Saturday, September 26, 2009

A Lesson in Civility At Depositions

In the case of Huggins v. Coatesville Area School Dist., 2009 WL 2973044, PICS Case No. 09-1575 (E.D. Pa. Sept. 16, 2009), Judge Pratter provides a thorough lesson in the requirement of civility between attorneys at depositions and carved out a unique sanction to address the vexatious conduct between the attorneys involved. (A copy of this opinion can be secured, for a small fee, from the Pennsylvania Law Weekly's Instant Case Service by calling 1-800-276-7427 and giving the PICS Case Number noted above).

Judge Pratter began his opinion with this comment, "When lawyers place a higher value on being heard than on being understood, when they trample on civility, or when their supposed devotion to their clients leads to stridency or worse, they undercut the belief in the law and in the legal profession. At a minimum, uncivil, abrasive, abusive, hostile or obstructive conduct by lawyers impedes the fundamental goal of resolving disputes rationally, peacefully, and efficiently. Because such conduct tends to delay, and can even deny, justice, a presiding judge may be called upon to determine whether one or more adversary has committed sanctionable conduct. Events in this case present the Court with that unwelcome task."

In addressing the issue presented the Court emphasized that the first Rule in the Pennsylvania Bar Association's “Working Rules for Professionalism” reads, as follows:


Treat with civility the lawyers, clients, opposing parties, the Court, and all the officials with whom we work. Professional courtesy is compatible with vigorous advocacy and zealous representation.


A reading of the case in its entirety serves as a good reminder of the parameters of civility and professionalism for depositions.

Interestingly the court in Huggins declined to award a monetary sanction in response to defense counsel's motion for sanctions. Rather, the court found it more appropriate to order plaintiffs’ counsel to attend a continuing legal education course in civility and professionalism. Plaintiff’s counsel was also ordered to sit down with defense counsel for an informal meal “to facilitate the repair of their professional relationship.” Both attorneys were ordered to submit a joint letter to the court thereafter to confirm their compliance with this order.

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