Lawyers can be sanctioned by the court for “unreasonably and vexatiously” multiplying a lawsuit. That means the lawyer can be sanctioned for creating unnecessary work. In the lawsuit Vaughan v. Lewisville ISD, the plaintiff claimed his vote as a white voter was diluted by some measure taken by the Lewisville ISD. The judge sanctioned the lawyer and his law firm for unreasonably and vexatiously multiplying the proceedings. The district judge said Vaughan did not have standing because he was white and because the lawsuit was frivolous.

On appeal, however, the Fifth Circuit found that standing is a changing concept and the plaintiff simply was seeking to extend voting rights laws. The higher court overturned the sanction of $50,000. It also found that a law firm cannot be sanctioned. Section 1927 of Title 28 applies to lawyers, not to law firms. But, said the Fifth Circuit, the various lawyers from the law firm could be sanctioned for their conduct during depositions of school officials. The lawyers asked about a range of issues not related to voting rights, such as Title IX compliance, standardized testing, mental health accommodations, and individual board member’s personal opinions on various topics, such as allowing teachers to carry guns.

See the ABA Bar Journal report here.

The Dallas County Jail routinely assigned the female detention officers to work the weekend shifts. The supervisors claimed it was safer for the male detention officers to be off on the weekends. Not surprisingly, the female officers did not appreciate this policy. They filed a complaint with the EEOC alleging gender bias. In the resulting lawsuit the district court granted Dallas County’s motion to dismiss. The caselaw clearly says discriminatory acts are limited to “ultimate adverse employment actions.” Ultimate adverse employment actions generally include hiring, granting leave, discharging, promoting, or compensating an employee. In other words, money needs to be involved.

On appeal the Fifth Circuit agreed that the jail’s policy expressly discriminates based on gender. But, under long-standing caselaw, discrimination in assigning shifts is not an ultimate adverse employment action. The court was sympathetic, but simply said they were limited by precedent. The court noted that some, not all, circuits define ultimate adverse employment action broadly enough to include shift assignments. The court suggested the female detention officers seek an en banc hearing to consider changing Fifth Circuit precedent.

See the decision in Hamilton v. Dallas County, 42 4th 550 (2022) here.

Well, the four whistleblowers who thought they had settled their claims with Ken Paxton perhaps did not. The four plaintiffs reacted to a statement from AG Ken Paxton’s office that if the state legislature does not authorize payment of the $3.3 million then they can try again next session – in two years. I previously wrote about that settlement here. The ink on that agreement was barely dry when Paxton’s office said the four plaintiffs may have to wait until the next legislative session which occurs in two years. The four plaintiffs then announced they would seek a return to the lawsuit.

The four whistleblowers said it was a “fundamental premise” that the agreement only pertained to this legislative session. If the state legislature would not pass the necessary appropriation, then they could return to court. That probably means the settlement agreement does not specifically address how long they would have to wait. Every settlement with the state is contingent on approval by some entity. But, how long do you wait? See San Antonio Express News report here.

Likely, the four plaintiffs are familiar with the whistleblower lawsuit from the 1990’s in which the plaintiff, George Green, had to repeatedly lobby the state legislature each session to pass the necessary appropriation. That plaintiff had to lobby the legislators himself for multiple sessions. Mr. Green won his trial, but still had to lobby himself state legislators to appropriate the funds necessary for the $10 million judgment.

There are many things an interviewer can ask a job applicant. But, you do need to be careful about some questions. Here are some things to consider.

1. How old are you? Be very careful about asking this question. There are very few jobs where someone can ask you your age and the question itself not serve as evidence of age bias. It is best to not go there unless you are hiring for jobs with clearly appropriate age requirements, such as the US Army.

2. Are you married? If you ask this only of female applicants, then this question could cause you problems. Why would this question be helpful? Unless this is a ruse to discover whether a female applicant might quit when she wants to have a baby. This question serves little purpose.

3. Are you a US citizen? It would be best to not ask this question until a job is offered. This question could conflict with the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986. It could also serve as evidence in an ethnic origin case, if the question is only asked of Hispanic or Hispanic-appearing applicants.

4. Do you have a disability? Do not ask this specific question. But, an employer can ask something similar if an applicant has any limitations that would keep him/her from performing essential functions of the job. How else would a fire department make sure an applicant can carry someone out of a burning building? So, yes you can ask about physical or mental limitations that would impair the performance of the essential functions of the job. But, do not ask about disabilities or diagnoses until a job offer has been made.

5. Do you take drugs, smoke or drink? An employer can ask about drinking, smoking or illicit drug use. An employer should not ask about legal or prescription drug use, since that might involve issues of a possible disability.

6. What religion do you practice? An employer cannot ask about religious practices. Since, that could be used as evidence later of religious discrimination.

7. What is your race? No, of course, this would be an inappropriate question. See No. 6 above. Don’t we all know not to ask this by now?

