Legal Ethics

Federal Judges Ax Case, Sanction N.Y. Lawyer for Trial Conduct

A New York civil rights practitioner was sentenced to two years of probation on Friday in a criminal contempt case that resulted from the way she handled a federal court employment discrimination trial.

Ruth Pollack, who practices in Mineola, N.Y., on Long Island, also was suspended from practice for 45 days in the Eastern District of New York, reports the New York Law Journal, in an article that is reprinted by New York Lawyer (reg. req.).

Pollack reportedly was repeatedly late to the two-week trial last year of her case, Stuart v. Secretary of the Department of the Interior, No. 07-cv-2239, in which she represented the plaintiff. She also “refus[ed] to heed Eastern District Judge Joseph F. Bianco’s orders and repeatedly claiming in front of the jury that the orders were ‘illegal’ or ‘not lawful,’ ” the legal publication recounts.

Bianco dismissed the employment discrimination case, with prejudice, as a sanction for Pollack’s failure to comply with his orders and the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the article continues. And he also initiated, via a rule to show cause, the contempt case in which Pollack was sentenced Friday by U.S. District Judge Allyne Ross.

The sentencing hearing last week was contentious, the New York Law Journal reports, as Pollack refused the assistance of her court-appointed lawyer, Susan Kellman, and “accus[ed] everyone from Judge Bianco and Judge Ross to Ms. Kellman and the Eastern District U.S. Attorney’s Office of participating in a conspiracy to punish her for being a whistle-blower.”

Pollack contends that she is being punished as retaliation for being a whistle-blower, apparently referring to the Stuart case at issue and several others she has filed against the federal government, and says she plans to appeal “the entire thing.”

She could have been sentenced to a maximum of six months in jail and a $5,000 fine in the contempt case, but was neither sentenced to any time nor fined.

For more details about the contempt case, see Judge Bianco’s Sept. 19 written opinion (PDF), a copy of which was provided by New York Lawyer.

A separate opinion on Pollack’s sentencing is expected to be issued soon.

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