Civil Procedure

Lawyer who filed 500-plus copyright cases in federal court calls $10K sanction 'judicial error'

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Updated: A lawyer who was ordered to pay a $10,000 sanction for failing to provide proper notice of a hearing claims the judge who imposed it exceeded her authority in a “clear-cut judicial error.”

Lawyer Richard Liebowitz argued in a motion filed on Monday that he had already settled the case when U.S. District Judge Denise Cote issued an order to show cause why he shouldn’t be sanctioned, Law360 reports. Liebowitz also argued that the sanction was “wholly punitive in nature,” violating Supreme Court precedent that requires sanctions imposed by a judge’s inherent authority to be compensatory rather than punitive in nature.

Liebowitz practices with the Liebowitz Law Firm in Valley Stream, New York.

Cote had ordered the lawyer to pay the sanction for failing to follow notification requirements in a suit he filed for a photographer against a “mom and pop” office cleaning service, Cote said in a Feb. 28 sanctions order. The suit claimed JMS Cleaning Services violated the photographer’s copyright by posting his leaf photo on its website. Law360 and Bloomberg News covered the order.

The cleaning service had downloaded the leaf from a free download site and displayed it on its website in 2013, long before the copyright for the photo was filed in March 2017, Cote said.

Cote said Liebowitz failed to serve notice of a Jan. 19 pretrial conference. Cote also said that Liebowitz had omitted “key context” in a letter to the court requesting an adjournment of the pretrial conference, citing the defendant’s failure to respond to the complaint. Liebowitz had actually been communicating with defense lawyers, Cote said.

Cote noted in her Feb. 28 order that Liebowitz has filed more than 500 cases in the Southern District of New York over the last two years. Sixteen of the cases were before Cote. She also said Liebowitz had been labeled a “copyright troll” in another lawsuit.

Liebowitz told Bloomberg News that the sanctions decision was “driven by a false and defamatory stereotype that the Liebowitz Law Firm (and its clients) are ‘copyright trolls.’ ”

On Wednesday, Cote reduced the sanction to $2,000 and ordered Liebowitz to complete training in ethics and professionalism, Law360 reports.

Updated on March 16 with new last paragraph to report on reduced sanction.

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