Trials & Litigation

Sanctions upheld for lawyer who included an original haiku in filing and cited Bugs Bunny

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A federal appeals court has upheld sanctions imposed on a lawyer who filed “lengthy and superfluous filings” in a dispute with his brother, including a brief that was “littered with exclamation points and rants.”

The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals at Atlanta upheld sanctions for Florida bankruptcy lawyer Peter Wizenberg in a Dec. 15 unpublished per curiam opinion and also tacked on sanctions for frivolous arguments on appeal.

The conduct that led to sanctions included Wizenberg’s exhortation during a deposition that the opposing counsel “shush, shush, shush” and his superfluous filings, one of which included a haiku.

The poem, included in a motion seeking reconsideration of a ruling, read: “All know: talk is cheap; Liars can claim anything; No evidence?! Balk!”

Wizenberg had also quoted the Looney Tunes character Bugs Bunny in arguing that the sanctions motion against him was short on specific allegations.

“So, at the very most, there were just two and only two nonglobal allegations, yes, a mere two at the most, and, to quote Bugs Bunny, as far as any specific allegations are concerned, ‘That’s all, folks!’ ” he wrote. (Porky Pig also used the phrase.)

The sanctions stemmed from Wizenberg’s representation of himself in litigation that started with a probate case and then moved into the bankruptcy court, the 11th Circuit said in its per curiam opinion.

Wizenberg was initially appointed as the personal representative of his mother’s estate but was removed based on a request by his brother. Wizenberg filed for bankruptcy and listed his brother as holding a nonpriority unsecured claim that arose from litigation. The brother contended that the debt stemmed from estate property that Wizenberg converted to his personal use, and the debt could not be discharged in bankruptcy.

Wizenberg responded that his brother was referring to a “phantom debt,” and the bankruptcy court had no jurisdiction to consider the brother’s claim. The brother sought sanctions.

In depositions that followed, Wizenberg “asked repetitive and unprofessional questions,” told the opposing counsel to “shush,” claimed that he didn’t know what a privilege log was, and allegedly asked his brother about incidents from their childhood, the 11th Circuit said.

At a hearing on sanctions, the bankruptcy court ordered Wizenberg to pay his brother $2,880 in attorney fees. After a hearing in the underlying bankruptcy case, the brother renewed his motion for sanctions.

The bankruptcy court ruled that Wizenberg’s debt to his brother could not be discharged in bankruptcy, ruled that Wizenberg had acted in bad faith through the litigation, and awarded $9,850 in costs to the brother.

The bankruptcy court said Wizenberg had “suffocated [the] docket with painfully long and frivolous pleadings” and had asked rude and repetitive questions in depositions. The court also said Wizenberg was wrong when he argued that the court had no jurisdiction to consider his brother’s claim.

A district court said the bankruptcy court had no authority to impose sanctions, so it treated the bankruptcy court’s order as a recommendation and imposed the same sanction. Wizenberg appealed.

The 11th Circuit upheld the sanction imposed by the district court and added a sanction of $3,390 for expenses incurred by Wizenberg’s brother on appeal. The appeals court said the sanction was justified based on Wizenberg’s frivolous arguments.

“Peter, a self-proclaimed bankruptcy attorney, filed an 88-page opening brief littered with exclamation points and rants about what he views as a grave miscarriage of justice,” the 11th Circuit said. “He fails to coherently cite case law, though he cites Bugs Bunny. The brief is difficult to follow, and deciphering and reorganizing his arguments wasted taxpayer resources that otherwise could have been spent on cases ‘worthy of consideration.’”

Hat tip to Law360, which had coverage of the case.

Wizenberg did not immediately respond to an ABA Journal email seeking comment.

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