Black lawyer alleges he was wearing handcuffs as judge pressed him to settle or produce documents

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A Black lawyer who is a former pro football player has sued a Pennsylvania judge for allegedly ordering the lawyer’s arrest and having him hauled into court in shackles, where the lawyer was presented with a stark choice.

According to the lawsuit, the judge told Pittsburgh lawyer Walter Bernard that he must relinquish disputed documents in a civil suit or he must settle the case.

Law.com has the story.

“Requiring an attorney to settle a case on behalf of his client within 15 minutes while under the stress and duress of wearing handcuffs is not a judicial act normally performed by a judicial officer in civil court,” Bernard’s Aug. 12 lawsuit says.

Bernard said the Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, judge, Judge Philip A. Ignelzi, was without jurisdiction in the case because it was on appeal, and the initial trial judge never relinquished jurisdiction. As a result, Ignelzi has no immunity from Bernard’s claim of a constitutional violation, the suit alleges.

Bernard said he was arrested outside his home May 3 in front of neighbors; placed in a marked police vehicle; and transported to a cell, where he was detained with five other people for “a substantial part of the morning.” He was then shackled and “paraded through the courthouse hallways” before being brought to Ignelzi’s courtroom.

During the proceeding, Ignelzi questioned Bernard while looking at the opposing counsel to see whether Bernard’s answers were good enough, the suit says.

Ignelzi was pressuring Bernard to settle a suit by a landlord in which Bernard and his brother, professional baseball player Wynton Bernard, were defendants. The landlord was seeking rent from a business owned by the Bernard brothers, an escape room that couldn’t operate during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Bernard brothers were lease guarantors.

The landlord was seeking “personal and confidential” documents, including federal tax returns and bank statements, before a final judgment in the case, the suit says.

The suit alleges wrongful seizure, unlawful search, deprivation of liberty without due process, violation of substantive due process, deprivation of equal protection, violation of the Sixth Amendment right to counsel, false imprisonment, abuse of process, defamation, malicious prosecution, infliction of emotional distress, violation of First Amendment rights, and violation of the commerce clause.

The case is Bernard v. Ignelzi.

The case was transferred to the Western District of Pennsylvania on Aug. 15.

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