Attorney Fees

Federal judge sanctions lawyer for 'litigious necromancy' and 'see what sticks' approach to briefing

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A federal judge in Pennsylvania has ordered an Allentown lawyer to pay attorney fees for filing an employment discrimination case that was “nothing more than an illusion.”

U.S. District Judge Matthew Brann sanctioned lawyer Donald Russo in a Dec. 29 decision (PDF), report the Legal Intelligencer (sub. req.) and Brann said the age-bias suit, filed on behalf of Ernest Keister, suffered from “blatant timeliness defects” and contained allegations that were “unrepresentative of the truth.”

The suit had alleged Keister had received less favorable treatment than similarly situated younger workers, yet Keister wasn’t able to identify any such younger worker, Brann said. The core age bias theory in the suit—that Keister’s salary didn’t reflect the type of tasks he was assigned—is “nothing more than a permissible business judgment,” Brann ruled earlier. In addition, Keister was below age 40 when the alleged mistreatment began.

Brann said the meritless case had been kept alive in “a sort of litigious necromancy conjured up by Mr. Russo’s specious filings” that “amounted to nothing more than bluffs that defendants here were not afraid to call.”

Brann also criticized Russo for quoting “random doctrine in a ‘see what sticks’ approach to briefing.” Russo’s unclear contentions have “littered his papers and left the court and defendants wasting time chasing unavailing leads and tumbling down legal rabbit holes,” Brann said.

Brann said two other federal judges have criticized Russo’s work. Brann has not yet determined the amount of attorney fees that must be paid. Russo did not respond to the Intelligencer’s request for comment.

Brann’s opinion is the second within a month’s time that chastises a lawyer for pleadings.

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