Monday, April 23, 2007

Sanctions - What's going on with Virginia attorneys?

What started out as an infrequent occurrence has evolved into a disturbing trend. Since August 2006, the Virginia Supreme Court has issued opinions in no less than 5 cases involving questionable behavior by attorneys, including 2 more handed down on Friday. We don't know why this has occurred all at once, but these cases are troubling for the intensity and the bad judgment exhibited. We'll just summarize each of those cases, the behavior speaks for itself:
1. Taboda v. Daly Seven - Roanoke Circuit Court. Counsel, in a petition for rehearing to the Virginia Supreme Court, described the Court's opinion as "'irrational and discriminatory' and 'irrational at its core.' He wrote that the Court's opinion makes 'an incredible assertion' and 'mischaracterizes its prior case law. [Counsel] stated: 'George Orwell's fertile imagination could not supply a clearer distortion of the plain meaning of language to reach such an absurd result.' [Counsel] argued in the petition that this Court's opinion 'demonstrates so graphically the absence of logic and common sense.' [Counsel] wrote in boldface type that 'Ryan Taboada may be the unfortunate victim of a crazed criminal assailant who emerged from the dark to attack him. But Daly Seven will be the unfortunate victim of a dark and ill-conceived jurisprudence.' [Counsel] also included the following statement in the petition: '[I]f you attack the King, kill the King; otherwise, the King will kill you.'"
2. Nusbaum v. Berlin - Virginia Beach Circuit Court. A minor altercation occurred following a sidebar during a jury trial. The judge had not seen the altercation, but was alerted by the bailiff during a recess. The bailiff testified that "[W]hile all parties were at the side bar ..., I saw [counsel] get in [opposing counsel's] face. [Opposing counsel] backed up, but he couldn't go any further because his back was to my podium, and I saw [counsel] get in his face and shove him with the elbow. And I grabbed [counsel] by his forearm, and I said, that was inappropriate. You will not do that again. And [counsel] stated to me, 'I thought it was appropriate.'”
3. Ford v. Benitez - Fairfax County Circuit Court. The Supreme Court upheld sanctions issued by the trial court because counsel signed a pleading containing 6 affirmative defenses for which counsel admitted had no basis in fact.
4. In re Moseley - Arlington County Circuit Court. After lying to the Court about the existence of a written contract, counsel wrote that "opposing counsel [w]as 'certainly demonically empowered. I have never seen anyone who reeks of evil so much.' Furthermore, counsel described the monetary sanctions . . . as 'an absurd decision from a whacko judge, whom I believe was bribed.'”
5. Williams & Connolly v. PETA - Fairfax County Circuit Court. Counsel filed a motion to recuse and motion to vacate asserting that the judge's actions demonstrated actual bias in favor of the opposing party; his consideration of opposing counsel's petition was "wholly untenable under fundamental concepts of contempt law" and the judge "show[ed] at least an appearance of favoritism toward [the opposing party] because he had previously warned both sides to refrain from engaging in ex parte contacts with the [c]ourt." Counsel further accused the judge of "ignoring the basic tenets of contempt law," "ignor[ing] the law in order to give a strategic advantage to [the opposing party]," and "endors[ing] the [March rule to show cause] merely because [opposing party] requested that he do so." Counsel further added that the judge's "finding of [an] apparent violation [of the court's discovery order] is itself preposterous given the most basic law on contempt." In the memorandum in support of the motion to recuse, counsel asserted that "only a judge with bias or predisposition against a party could have issued [the March rule to show cause]." Counsel further argued that the judge "had violated his ethical duties" and that the judge "had engaged in unethical conduct because he "'kept the [p]etition secret for nearly a month.'"