Trials & Litigation

Lawyer who missed deadline to watch son's professional baseball debut gets no sympathy on appeal

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Updated: A California lawyer was unable to get his client’s case reinstated when a federal appeals court rejected his excuse for missing a court deadline—that he was in Illinois to see his son’s professional baseball debut.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals at San Francisco affirmed dismissal of the case filed by lawyer Jerry L. Steering of California on behalf of his client, Mathew Rendon.

How Appealing noted the Nov. 9 unpublished opinion.

Steering had missed the deadline to file a response to a motion to dismiss the case that he filed on behalf Rendon. The client, who was known as the “BB Gun Bandit,” was suing Orange County, California, under the Prison Rape Elimination Act for a strip search that allegedly included sexual assault, according to an appellate brief in the case.

The appeals court didn’t mention the lawyer’s name, but the trial judge who tossed the case Sept. 20, 2021, identified him as Steering. U.S. District Judge Josephine L. Staton of the Central District of California, an appointee of former President Barack Obama, said she had already granted a deadline extension before Steering requested more time because he was “presently in Chicago” to watch his son “play American professional baseball.”

Steering first sought to push back a response to the motion to dismiss because he had a busy work schedule, and the associate helping him learned that his father had only two weeks left to live.

The 9th Circuit found no abuse of discretion. The lawyer’s “excuse for not meeting a deadline that had already been extended 90 days at his request was frivolous: Counsel chose to attend a ballgame instead of timely filing his client’s response to the motion to dismiss,” the 9th Circuit said.

The 9th Circuit opinion said Steering’s son was making his minor league debut. But Howard Bashman of How Appealing noted that Steering’s son made his professional debut with the Joliet Slammers, which technically is not a minor league team. Instead, it is part of the independent league.

The judges on the 9th Circuit panel comprised Judge Gabriel P. Sanchez—an appointee of President Joe Biden—and Judge M. Miller Baker of the U.S. Court of International Trade (sitting by designation) and Judge Patrick J. Bumatay—two appointees of former President Donald Trump.

Steering told the ABA Journal that he didn’t have much advance notice that his son would be playing a few games with the Joliet Slammers. His son was playing in Prague and was given an invitation to play with the team near the end of the season.

“Look, I’ve been doing this for 38 years,” Steering says. “Most judges would give you a pass to see your kid’s first professional baseball game.”

Steering says he filed the Rendon case after his claims were severed from a larger case with several defendants. He was put down as counsel of record for Rendon in the larger case, without his knowledge or consent, he says. When Rendon’s claims were severed, Steering says, he had to file the separate case within 30 days to save his claim.

Steering says he represented Rendon’s girlfriend, but he had never met Rendon. Another lawyer was supposed to take over the Rendon case, “but then he just leaves me with my name hanging out there,” Steering says. “I wanted to save this guy’s case because [the other lawyer] wasn’t doing it.”

A separate case asserting the same claims for Rendon is pending in state court, Steering says. Is he counsel of record in that case? “It looks like it,” Steering says.

Updated at Nov. 15 2:55 p.m. to include Jerry L. Steering’s comments.

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