Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Bench Slap!

Sometimes, it appears from the outside world that lawyers tend to look out for one another to the detriment of the legal system. We'll overlook bad lawyering and bad lawyers because, well, they're lawyers! So when the profession puts the smack down on one of their own, it's worth pointing out. Especially when the one doing the smacking is the Chief Judge of the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals.

Via Decision of the Day
comes the story of US v. Patridge, a consolidated appeal to the Seventh Circuit of a criminal tax evasion case and IRS appeal. The defense counsel shotgunned the court with 19 assignments of error, "all frivolous," writes Chief Judge Frank Easterbrook for the court. After turning away the defendant's issues, the court turns to defense counsel:

Jerold W. Barringer represented Patridge at trial, in the Tax Court, and during the three appeals to this court. He has performed below the standard of a pro se litigant; we have serious doubt about his fitness to practice law. The problem is not simply his inability to distinguish between plausible and preposterous arguments. It is his disdain for the norms of legal practice (19 issues indeed!) and the rules of procedure.
Ouch! Easterbrook goes on to point out that the statement of facts in Patridge's brief was a whopping one paragraph long (a regular-sized one, not a Tale of Two Cities epic), "contains not a single fact and verges on illiteracy." The attorney signed the certification that the brief conformed with the Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure, even though it doesn't. In conclusion, Easterbrook writes:
Members of the bar must be held to standards at least as high as those of unrepresented litigants. Barringer is a recidivist; he ignored our 2006 decision reminding him that taxpayers cannot use a request for a collection hearing to contest their substantive liability. We therefore give Barringer 14 days to show cause why he should not be fined $10,000 for his frivolous arguments and noncompliance with the Rules, and why he should not be suspended from practice until he demonstrates an ability to litigate an appeal competently and responsibly. See Fed. R. App. P. 38, 46(b), (c).
I've been beat up pretty bad at oral argument before. I've lost case after case after case, so much that it doesn't even leave a bruise anymore. But I have never been - and hope I never will be - called out for the kind of bench slap Easterbrook dished out here.

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