Appellate Practice

Lawyer who blamed difficulties of solo practice for mistakes in brief won't get a third chance

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A lawyer who blamed destroyed computer files for errors in a first brief and the pressures of solo practice for errors in the second is not getting a third chance.

In a decision on Tuesday, Maine’s top court refused to reconsider its order rejecting the second appellate brief filed by lawyer Randy Robinson. Robinson’s pro se opponent had pointed out the errors, including inaccurate and misleading citations to the record. The Legal Profession Blog has highlights.

The decision (PDF) by the Maine Supreme Judicial Court tosses Robinson’s appeal of a probate decision.

Robinson admitted there were errors in the first brief, filed in July 2015, but he said in a court filing that they were “largely due to pressure from time constraints resulting from hacking and destruction of all 2015 files the week before filing was due.”

Robinson was given two weeks to file an amended brief, but it still contained numerous errors, the Supreme Judicial Court said. In a court filing, Robinson conceded some errors, but he offered this reason: “Counsel is, however, a one man office without benefit of any secretary or any clerk, or law student, who like many sole practitioners scratches out a living during not the best economic times. Every expense is out of pocket.”

Robinson wrote that, in writing the second brief, the nub of the appeal presented itself “like a ray of sun light” that “perhaps blinded counsel temporarily to other shortcomings in his work product.”

The Supreme Judicial Court was not persuaded. The second brief had “so many errors that no reader is able to evaluate the assertions on appeal,” the court said. Robinson also used citation formats “that in no way conform to any accepted citation guide, making it extremely difficult and, in some instances, impossible to find the referenced source,” the court said.

The court also rejected Robinson’s argument about the rigors of solo practice. Any argument that solos can’t be expected to comply with the rules of appellate procedure “does Maine lawyers a serious disservice,” the court said. “Every day, Maine lawyers, in sole practices, small practices, and other firms, work diligently and successfully to comply with the Rules.”

Robinson commented on the decision in an interview with the ABA Journal. “Even though it was disappointing, I understand the need for judicial economy,” he said.

Asked about his solo practice argument, Robinson answered: “When you have to do absolutely everything yourself, with no paralegals, yes, it absolutely is more of a challenge. But when you have the privilege of practicing law, … you do what you have to do. And so this a good lesson learned. Just be careful of what you submit.”

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