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Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Law - 7th Circuit rules that lawyer can't appeal judge's critique

The May 3, 2007 7th Circuit decision is Leslie v. Matlaw (ND Ill, ED). Judge Kanne writes:

Attorney Leslie V. Matlaw represented plaintiff Donna Seymour in this case. Ms. Matlaw, acting on her own behalf, seeks to set aside the settlement agreement reached in this case and related orders entered by the district court. Ms. Matlaw lacks standing to bring this appeal and therefore the appeal is dismissed. * * *

Ms. Matlaw seeks to overturn the April 2006 settlement agreement and Judge Cole’s November 2005 and July 2006 opinions that were critical of her conduct in this case. She argues that she is able to bring this appeal on her own behalf because: (1) Judge Cole’s opinions have negatively affected her reputation, and (2) the April 2006 settlement agreement has effectively reduced the amount of attorney’s fees and costs she would have otherwise recovered in this case. * * *

Ms. Matlaw notes that our position of limiting an appeal to monetary sanctions conflicts with the positions taken by other circuits. We recognize that other circuits allow appeals involving critical comments but those circuits have split among themselves over whether the district court must formally sanction the attorney to allow the appeal or whether critical comments by themselves, without a formal sanction, are sufficient for an appeal.

Pamela A. MacLean of The National Law Journal writes about the decision today. Some quotes:
The 7th Circuit held recently that verbal bashing of a lawyer in a published order cannot be appealed unless it comes with monetary sanctions, breaking with four circuits that allow such appeals and one that permits it only if the critique is specifically labeled a "reprimand."

The 7th Circuit ruling came in the case of Leslie V. Matlaw, a Chicago attorney accused of "being less than honest" during a settlement proceeding before U.S. Magistrate Judge Jeffrey Cole in a 2005 race discrimination case. She's currently considering her next step in the fight over a $40,000 settlement.

The 7th Circuit is the only circuit court that considers an order only damaging to a lawyer's professional reputation as never appealable, although it does leave open the possibility of relief through a writ of mandamus. The 5th and D.C. circuits allow lawyers to appeal orders finding misconduct, without the need for additional monetary sanction. In addition, the 9th Circuit allows appeals of orders that go beyond "routine judicial commentary" to find willful ethical violation.

Only the 1st Circuit limits attorney appeals to those cases in which the challenged order is expressly identified as a reprimand. Earlier this year, the 3d Circuit ruled that whenever a district court imposes sanctions on an attorney, the lawyer must be given an opportunity to be heard. It joined the 5th, D.C. and 9th circuits.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on May 23, 2007 12:43 PM
Posted to Ind. (7th Cir.) Decisions