Tuesday, October 23, 2012
The Delaware Supreme Court has affirmed a trial court holding applying an objective standard to the determination whether a Rule 11 violation has taken place.
The court extended an earlier decision "to bar judges from sanctioning attorneys except where the attorney's conduct prejudically disrupts the administration of justice in a particular case."
The trial court had issued two sua sponte orders to show cause to an attorney concerning his representations to the court in representing a client in an asbestos suit. A $25,000 penalty was imposed on the attorney.
The court here reaffirmed the objective standard: "Delaware demands more from attorneys than pure hearts and empty heads."
However, the trial court did abuse its discretion in imposing sanction. The first contempt order involved his incorrect citation of a case, where he relied on a faulty memory; the second a failure to make a "thorough" argument.
Neither lapse rose to a sanctionable level: "The practice of law imposes many informal penalties on attorneys who do not make thorough arguments. Rule 11 sanctions are not among them."
The court vacated the sanction, noting that its holding "is not intended to leave a judge confronted with an attorney's problematic behavior without recourse. The Office of Disciplinary Counsel is well equipped to investigate attorneys and recommend appropriate action." (Mike Frisch)