Law Firms

Judge sees 'self-congratulatory blather' in BigLaw brief; paralegals blamed for error

  • Print.


Image from Shutterstock.

A Florida bankruptcy judge overseeing a fight between investors in a shuttered fashion mall made no secret of his dissatisfaction with a Duane Morris pleading during a sanctions hearing on Friday.

U.S. Bankruptcy Judge John Olson said the law firm appeared to be throwing a paralegal “under the bus” when it blamed her for a mistaken court filing, and its sanctions brief was lacking the proper tone, the Daily Business Review (sub. req.) reports.

“The tone of Duane Morris’ pleading in this case reflects what I would conceive of as a self-satisfied smugness, full of self-congratulatory blather—all to the effect that the firm is a great corporate citizen who did nothing wrong in this case,” Olson said.

Duane Morris represents Chinese investor Tangshan Ganglu Iron & Steel, which was seeking to convert a Chapter 7 bankruptcy to a Chapter 11 reorganization. A minority investor, Mapuche, initiated bankruptcy proceedings after Ganglu ousted it as project manager for a planned hotel and condo development at the fashion mall, according to previous coverage (sub. req.) by the Daily Business Review. Olson approved an offer to buy the mall on Friday before the sanctions hearing.

Olson ordered the sanctions after a proposed order, submitted under the name of a Duane Morris partner, didn’t address the judge’s request for a draft order granting a continuance. While lawyers for Mapuche submitted a continuance order, Duane Morris lawyers appeared to submit an order indicating the judge had granted Ganglu’s request for collections against Mapuche, the Daily Business Review explains.

Duane Morris has said two paralegals submitted the filing under the name of a Duane Morris partner without his knowledge. One of the paralegals admitted responsibility in a statement to the court. Olson, however, indicated dissatisfaction with the explanation, according to the Daily Business Review account.

“Somebody gave her the keys to the Ferrari,” Olson said of the paralegal. “She had no clue what she was doing, and she should never have touched them, right?”

A lawyer representing Duane Morris, David Pollack, said that is correct, but added that the firm has a written policy requiring paralegals to get attorney approval before submitting court documents.

The filing spurred Olson to impose an interim sanction on Duane Morris partner Lida Rodriguez-Taseff in January. Olson barred her from practicing in the Southern District of Florida’s bankruptcy court for 90 days and ordered her to complete 30 hours of ethics training.

Give us feedback, share a story tip or update, or report an error.