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ACLU Files Brief in Support of Sanctioned Attorneys in Cornel Young, Jr. Civil Rights Case

Posted: July 20, 2004|Category: Due Process Category: Free Speech

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The Rhode Island ACLU today filed a “friend of the court” brief in the U.S. Court of Appeals in Boston, challenging District Court Judge Mary Lisi’s sanctions on attorneys in the Cornel Young, Jr. civil rights case for allegedly misrepresenting the judge’s position in court papers. The brief, filed by ACLU volunteer attorney Amy R. Tabor, argues that Judge Lisi’s actions “not only violated the due process and First Amendment rights of both the plaintiff and her attorneys, but will, if not reversed, chill and undermine the independent and vigorous advocacy that is an indispensable component of our system of justice.” Last year, the ACLU sought to file a similar brief on these issues before Judge Lisi when she was considering whether to sanction the attorneys, but Judge Lisi denied the ACLU’s request to file the brief.

Judge Lisi removed Leisa Young’s two out-of-state lawyers mid-trial and then issued a finding that they and local attorney Robert Mann had violated a federal court rule, known as Rule 11, that bars baseless court filings. Specifically, she focused on two statements in an eight-page memorandum, which she said falsely claimed that that she had ordered them to enter into a stipulation of the City’s choice concerning the accuracy of an exhibit. The attorneys and the ACLU brief claim that the statements at issue, when read in context, instead accurately state that the trial court required them to accept the stipulation if they wanted to use certain exhibits in their opening statement.

The ACLU’s brief argues that not only did the attorneys not make any false statements, but that the judge took the statements out of context and then deleted from a quoted paragraph crucial language, the omission of which changed the meaning of the paragraph in dispute. The brief argues: “If attorneys can be censured for what may amount to no more than inartful or rushed drafting during the heat of trial, and can even be removed entirely from their clients’ cases, the result is likely to be more lawyers who become cautious, timorous and fearful of engaging in vigorous advocacy.”

Responding to concerns of Judge Lisi that the disputed statements might “mislead the public and appellate courts,” the brief states that “the only event that might mislead the public is the court’s continued insistence that the attorneys had accused her of ordering her to stipulate.” The brief concludes by stating that “in light of the potentially serious damage to the professional life and reputation of each of these attorneys as the result of the formal finding of violation,” the court’s findings should be reversed.

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