Trials & Litigation

Sanctions motion claims lawyer flung coffee at Venable partner during deposition

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Cup of iced coffee

Updated: A motion for sanctions filed by Venable partner Thomas Wallerstein claims his opposing counsel threw a cup of coffee at him during a Boston deposition, staining his luggage and leaving his shirt and pants wet with coffee.

Wallerstein acknowledges the coffee incident occurred after he twice told the opposing counsel to be quiet, the second time after she warned Wallerstein never to repeat the phrase.

Above the Law covers the contretemps. The website links to Wallerstein’s July 19 motion and a July 15 letter by the alleged coffee-flinging lawyer, Valeria Calafiore Healy, who says the coffee was iced and it was slammed on the table rather than flung.

According to Wallerstein’s motion, Healy had objected to her own witness’s testimony and had made other improper objections. At one point, she said, “Objection. That’s not a question,” and Wallerstein replied, “It’s not, counsel. So please be quiet.” Healy threatened to walk out of the deposition if the “be quiet” admonishment was repeated. “It was,” the motion says, “and chaos ensued.”

Healy stood up, began packing and starting yelling, Wallerstein says. According to the motion, Healy threw a full cup of coffee across the table at Wallerstein, yelling, “I think you should take a f—— break!”

Wallerstein “was shocked and scared,” the motion says. “His shirt and pants were wet with coffee. Coffee was dripping on his computer, cell phone and papers. His luggage was covered and thoroughly stained. The conference room table was wet and beyond doubt the carpet will need to be steam cleaned.”

Healy’s letter to the court immediately after the incident told a different story. She said she objected because Wallerstein had begun a line of harassing questions that had nothing to do with the case. Throughout the course of the case, Wallerstein had been disrespectful, telling her to “be quiet,” “shut up” and “keep your mouth shut,” Healy said in her letter. She told him not to make such a statement again, but he “proceeded promptly to do it again,” Healy wrote.

“When Mr. Wallerstein persisted as I was leaving the room, I became upset and slammed my coffee cup on the table, causing the remains of my 2-hour old iced coffee to spill over the table and allegedly over Mr. Wallerstein’s jeans, even though I was not close to Mr. Wallerstein,” the letter says.

Healy says she later received a message from a woman who said she was Wallerstein’s wife, and she wanted to talk about her husband’s third-degree burns. Healy says she found the claim perplexing because the coffee was iced; she attached a picture of the coffee cup to her letter.

A sworn statement from the court reporter agrees the coffee was iced, but states that it was thrown across the room. The deposition was taken in the case Loop AI Labs Inc. v. Gatti, which is pending in federal court in San Francisco.

Update: Healy expanded her arguments about the incident in a July 26 declaration (PDF) filed with the court. She questions whether the court reporter was in a position to see the incident. She maintains Wallerstein laughed afterward and quickly resumed the deposition, and he was not “shocked and scared” as he maintained in his sanctions motion. She denies yelling. And she once again insists that she slammed the coffee on the table and did not throw it.

The day began badly, Healy says in the declaration. When she arrived at the building for the deposition on the morning of July 15, she was denied entry by a guard who said no one had supplied her name. She purchased the iced coffee at 9:02 a.m. and waited outside in the heat until 9:50 a.m.

“From the moment I walked into the room,” Healy writes, “Mr. Wallerstein wasted no time to resume the usual disrespectful conduct that he has directed to me throughout the course of this case.” Wallerstein ignored Healy’s objections, told the witness she was wrong, and threatened the witness with sanctions, Healy says.

Healy says she slammed her coffee after Wallerstein twice told her to be quiet, and it’s not the first time he has done so. In the past he has told her to “be quiet,” “shut up” and “shut your mouth,” Healy says, supplying transcript segments to back her claim. Despite numerous provocations during 14 months of litigation, Healy says, she “never used any expletives” in response to the attacks.

“Although I had a moment of lapse,” Healy writes, “Mr. Wallerstein and the court reporter’s description of what happened in the motion is demonstrably untrue.” An audio recording confirms she was not yelling, and Wallerstein was laughing immediately after the incident, Healy writes. He also laughed out loud in a phone call after the incident, she says.

Healy says statements in the court reporter’s declaration “on their face do not make sense and are contradicted by both the video and the audio recording.” Healy questions how the court reporter could have seen the incident from her vantage point, while looking down and doing her job. She also says video does not show any coffee dripping onto Wallerstein’s computer, as he had asserted, and doesn’t show any stained items.

“The motion and the affidavit also fail to explain how the modest remaining contents of a single cup of iced coffee could have created the havoc they purport to describe—for the picture painted in the motion and affidavit to be true, literally gallons of coffee would have been required,” Healy says.

Updated July 28 to include statements from Healy’s July 26 declaration.

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