8. Are you pregnant? This question could be used as evidence of female stereotyping and, therefore, as evidence of gender bias. So, it is better not to ask this question. And, as the article mentions, refusing to hire a woman based on pregnancy or possible pregnancy would violate the Pregnancy Discrimination Act.

All of these warnings only matter if some adverse personnel action occurs later for which there is no otherwise reasonable explanation. If an employer asks about pregnancy and then later fires the applicant for some trivial transgression, only then would questions asked in an interview have any relevance. A discrimination lawsuit requires first and foremost a negative personnel action with no otherwise reasonable explanation. The lack of an otherwise rational explanation for an adverse personnel action is what makes prior discussions possibly relevant. The best defense for any employer is to simply issue written warnings whenever a transgression occurs. Emphasizing written discipline, applied consistently will serve the employer very well.

I previously wrote about the whistle blower allegations against Attorney General Ken Paxton here and here. I said then that it seemed like a clear whistle blower violation. And, sure enough, now AG Paxton has agreed to settle their claims. As part of that settlement, AG Paxton has agreed to apologize for calling former senior members of his staff “rogue employees.” The full apology will state that the AG “accepts that plaintiffs acted in a manner that they thought was right and apologizes for referring to them as ‘rogue employees.’” The AG’s office will have to pay $3.3 million to settle these claims. See Texas Tribune story here.

It is one thing to be conservative. But, to simply practice law like a novice is unforgivable for a Texas state Attorney General. Firing these senior staff persons and then mounting frivolous defenses all just looks so inept. If you are going to be corrupt, at least demonstrate some skill in the process.

In yet another marathon hearing in the New York AG civil lawsuit, Judge Engoron gave Donald Trump a second chance to file an Answer that reflects reality. I talked about his Answer here in which he contradicted previous testimony in other lawsuits.

The judge denied the New York Attorney General’s request for sanctions and ordered Donald Trump to submit a new Answer to the lawsuit. See Daily Beast report here. Mr. Trump can re-do his Answer. But, in any lawsuit, lies do not just go away. I expect the original Answer and statement provided by Mr. Trump – 300 pages long – with many half-truths and lies will re-appear during the course of litigation.

One thing you do not do in court is lie to the judge. Telling a fib in a deposition is tantamount to lying to the Judge. Swearing to a falsehood in a statement is a lie in any court. Any party litigant must write this rule on his/her forehead: do not lie in any court aper or proceeding. Yet, it appears Mr. Trump has done exactly that.

In a civil lawsuit filed by the New York state Attorney General, Mr. Trump said under oath that he was not President of Trump Organization during his four years as President of the United States. Yet, in a separate, recent lawsuit filed by protesters who claimed Trump’s security guards assaulted them, Trump said he was an inactive president of Trump Organization and now he is active again.

Never was President of Trump Organization

But, in an Answer filed in the New York AG lawsuit, Trump said the opposite, that he denied the allegation that he was ever the inactive president of Trump Organization. Indeed, in that Answer, Trump’s attorney, Alina Habba claimed there was no such entity as Trump Organization. Which makes no sense. Donald Trump verified his statement, meaning he signed under oath before a Notary that it was true and correct. Yet, just last November, Ms. Habba announced herself to the same New York Court as a representative of Trump Organization and Donald Trump.

The New York AG, Letitia James, has filed a motion seeking sanctions for these incredibly inconsistent representations. The judge, Arthur Engoron, has already threatened to sanction the entire Trump family in that same lawsuit. And, just last week, Ms. Habba was sanctioned along with Mr. Trump by a Florida Federal judge.

It is Litigation 101 that you never lie in court or in writing. Do not lie, at all. But, if you do, do not do it in writing or in a deposition. Mr. Trump has clearly disregarded the advice of his lawyers, once again. See Daily Beast report here for more information.

There is a reason why persons do not routinely – or ever – file weak lawsuits. First, a reputation for weak lawsuits will follow you from court to court. Second, the judge will get annoyed and sanction you. Judge Middlebrooks of the Southern District of Florida has done all the above. Former Pres. Trump filed the weakest of some dozen frivolous lawsuits in 2021 against his political rivals. The defendants in that suit included everyone from Hillary Clinton to dozens of FBI and Justice Department officials. The lawsuit addressed a hodgepodge of political actions and decision by DOJ officials over the prior several years.

Judge Middlebrooks sanctioned Donald Trump, his lawyer, Alina Habba and her law firm $937,989. The court found the lawsuit was filed for political purposes and it served no apparent legal purpose. Said the court:

“This case should never have been brought. Its inadequacy as a legal claim was evident from the start. No reasonable lawyer would have filed it. Intended for a political purpose, none of the counts of the amended complaint stated a cognizable legal claim.”

