyone who reads it.

Joseph A. Corsmeier, Esquire

Law Office of Joseph A. Corsmeier, P.A.

29605 U.S. Highway 19, N., Suite 150

Clearwater, Florida 33761

Office (727) 799-1688

Fax     (727) 799-1670

jcorsmeier@jac-law.com

www.jac-law.com

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Nevada lawyer suspended for 6 months and 1 day for displaying a gun at a deposition and other “appalling behavior”

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert which will discuss the recent 6 month and 1 day suspension of a Nevada lawyer for brandishing a gun at a deposition, using derogatory language and repeatedly making inappropriate statements, and other “appalling behavior”.  The case is In re: Discipline of James Pengilly, SC Case No. 74316.  The September 7, 2018 unpublished Nevada Supreme Court Order is here:  file:///C:/Users/jcorsmeier/Downloads/18-35030%20(1).pdf

The lawyer was representing himself as the defendant in a defamation lawsuit and the misconduct is related to the lawyer’s behavior during a deposition of the Plaintiff at his office in September 2016.  The lawyer used vulgarities while questioning the witness, called the deponent derogatory names (including “Dip Shit” and “Big Bird”), aggressively interrupted the witness and opposing counsel, answered questions for the witness, and repeatedly made inappropriate statements on the record.

At one point during the deposition, the lawyer put his hand near his hip and asked the witness if he was “ready for it”. The witness then briefly left the room and when he returned, the lawyer displayed a firearm he had in a holster on his hip to the witness and the opposing counsel.  The deposition was then terminated and the defamation litigation was put on hold.  The Plaintiff filed a Motion for Protective Order and Motion for Sanctions outlining the misconduct.  The Motion for Protective Order and Sanctions and exhibits are here: 9-29-16 Motion for Protective Order and Sanctions.  The lawyer was sanctioned for his misconduct in the litigation.

The unpublished Nevada Supreme Court Order states: “(h)aving reviewed the record on appeal, we conclude that there is substantial evidence to support the panel’s findings that Pengilly violated RPC 8.4(d) (prohibiting an attorney from engaging in conduct that is prejudicial to the administration of justice). Indeed, the deposition transcript, coupled with the testimony at the formal hearing, demonstrates that Pengilly displayed appalling behavior toward the deponent. Additionally, the record is clear, and Pengilly admits, that he displayed a firearm. Accordingly, we agree with the hearing panel that Pengilly committed the violation set forth above.”

“Pengilly argues that his conduct should be viewed under a negligence standard, but we agree with the panel that he acted knowingly as he was consciously aware of his conduct and knew his behavior was inappropriate. His conduct caused actual injury to the proceeding as the deposition concluded early and the discovery commissioner had to issue a protective order, causing the case to be delayed. Both the deponent and his attorney testified they were afraid Pengilly was going to shoot them, and their fears were documented: they immediately called the police, filed police reports the next day, filed for a TPO, and filed bar grievances. Further, there was the potential for serious injury to every one present—the deponent, his attorney, the court reporter, Pengilly’s office staff, and even Pengilly himself–because a deadly weapon was involved.”

Bottom line:  This case involves a lawyer who was clearly lacking in emotional control and anger management, to say the least.  In addition, he was representing himself, and we know how that can go.

Be careful out there.

Disclaimer:  this Ethics Alert is not an advertisement, does not contain any legal advice, and does not create an attorney/client relationship and the comments herein should not be relied upon by anyone who reads it.

Joseph A. Corsmeier, Esquire

Law Office of Joseph A. Corsmeier, P.A.

29605 U.S. Highway 19, N., Suite 150

Clearwater, Florida 33761

Office (727) 799-1688

Fax     (727) 799-1670

jcorsmeier@jac-law.com

www.jac-law.com

 

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Referee recommends that former Florida judge who accepted Tampa Bay Rays tickets be suspended for 90 days and placed on probation

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert which will discuss the recent Report of Referee which recommends that former Lee County Judge John Lakin, who was alleged to have improperly accepted tickets to Tampa Bay Rays baseball games, be suspended from practice for 90 days and be placed on probation for one year.  The case is The Florida Bar v. John Francis Lakin, SC17-542.  The June 25, 2018 Report of the Referee is here: https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/4564632-Referee-Report-Lakin.html

The Judicial Qualification Commission charged the judge with misconduct in 2016 alleging, inter alia, that he had requested and received Tampa Bay Rays tickets from a law firm in 2015 while presiding over a pending case in which the law firm represented one of the parties.  A jury ruled in favor of opposing party; however, the judge subsequently reversed that verdict in favor of the law firm’s client.  Five of the tickets that the judge received were given to him the day before he reversed the jury verdict.  The judge denied that the receipt of the tickets influenced his actions and later retired from the bench and went into private practice.

The Florida Bar filed a Complaint in March 2017 alleging that the lawyer violated Bar Rules related to dishonesty, deceitfulness, misrepresentation and/or fraud.  The referee assigned to hear the Bar matter recommended that the former judge’s law license be suspended for 90 days, and that he be placed on supervised probation one year, complete the Bar’s practice and professionalism enhancement program, “speak to new judges” about the circumstances, and pay the Bar’s costs of $5,244.00.

