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Tuesday
Jan172012

The importance of integrity in the appellate process

When I first entered the legal profession, I believed it was truly a noble profession.  Over time my belief in the legal system has eroded and I have observed plenty of examples of dishonesty, unnecessary aggression, and lack of civility.  It doesn't surprise me that many people have a rather low opinion of attorneys.

Times are changing and it seems that people also have a rather low opinion of politicians, bankers, mortgage brokers, etc.  The list could go on.  The importance of credibility and connecting with one's customers or clients cannot be denied.  While the Internet was first thought of a place where people did not have to make personal connections, my experience has been otherwise, that people are connecting in new ways and in numbers that I could never envision.

Right after Thanksgiving, the Court of Appeal in the Fourth Appellate District, Division Three, filed an opinion in Kim v. Westmoore Partners, Inc., in which it sanctioned attorney Timothy J. Donahue $10,000 for lying to the court when seeking an extension of time, and for filing a boilerplate accusation and request for sanctions against opposing counsel.  The decision included a "cautionary tale for appellate counsel.  Those who practice before this court are expected to comport themselves honestly, ethically, professionally and with courtesy toward opposing counsel."  (Opn., pg. 3.)

What had Donahue done?  He sought an extension of time to file his respondent's brief, which is not a required document, stating additional time was needed to address the "complex issues raised" and to research and finalize the brief.  The extension request was granted.  When his brief was filed, it turned out to be an almost exact duplicate of a brief he filed years earlier.  In fact, the court could observe where some words from the earlier case that had not been changed.  (A warning about using cut-and-paste and then failing to adequately proofread the brief.)  The court reasoned that frivolous appeals do not require significant time to rebut.  Mr. Donahue's letter brief was conclusory, even to the point of suggesting that the order was issued in error, and the court must have meant it was considering sanctions against appellant's counsel.

On the day of oral argument, Donahue sent another attorney, who was unaware of the sanction request.  What a surprise!  The court issued a second order to demand Donahue's personal appearance.  The court noted that not every request for an extension will be deemed sanctionable merely because it doesn't contain much detail, but given the facts in this case, the request was not reasonable.

The court decided it could not overlook Donahue's conduct and used its published opinion to instruct the legal profession:

"Our legal profession is rife with cynicism, awash in incivility.  Lawyers and judges of our generation spend a great deal of time lamenting the loss of a golden age when lawyers treated each other with respect and courtesy.  It's time to stop talking about the problem and act on it.  For decades, our profession has given lip service to civility.  All we have gotten from it is tired lips.  We have reluctantly concluded lips cannot do the job; teeth are required.  In this case, those teeth will take the form of sanctions."

(Opn., pg. 30.)

This is the start of a new year.  People are searching for others who will be honest and try to solve problems honestly and simply, without escalating disputes into modern warfare.  If you have a list of resolutions for 2012, let this be the first one on it.

Reader Comments (2)

Donna,

I thought you might find this interesting.

CA Supreme Court to review medical marijuana cases. http://www.metnews.com/articles/2012/conf011812.htm

Eric
January 19, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterEric Neshanian
Thank you !

That being said, in that you are an appellate attorney, and in no way critical because I love reading your posts, more articles on the standards of review and what constitutes reversible error, etc., given your experience, would be appreciated, I'm sure, by anyone who follows this blog.

Did I say thank you :)
February 27, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMichael

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