That is as complete a rebuke as a judge can issue. The Judge found the lawsuit deficient in some very fundamental respects:

  • That the statute of limitations should be tolled because Trump was busy as president. The former president, said the Judge, still found time for many other personal lawsuits.
  • The defendants were liable for malicious prosecution, even though there never was any actual prosecution.
  • There was personal jurisdiction in Florida over defendants who resided elsewhere, because the defendants knew Florida is a very important state. (For pete’s sake, this claim exceeds any prior definition of silly).
  • The defendants were liable under a trade secrets claim, even though there were no actual trade secrets.
  • The defendants were liable for obstruction of justice, even though there was no actual official proceeding to be obstructed.

These are ludicrous legal claims. The lawyer absolutely knew they were silly when she filed this ridiculous lawsuit. Any judge would find the suit offensive, because most judges are already overwhelmed with a glut of criminal and civil lawsuits in Federal courts.

Categorically Absurd

The Judge mentioned that Habba and Trump repeatedly mis-characterized the Mueller investigation report. He described as “categorically absurd” the claim that Hillary Clinton and James Comey conspired to seek an investigation into Trump

The Court noted that this lawsuit represented a playbook often used by Trump in which he files a lawsuit with boasting, political rhetoric carried over from his political rallies, personal attacks on political opponents and media, and disregard for legal principles. See ABA Bar Journal for more information here.

In all employment lawsuits, the employer will move for summary judgment or seek dismissal of the case. Even when the facts are very strong, the employer wants to “take a swing” at summary judgment. It should be obvious that the employee must then point to specific facts which show that a trial is necessary. Summary judgment is not supposed to involve weighing the evidence. It is supposed to address the question whether there are sufficient minimal facts to justify having a trial. So, what happens if the plaintiff’s lawyer responds to the summary judgment motion not with actual evidence, but instead relies only on the Complaint? In such instances, the plaintiff will lose. That is what happened in Webb v. City of Huntsville, No. 17-CV-03829 (S.D. Tex. 8/10/2020). In this case, Kimberly Webb sued the City of Huntsville, saying she was fired after she complained about sexual harassment and sexual assault by her supervisor.

Why would the employee’s attorney rely solely on the Complaint? The Complaint is nothing more than a list of allegations. It is not supported by any witness or piece of evidence. Why would the plaintiff’s attorney overlook this very critical response? We will see.

New Evidence

The plaintiff lost. The judge initially granted the motion for summary judgment. Later, the employee obtained new counsel. The new plaintiff’s lawyer submitted a motion asking for reconsideration. He claimed the employee had located new evidence. In the motion for reconsideration, the plaintiff, Ms. Webb, showed that her former law firm had changed attorneys three times within five months. She had kept up to date with the lawsuit. She prompted the attorney when the response to the motion for summary judgment was due. She  even provided an outline of evidence to use in the response. The court noted Plaintiff’s proactive assistance to her attorney. The court found this was sufficient to show the attorney may have erred, but the client did her part.

Regarding the “new evidence,” the judge rightly noted that the new testimony was not actually new. The witness was available prior to the motion for summary judgment. But, the old attorney simply failed to depose that witness. The judge did, however, allow the new attorney to submit an amended response to Defendant’s motion for summary judgment. But, the Judge did not allow discovery, which meant the plaintiff could not depose the helpful witness.

So, in the end, after many months, the Court granted summary judgment. The evidence was still the same, but now, at least the plaintiff’s attorney was able to craft an actual argument based on the limited evidence available. And, it is critical to our system of justice that every person feel s/he had their day in court. Ours is an adversarial system of justice. If one adversary fails, then the entire system fails.

I previously talked here about Rudy Giuliani appearing in federal court and being woefully unprepared. He gave some really silly answers to serious questions court about his lawsuit. That should have been an embarrassing performance for an experienced litigator.

Now, a three lawyer committee has found that he violated one or more ethical rules in that Pennsylvania lawsuit. Mr. Giuliani appeared in a Pennsylvania federal court in 2020 arguing 1.5 million votes had been illegally counted. He offered no evidence then or now for his allegations. He signed the complaint for that lawsuit. For several days in December, 2022, a three lawyer committee in Washington, D.C. listened to witnesses regarding Mr. Giuliani’s ethics in that lawsuit.

In a lengthy bar association trial, Giuliani again aclaimed there was election fraud in Pennsylvania. And, again, he failed to offer evidence in support of his allegations. In fact, during much of his testimony, he rambled on and on. The presiding lawyer had to advise him more than once to answer the question. His only defense appeared to be that he was rushed when he was driving to the hearing in court. But, as he surely knows, that is no defense to not being prepared for any court appearance. And, for lack of evidence regarding major allegations in a high profile lawsuit? See Politico news report here.

The committee was very likely composed of volunteer attorneys. These sorts of committees are always manned by volunteer members of the bar association. Mr. Giuliani may claim prejudice of some sort, but it is hard to argue that volunteer members of ethic committees are particularly prejudiced one way or the other. Any punishment will be decided later. For most first-time violations, lawyers typically see a letter of warning or possibly probation. But, for such a large sort of violation, who knows what the committee will impose.