Lawyer's tardiness wasn't enough of a reason to toss suit, 2nd Circuit rules
A lawyer who “unwisely believed” he could appear on time for a court hearing may be sanctioned for his late appearance, but dismissing the case was too severe a sanction, a federal appeals court has ruled.
The New York-based 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the decision by U.S. District Judge Sandra Feuerstein of the Eastern District of New York in a Dec. 4 summary order (PDF), the New York Law Journal (sub. req.) reports.
The lawyer, solo practitioner Noel Munier, had three pretrial conferences on the date in question last year. The Feuerstein conference was in Suffolk County, while the others were in Queens and Nassau counties. He had also missed a hearing in the case the previous year, attributing the problem to a calendar error.
Feuerstein dismissed the case after waiting 29 minutes for Munier to appear.
Feuerstein had written “it is beyond comprehension” that Munier believed he could appear before three separate courts in three separate matters in a single morning. The 2nd Circuit said there was “no excuse” for Munier’s failure to notify the judge he would likely be late, but “the sanction imposed was needlessly severe and punished the wrong person.”
The judge still had the option of imposing a less severe penalty, such as a monetary sanction that would compensate the defendants for the lawyer’s wasted time, the 2nd Circuit said.
Munier represented a family in a civil-rights suit claiming police had twice entered their property without proper warrants and had unlawfully detained a family member.