A California appellate justice in Santa Ana slapped an Orange attorney with a scathing opinion and $10,000 in sanctions Tuesday for essentially failing to do his homework.
Talk about the wrong reaction: the lawyer in question responded back that Justice William Bedsworth of the Fourth District Court of Appeal must have erred and meant to sanction the opposing counsel.
May it please the court if I present the evidence of this dimness in chronological order?
Gil Kim sued two businessmen for allegedly failing to repay loans he'd made to them. After the defendants didn't respond to the complaint, an Orange County Superior Court judge signed a default judgment against them for $30 million. They appealed to the Fourth on grounds that Kim's complaint failed to set forth a valid cause of action. A panel composed of Bedworth and justices Eileen Moore and Richard Fybel agreed, overturning the judgment.
But, as Law.com reports, Bedworth went farther than that in his Kim v. Westmoore Partners opinion, warning trial court judges to be more careful about entering default judgments, noting that it's their duty "to act as gatekeeper, ensuring that only the appropriate claims get through."
The justice reserved most of his ire for plaintiff attorney Timothy J. Donahue, however.
"Our profession is rife with cynicism, awash in incivility," Bedsworth wrote. "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."
What set Bedsworth off? Donahue asked for an extension to research "complex issues" raised by his opponent's brief. Then, the legal eagle filed an almost verbatim duplicate of a brief he'd filed with the same court in a personal injury matter two years earlier, failing to change language that had nothing to do with the breach-of-contract case.
"The defendants were personally familiar with the events and the accident."
The client from the earlier case was also named in Donahue's response.
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The confusion about the sanctions likely stems from Donahue having sought, in identical language from both briefs, $20,000 in sanctions against his opposing attorneys because their appeal(s) was "frivolous."
"Sanctions are serious business," Bedsworth wrote. "They deserve more thought than the choice of a salad dressing. 'I'll have the sanctions, please. No, on second thought, bring me the balsamic; I'm trying to lose a few pounds.' . . . A request for sanctions should be reserved for serious violations of the standard of practice, not used as a bullying tactic."
Donahue defended himself for copying the earlier brief by asserting, "I have the right to modify my own work product."
Timothy J. Donahue: saving the planet, one recycled brief at a time.