Under the Florida Bar rules, the referee’s report will now be reviewed by the Florida Supreme Court, which will render a final disciplinary opinion.  The judge and The Florida Bar can file a petition with the Court to review the findings and file briefs.

Bottom line:  This former judge accepted tickets from lawyers who were representing a party before him on a pending case and, soon after receiving the tickets, made a ruling which favored that law firm’s clients.   Even if the tickets did not influence the judge’s decision, the circumstances would certainly seem to create an appearance of impropriety and an arguable violation of the Judicial Canons.  The referee has now recommended that the judge be found guilty of Florida Bar Rule violations and suspended from practicing law for 90 days.  The Florida Supreme Court will now decide whether the referee’s findings will be upheld.

Be careful out there.

Disclaimer:  this e-mail is not an advertisement, does not contain any legal advice, and does not create an attorney/client relationship and the comments herein should not be relied upon by anyone who reads it.

Joseph A. Corsmeier, Esquire

Law Office of Joseph A. Corsmeier, P.A.

29605 U.S. Highway 19 N. Suite 150

Clearwater, Florida 33761

Office (727) 799-1688

Fax     (727) 799-1670

jcorsmeier@jac-law.com

www.jac-law.com

Joseph Corsmeier

about.me/corsmeierethicsblogs

 

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Federal magistrate sanctions New York lawyer for lying about family emergency after Instagram posts showed she was on vacation

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert, which will discuss recent opinion of a U.S. District Court magistrate sanctioning a New York lawyer who claimed that she missed a deadline because of a family emergency but was apparently on vacation.  The case is: Siu Ching Ha v. Baumgart Café of Livingston, Civil Action No. 15-5530 (ES) (MAH), and the magistrate’s opinion is here:  Ha v. Baumgart Café of Livingston Instagram sanctions

The lawyer, Lina Franco, and her co-counsel, John Troy, filed for an extension of time to file 16 days past the deadline to file a motion for conditional class certification.  The lawyer said she had to leave the country for the family emergency and submitted a flight itinerary showing she had flown from New York City to Mexico City on Thursday, November 21, 2016 and stayed there until December 8, 2016.

Opposing counsel filed a motion objecting to the extension and for sanctions claiming that Instagram photos from Franco’s public social media account indicated that she was in New York and then Miami during that period.  Franco told the magistrate that she had gone to Mexico City earlier in November and that her mother’s medical diagnosis sent her “into a tailspin” that caused her to miss the deadline and submit an erroneous itinerary.

The magistrate found that “November 21, 2016 was indisputably a Monday, not a Thursday” and, although Franco was in Mexico City in early November 2016, she was apparently in New York City when she missed the Nov. 23, 2016 deadline to file a motion for class certification in a wage-and-hour suit.  The magistrate found that Franco deliberately had misled the court and her co-counsel and that her “misrepresentations to the court clearly constitute bad faith and were unreasonable and vexatious, not simply a misunderstanding or well-intentioned zeal.”   The magistrate granted the motion and imposed sanctions against Franco in the amount of $10,000.00.

Franco was local counsel in the lawsuit and her co-counsel, Troy, was admitted into the case pro hac vice. Troy told the magistrate that he had e-mailed the motion to Franco on the afternoon of the deadline and had expected her to file it and he was unaware of her alleged family emergency. He said he did not follow up with Franco to make sure the motion was filed because he had worked with her in the past and believed that she was reliable.

Both Franco and opposing counsel sought to have Troy held jointly and severally responsible for the sanction; however, the magistrate did not agree, stating that “(e)ven assuming, solely for the sake of argument, that Mr. Troy had a duty to supervise Ms. Franco and was somehow derelict in discharging that duty, such dereliction falls well short of the standard to impose sanctions”.  Opposing counsel requested $44,283.00 in attorney fees and costs; however, the magistrate found that amount to be “unreasonably high” and ordered sanctions in the amount of $10,000.00 to be divided among the three opposing counsel.

Bottom line:  This is a very clear example of a lawyer whose false statements in court documents and in a court proceeding were exposed because of social media posts, in this case Instagram.

Be careful out there in our digital social media world…oh and don’t lie and post pictures on social media exposing the lie.

Disclaimer:  this e-mail is not an advertisement, does not contain any legal advice, and does not create an attorney/client relationship and the comments herein should not be relied upon by anyone who reads it.

Joseph A. Corsmeier, Esquire

Law Office of Joseph A. Corsmeier, P.A.

29605 U.S. Highway 19 N. Suite 150

Clearwater, Florida 33761

Office (727) 799-1688

Fax     (727) 799-1670

jcorsmeier@jac-law.com

www.jac-law.com

Joseph Corsmeier

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Filed under Attorney Ethics, Attorney misrepresentation, deceit, dishonesty, Florida Lawyer Ethics and Professionalism, joe corsmeier, Joseph Corsmeier, Lawyer conduct adversely affecting fitness to practice, Lawyer conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice, Lawyer ethics, Lawyer Ethics and Professionalism, Lawyer false statements, Lawyer misrepresentation, Lawyer sanctions false statements and Instagram photos, Lawyer sanctions for lying and posting on social media, Lawyer sanctions lying in court document