Trials & Litigation

Federal judge says motion is littered with 'unnecessary potshots and hyperbole,' offers chance to refile

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A Chicago lawyer apparently declined to take up a federal judge’s offer that she file an amended motion that omits the “potshots and hyperbole” of the original.

In a March 9 order, U.S. District Judge Steven C. Seeger told lawyer Calvita Frederick that she had one week to file a revised motion seeking to amend his December decision tossing a lawsuit she had filed on behalf of a former medical student. Seeger is a judge for the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois.

“The court offers the following modest suggestion,” Seeger wrote. “The court invites counsel to reread the draft, with the benefit of the passage of time, and maybe a good night’s sleep. And more specifically, this court invites counsel to have a moment of quiet reflection, and revisit the tone of the filing.”

As of March 20, Frederick had not filed a revised motion.

The lawsuit plaintiff, Ebone Porch, had claimed she failed a first-step medical exam needed to continue her studies because the University of Illinois College of Medicine did not give her sufficient time to apply for disability accommodations.

Seeger had denied a motion to amend the lawsuit in December after finding that it would be “futile.” Seeger said Frederick’s amended lawsuit, like the initial complaint, had named the wrong party as a defendant. The National Board of Medical Examiners was responsible for granting accommodations, not the medical school, Seeger had ruled.

That prompted Frederick’s Jan. 14 motion to amend the judgment.

Seeger said Frederick began her motion with an “ominous” disclaimer in which she said that, before being accused of disrespectful conduct, she wanted to stress that neither she nor the plaintiff “have any animosity towards this court.” At different points in the motion, she said she was making her comments “very respectfully” and “with all due and maximum respect.”

But Seeger did not see the respect that was intended. Frederick’s motion was “littered” with “unnecessary potshots and hyperbole,” he wrote. “Searching for over-the-top sentences in the motion is like shooting fish in a barrel,” he said.

Seeger listed several of Frederick’s statements, including her assertions that:

• Seeger “was mistaken and/or deliberately chose to disregard the evidence in the record.”

• Someone else—possibly a court clerk—may have written the order signed by Seeger, and whoever it was had made “manifest errors of facts and law.”

• Seeger didn’t recognize the need “to do adequate research on the topic before issuing a ruling.”

• Any litigant “is entitled to a presiding officer who knows the law.”

• Seeger had “summarily skimmed through the filings of the case to cherry pick—in the shortest time possible—whatever would have been useful to put together an order against plaintiff with a minimum appearance of legality.”

“The court could go on,” Seeger said after listing several of Frederick’s statements. “Counsel did. After 28 pages, counsel finally ran out of gas.”

Seeger began his order:

“Most of us say things in our heads that we wouldn’t say out loud. And most of us say things out loud that we wouldn’t say in a court filing. But not everyone is blessed with the same filter, or with the same willingness to use the brake pedal. On that note, this court took a look at plaintiff Ebone Porch’s motion to alter or amend the judgment … The filing threw more punches than it pulled, and some were below the belt.”

And he ended the opinion this way:

“The point is not so much that this court is offended. People don’t tend to get on the federal bench without tough skin. And, when they get here, the process and the grind toughen the hide. Still, civility standards (such as they are) exist for a reason. If they aren’t worth defending, then they aren’t worth having.

“In the meantime, a few words come to mind when this court thinks about the filing. But this court will keep all of those words to itself.”

Seeger is an appointee of former President Donald Trump.

Frederick was previously in the news when a different federal judge referred her for potential discipline after concluding her performance in a discrimination case was the worst he had seen in 12 years on the bench.

The ABA Journal reached Frederick in a phone call and sought comment on Seeger’s order. Frederick said she would have to call back and hung up without getting the reporter’s phone number.

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