Federal judge sanctions lawyer with history of excuses, says ER claim was 'a lie from the beginning'
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A federal judge in Iowa has held an Illinois lawyer in contempt of court and sanctioned him $5,000 for lack of candor and misleading statements in connection with repeated requests for continuances.
The lawyer, Jeffrey B. Steinback of Roscoe, Illinois, is also banned from appearing in the Northern District of Iowa absent permission from the chief judge. An story from the Iowa Capital Dispatch on the case described Steinback as a “high-profile” lawyer who has represented singer R. Kelly and media mogul Conrad Black.
U.S. District Judge C.J. Williams of the Northern District of Iowa imposed the sanction in a June 6 opinion.
Williams said he “stops short” of finding that Steinback committed perjury, but he thinks that a claim that the lawyer received emergency room treatment for back spasms was “a lie from the beginning.” Steinback had blamed the claim on his wife, saying she “cobbled together” a continuance motion with the assertion without his knowledge while he was in bed and on pain medication.
The Iowa Capital Dispatch spoke with Steinback about the sanction.
“I have profound respect for Judge Williams and the power of the district court, generally, and I advised the court during the hearing that I would accept whatever the judge felt was appropriate, and I am standing by that statement,” Steinback told the Iowa Capital Dispatch on Wednesday.
Steinback’s troubles stemmed from his representation of 43-year-old Chicago man Romel Murphy, who was sentenced to more than six years in prison in October 2021. Murphy had pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud in connection with a talent booking agency, according to a Department of Justice press release.
Steinback filed five motions for continuances in Murphy’s case, failed to file a timely objection to a draft presentence investigation report, sought more time to file a sentencing memorandum, filed an emergency motion to continue the sentencing hearing on the day that it was scheduled, and then filed a motion to continue the rescheduled hearing.
Williams denied the last motion, and Steinback failed to show up for the rescheduled sentencing hearing. Murphy sought an appointed lawyer the next month on the ground that Steinback was too busy with other cases, and he was not satisfied with Steinback’s services.
Murphy showed up at both sentencing hearings, even though Steinback wasn’t there.
Steinback cited a variety of reasons for seeking more time, Williams said in his opinion. They included “serious family health concerns,” COVID-19 restrictions, his brother’s cancer, the birth of a grandson, violent back spasms that required a trip to the emergency room, and exposure to COVID-19.
Steinback later told the court that his wife and legal assistant had written the motion about visiting the emergency room, and he had actually gone to an urgent care facility after learning of a long wait time in the ER. He said he spoke with a person in triage at the urgent care facility, but he turned down a hydromorphone shot for possible kidney stones because of its side effects.
Williams issued a show-cause order after Steinback missed the rescheduled sentencing hearing Oct. 6. Williams ordered him to produce records that included his correspondence with his client regarding the rescheduled Oct. 6 hearing, billing records and calendar entries from Oct. 6 through Oct. 11, all medical records pertaining to his back spasms, and all records regarding his testing for COVID-19 after his exposure to the client.
Steinback produced a note from his doctor that read, “Patient reports missing a work appointment on, 9/24/21, due to back spasms.”
Steinback’s office provided a lab report showing that Steinback tested negative for COVID-19 on Oct. 10, a typed statement declaring that there were no billing records for the October dates, and handwritten calendar entries.
He also produced medical records showing that he complained of back pain in November 2020 and July 2021 but no records of an emergency room or urgent care visit Sept. 24, 2021.
Williams said Steinback failed to comply with court orders to produce documents and to appear at the rescheduled sentencing hearing.
Steinback “could not ultimately produce medical records showing he was treated for back spasms on Sept. 24, 2021, because that was a lie from the beginning,” Williams wrote.
“The fact that Steinback has produced no records, no witness, no evidence whatsoever to support his evolving story of treatment for his alleged back spasms on Sept. 24, 2021, leads the court to the inescapable conclusion that he never went to see anyone that day about his back spasms, even assuming he had them,” Williams wrote.
Steinback also failed to provide text message communications with his client about the rescheduled sentencing hearing, even though he admitted that his assistant provided them to him.
“Again, the conclusion the court reaches is that there was information in the text messages that was not favorable to Steinback and he would rather incur the court’s wrath for not producing them than to produce them and let the court know what they contain,” Williams said.
Williams also said he doubts the truth of Steinback’s assertion that his wife filed the motion regarding the emergency room visit without his knowledge.
“The court suspects that Steinback fully knew about and approved the filing of the motion,” William wrote.
Williams said Murphy twice made the four-hour trip from Chicago to the Iowa courthouse to face sentencing, which is “a daunting and disturbing experience for anyone.” Steinback’s “utter disregard” for his client’s welfare is “reprehensible,” the judge concluded.