Legal Ethics

7th Circuit Slaps Lawyer for 345-Word Sentence and Briefs Full of 'Gibberish'

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Corrected and Updated: A federal appeals court is so aggravated by the quality of an Illinois lawyer’s legal writing that it has ordered him to show cause why he shouldn’t be barred from practicing before the court.

Lawyer Walter Maksym was “unable to file an intelligible complaint,” despite three tries given him by the trial court, according to the opinion (PDF) by the Chicago-based 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. “Each iteration of the complaint was generally incomprehensible and riddled with errors, making it impossible for the defendants to know what wrongs they were accused of committing,” the appeals court said. In addition, “Maksym’s appellate briefing is woefully deficient, raising serious concerns about his competence to practice before this court,” the court added.

Maksym had filed the suit on behalf of an outdoor concert promoter who claimed the county sheriff was forcing him to hire his deputies for security, report the Chicago Tribune and the Legal Skills Prof Blog. He was also one of the civil lawyers for Drew Peterson, a former police officer accused of murdering his third wife. Peterson’s fourth wife is missing.

Maksym told the Tribune that the problems were related to his treatment for cancer. “It was an isolated period where I was suffering from health problems that affected my ability to practice,” he said. Over 38 years of practice, Maksym said, he has an “impeccable record.”

The 7th Circuit affirmed dismissal of Maksym’s complaint with prejudice, issued the order to show cause, and directed the court clerk to send its opinion to Illinois lawyer ethics regulators.

The district court was well within its discretion when it refused to accept Maksym’s second amended complaint, the appeals court said. “Though the complaint was far longer than it needed to be, prolixity was not its chief deficiency,” according to the appeals court. “Rather, its rampant grammatical, syntactical, and typographical errors contributed to an overall sense of unintelligibility. This was compounded by a vague, confusing, and conclusory articulation of the factual and legal basis for the claims and a general ‘kitchen sink’ approach to pleading the case.”

The appeals court included a 345-word sentence by Maksym to illustrate. At least 23 sentences contained 100 or more words. “Much of the writing is little more than gibberish,” the appeals court said. “Given three attempts to file a proper complaint, Maksym could not even bring himself to correct the errors cataloged by the district court following the first two rejections.”

Here is one example of Maksym’s writing provided by the court: The plaintiff and concert goers “were stunned on the day of the family-oriented event, when an even more menacing law enforcement presence was created when [the sheriff’s] armed deputies, without prior consent or permission, warrant or probable cause, arrived, not a part of any agreement and a surprise and upset when it arrive, uninvited, on and entered and trespassed on Plaintiff property with drug-sniffing ‘K-9’ dogs, obviously and unfortunate that Defendants were ‘looking for trouble’ where there was none as distinct from ‘looking to serve.’ “

Maksym has represented Drew Peterson on civil matters, but he has never been affiliated with the criminal case, according to a statement by lead criminal defense lawyer Joel Brodsky. Maksym did excellent civil work for Peterson, Brodsky says, but Peterson has asked Maksym to temporarily step aside “while he focuses on his personal issue.”

Corrected at 8:20 p.m. to reference the Legal Skills Prof Blog. Updated on Sept. 23 to include information from Brodsky.

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