Creative Sentencing

Attorneys Required to Atone for Late Notice by Holding Up Signs in Courthouse Lobby

The lawyers would've had a nicer sign

Have I ever missed a deadline? Yes. Have I ever been ordered to stand somewhere and hold up a sign as a result? No. Would I object to someone publicizing it if that happened? No. Well, I would have, but I can’t very well take that position now, can I? So if it happens, publicize away.

I might even do that myself, depending on how embarrassing and/or funny it is. I guess we’ll see.

According to Law360 (sub. required), on Saturday a Delaware court ordered two attorneys to stand in the courthouse with signs referring to a settlement hearing that the court had agreed to postpone. The hearing had been scheduled for yesterday, April 4, but on Saturday the ODP Corporation (Office Depot) asked to postpone the hearing, saying it had inadvertently failed to notify interested parties of the time and place. “That is disappointing,” the court grumbled, but decided it had no choice but to reschedule.

But what if someone had heard about the hearing and decided to show up, without knowing about the postponement? That “risk is low,” the court admitted, but such potential attendees should not be prejudiced by the company’s error. Therefore, it ordered the company to pay the travel expenses (if any) of anyone who did show up, and, more to the point here, required two of its lawyers to stand in the courthouse with signs that would alert any such person to the situation.

One lawyer was to stand in the lobby of the Leonard L. Williams Justice Center in Wilmington “with a sign printed in a large, easily readable font saying: ‘Settlement Hearing for ODP Corporation: Please See Me.” The other would stand with a “similar sign” outside the elevators on the 12th floor, where the relevant courtroom is located.

“Each lawyer will ask any individual they see if the individual intended to attend the settlement hearing,” the court’s letter stated. “If the answer is yes, then the lawyer will explain that the hearing has been postponed and provide the new hearing information. The lawyer will ask if the person is a stockholder and, if so, take down the individual’s contact information so that their expenses can be reimbursed.” Though the chances that the lawyers would ignore these requirements were surely near zero, the court directed them to certify afterward that they had complied and report the results (if any).

According to the report, the lawyers replied to the court on Sunday confirming that two of them would be present on Tuesday from 10 to 11:30.

I’m sure they were there, but so far I have found no reports, with or without pictures, confirming that this happened and saying whether anyone was assisted by the lawyer-borne signs. I’d be willing to bet that pictures exist, but I wasn’t really surprised to find that the firm’s “News” page does not mention this event at all. I did also look up the two attorneys who were to be given the sign duty. One of them is a partner, and credit is due to that person for not making some associate handle this duty instead.

I am putting this in the “Creative Sentencing” category (among others) because it reminds me of other sign-holding/public-shaming requirements, but hasten to add that no crime or other charge was involved here, and we don’t even know if the lawyers themselves were at all responsible for the late notice. It is hard not to see at least a mildly punitive aspect to this, but if so, mild it was. It’s not like, for example, having to send personalized apologies to every judge in the state accompanied by a picture of yourself wearing handcuffs. That would take a lot longer than 90 minutes, for one thing.