Law Religion Culture Review

Exploring the intersections of law, religion and culture. Copyright by Richard J. Radcliffe. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

The Ultimate Sanction.

Evan Schaeffer at Notes from the (Legal) Underground is periodically cataloging bad things that are law-related, such as the latest entry: getting yelled at by a law professor. (See,e.g., February 7, 2005.)

Perhaps Mr. Schaeffer should add getting ordered by a federal judge to get ethics training (on top of a huge fine). An entire law firm was ordered to receive ethics training, among other things. (Order is available to Westlaw subscribers at 2005 WL 165381 [Moser v. Bret Harte Union High School Dist.].)

Pages 82 and 83 of the order conclude that the law firm of Lozano Smith and its client engaged "in bad faith litigation tactics through their systematic and repeated misstatements of the record, frivolous objections, and repeated mischaracterizations of the law." The Court (Judge Oliver W. Wanger) ordered: 1) the individual attorney responsible for the case (from Lozano Smith) to pay the plaintiff $5,000 and take 20 hours of ethics training; 2) Lozano Smith was separately sanctioned $5,000 and its attorneys and shareholders ordered to take 6 hours of ethics training; 3) the client was sanctioned; and 4) the order was sent to the California State Bar.

According to the Monterey County Herald, Lou Lozano of the firm reacted to the ruling, as follows: "It's really horrible. It's not exactly what you would expect." Mr. Lozano continued: "We believe we practice law at the highest ethical level, not what is minimally required."

Judge Wanger described the handling of the case by Lozano Smith and its lead attorney, Elaine Yama, as "a concerted effort to distort, if not outright deceive, the court when shaping the court's view of both the record and applicable law in the case. By consistently presenting untruths and half-truths, Defendant and its counsel obstructed the fair, just, and expeditious resolution of the proceedings. These actions were undertaken in violation of, and with reckless disregard for counsel's duties to the court. When evaluated as a whole, the actions of counsel and the District amount to bad faith and are sanctionable."

The upbraiding continued: "[T]here is no way to interpret Lozano Smith's submissions of multiple misleading pleadings under the signature of no less than three attorneys as anything other than a bad faith attempt to mislead the Court about the facts and the law to gain the advantage of prevailing without regard to the true facts and accurate statements of the law. Given Lozano Smith's steadfast refusal to address any of Plaintiff's repeated complaints about its malfeasance (other than to flatly deny it ...), no other conclusion can be drawn but that its actions were in bad faith to harass the Plaintiff and to obstruct the ascertainment of truth in this case."

The Fresno Bee reports (reg. req'd) that a School District has severed ties with Lozano Smith as a result of the order. The client had paid the firm more than $3 million over the past four years. In addition, Ms. Yama is no longer with the firm.

Tomorrow, we will provide the Orange County connection to this case.

(Hat tips: The Southern California Law Blog, and Courthouse News On Point.)