TIP: Courts Frown on Lawyer “Gibberish”

LTB logo

As we have seen, one of the more important legal skills is the ability to get other people to understand what the hell you are talking about. See Order Denying Motion for Incomprehensibility, In re King (Bankr. W.D. Tex. Feb. 21, 2006) (denying "Defendant's Motion to Discharge Response to Plaintiff's Response to Defendant's Response Opposing Objection to Discharge" because court could not "determine the substance, if any," of the argument). In fact, I would go so far as to say it is the most important legal skill.

This guy doesn't have it.

The Seventh Circuit delivered a smackdown this week to an attorney who was repeatedly "unable to file an intelligible complaint" for his client and then filed a largely incomprehensible brief on appeal, asking for multiple extensions of time and then ignoring the new deadlines. The case seems to have involved a conspiracy by officials in Illinois, but that was about all anyone could make of it.

According to the opinion, the original complaint was 52 pages long, which is not off the scale, but asserted 28 causes of action in those 52 pages. Wasn't clear who was allegedly liable for what, and then there was the inclusion of something called a "direct action under [the] U.S. Constitution." Defendants moved to dismiss, and then the extension requests began.

As to one of these, the attorney said he needed more time for "personal reasons." On appeal, he suggested these were medical in nature, including a recent cancer diagnosis, and he has recently claimed he was undergoing chemotherapy. If true, none of this would be funny. Since you are reading it, you can probably guess that I think there are reasons to be skeptical of this claim.

He finally responded to the motions in July 2008. The judge dismissed with leave to amend, giving him a list of mistakes to be fixed and setting a deadline of September 30. On that day, at 10:34 p.m. (less than 90 minutes before the deadline), he asked for another extension. This time, he explained that his computer had been damaged in an earthquake during the summer, while he was in California taking the bar exam. Apparently, it was still broken. According to the court, "the motion recounted [his] strenuous efforts to get the computer fixed":

[Plaintiff's counsel] said he visited Apple "Genius" teams in both Los Angeles and Chicago and took the computer to a "Macspecialist." Though these efforts eventually resolved the immediate problem, he claimed that intermittent data losses persisted. [He] also alleged that he was suffering from bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome, severe back and hip pain, and a serious infection.

Note that if he was suffering from cancer and/or chemo effects at the time, he forgot to mention it.

There is, remarkably, some truthiness to the earthquake claim, since there was indeed a quake during the California bar exam in 2008. But while it was a 5.4, there was no major damage (many did not even stop typing) and so it seems very unlikely that any computers were harmed. Even if the quake had been strong enough to knock data off a MacBook's hard drive, two months is plenty of time to deal with this.

Hence my skepticism.

Anyway, he got that extension – and then missed that deadline too, although, heroically, he did manage to file another motion for extension at 4:59 p.m. – one minute before the deadline. Still, he was given yet another chance. And failed again. The third complaint was full of typos and poorly drafted in all other ways, including the deployment of "a staggering and incomprehensible 345-word sentence." This time, dismissed for good.

On appeal — well, you can guess what happened. He sought three extensions of time to file his opening brief, each time after the deadline had already passed. Having been given a fourth chance to appeal the dismissal for failure to comply with court rules, he finally filed his brief.

Four days late.

The court not only affirmed the ruling below, it also ordered him to show cause why he should not be suspended from the bar of the court (that should be entertaining), and sent a copy of its opinion to the Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission.

By the way, I checked – this gentleman passed the California bar exam. So he's got that going for him.