Trials & Litigation

Judge says court documents resemble Jerry Springer script, orders lawyers to rewrite 'inflammatory' filings

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A federal judge in Miami ordered lawyers in a lawsuit against Royal Caribbean Cruises to rewrite several court filings because of “unprofessional” and “inflammatory” language.

U.S. District Judge Donald L. Graham of the Southern District of Florida ordered lawyers on both sides to rewrite documents that include motions for sanctions and partial summary judgment and responses to those motions.

Law360 has coverage of Graham’s order, dated April 20 and filed April 21.

Graham also ordered the lawyers to submit filings discussing whether the matter should be referred to the federal court’s attorney grievance committee.

Graham said filings by the plaintiffs’ lawyers “read like a fictional novel or a script from a tabloid Jerry Springer television show.” The response by Royal Caribbean Cruises “mirrors the plaintiffs’ tone,” he said.

“These filings are riddled with inflammatory language and insults directed at the parties and their counsel,” Graham wrote.

“A professional pleading does not cast aspersions toward attorneys, parties or witnesses. The attorneys in this matter seem to have disregarded the tenets of professionalism and ethical conduct set forth by the Florida Bar Oath of Admission and Creed of Professionalism,” he added.

Both law firms apologized for the filings and submitted rewritten documents (here and here). Lawyers from both firms told the court that they have had a long-standing professional and collegial relationship. All the lawyers are “zealous advocates,” but they have at the same time been able to work with each other in a professional manner, they wrote.

Graham issued his sua sponte order in a suit filed the family of an 18-month-old girl who died after her grandfather lost his grip on her and she fell through a cruise ship window, according to the Indianapolis Star. The suit by the parents of toddler Chloe Wiegand claimed that Royal Caribbean Cruises was aware that children could fall from windows overlooking the pool deck, but the steps that it took to address the risk were below industry standards.

Among the passages that rankled Graham:

• The plaintiffs devoted an entire section of one of their motions to what they called “Royal Caribbean’s egregious post-incident conduct.” The plaintiffs accused Royal Caribbean Cruises of “lying to authorities,” “attempting to deceive this honorable court,” and engaging in “corporate misconduct [which] … appears to know no bounds.”

• The plaintiffs also accused a Royal Caribbean Cruises captain of lying, leading authorities in Puerto Rico where the ship was docked to press baseless criminal charges against the grandfather. The plaintiffs argued that Royal Caribbean Cruises engaged in “merciless efforts to frame an innocent man, intentionally destroy evidence, and mislead this honorable court (and the U.S. Coast Guard and the Puerto Rican authorities).”

• The plaintiffs also accused Royal Caribbean Cruises of lying when they wrote about “the disingenuously evolving nature of defendant’s false narratives” and the cruise line’s “ever-changing stories.”

• The plaintiffs alleged instances of bad conduct by Royal Caribbean Cruises that were unrelated to the substance of their motions. The allegations appeared to have been made “solely for the inflammatory purpose of painting the defendant in a negative light,” Graham said.

• Royal Caribbean Cruises called a motion by the plaintiffs “beyond disingenuous” and “a salacious, unfounded and libelous hit piece.”

• In response to the plaintiffs’ motion for sanctions, Royal Caribbean Cruises wrote that it “strains credulity the motion was based on a genuine belief that any sort of relief is warranted, much less a relief for sanctions.” Royal Caribbean Cruises also used the “strains credulity” language in response to a summary judgment motion.

Court documents identify the law firms that had to rewrite their motions as Hamilton, Miller & Birthisel for Royal Caribbean Cruises and Lipcon, Margulies & Winkleman for the plaintiffs.

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