Have you ever wondered what, if anything, happens when an uncontrollable spouse disrupts a settlement conference spewing tirades against his divorcing spouse and/or his/her attorney? What about when a spouse, unhappy with a judge’s ruling on a motion, angrily confronts the adversary in the hallway of the courthouse? Or when a deposition is abruptly ended because the witness walks out of the room and refuses to return? Oftentimes these incredulous behaviors go without consequence but that may no longer be the case.
Judge Eduardo C. Robreno recently addressed what the consequences should be for these types of actions in GMAC Bank v. HTFC Corp., 248 F.R.D. 182 (E.D. Pa. 2008). During the defendant-corporation’s chief executive officer’s deposition, the witness acted uncivil, hostile and vulgar frustrating and making it nearly impossible or the plaintiff’s attorney to elicit legitimate answers. In reviewing the deposition transcript, Judge Robreno found that despite the claim arsing from a contract dispute, the word ‘contract’ only appeared 14 times in the transcript as opposed to a certain vulgar four letter word, which appeared 73 times.
When addressing the plaintiff’s motion for sanctions, the defendant asserted the defense that he suffered from a mental condition and was experiencing adverse effects to medication taken the day of the deposition. Counsel for the defendant conceded that his client’s conduct was crude and vulgar. Judge Robreno found that the claim of mental instability did “not justify or mitigate his abusive, obstructive and evasive behavior”. The court granted the plaintiff’s motion and ordered defendant to pay the expenses of the attorney’s fees in connection with the motion ($13,026.00), deposition costs ($3,685.00) and 75% of plaintiff’s attorney’s fees at the deposition ($12,610.95).
In addition, the judge found the defendant’s attorney jointly and severally liable for $29,322.00 in fees and costs citing that the attorney “failed to interecede and correct (his client’s) violations of the Federal Rules,” “joined in the offensive conduct,” laughed at his client’s abusive behavior toward plaintiff’s counsel, and basically “emboldened (defendant) to further flout the procedural rules.”
The lesson to be learned here is simple – misbehavior in legal proceedings could be extremely expensive not to mention hurt your case. Neither of which are necessary or worth it. Despite the stress and frustration that oftentimes accompanies a litigant facing a difficult litigation, such as a hotly contested divorce or custody proceeding, keeping your cool and following your attorney’s advice may not only help with your litigation strategy but also save you some money!