Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Court Sanctions Defense Attorney for His Sexist Remarks to Opposing Counsel

In a clarion call for civility among attorneys, Magistrate Judge Paul Grewal granted plaintiffs’ motion for sanctions in a civil rights case,[1] and excoriated defendants’ attorney for “repeatedly and unapologetically flout[ing]” the Northern District of California’s Guidelines for Professional Conduct[2], the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (FRCP), the court’s prior order, and – in this firm’s opinion – offending standards of basic civility most of us learned on the playground, as children.[3] The order is available here.

            Defendants’ attorney produced documents relevant to a deposition in a “physically cracked and unusable disc” on the day of said deposition, delayed correcting this abjectly deficient production for over a month after being repeatedly asked to do so by plaintiffs’ counsel (only to produce documents defendants’ attorney already knew to be in plaintiffs’ possession), made “extremely long speaking objections” in corrective depositions ordered by the court, and many more violations.[4] Tellingly, defendants’ attorney made “no attempt to defend any of this conduct.”[5]

            Escalating his disgraceful misconduct from unprofessionalism to sexism, defendants’ attorney told one of the plaintiffs’ female attorneys, at a deposition she was taking, “[D]on’t raise your voice at me. It’s not becoming of a woman ….”[6] In briefing his opposition to plaintiffs' sanctions request, defendants’ attorney doubled down on his statement with a sorry-not-sorry apology.[7]

As M.J. Grewal explains in his order, defendants’ attorney’s attack “endorsed the stereotype that women are subject to a different standard of behavior than their fellow attorneys.” M.J. Grewal further elaborates that such gender-based vitriol “reflects not only on the attorney’s lack of professionalism, but also tarnishes the image of the entire legal profession and disgraces our system of justice.” The Court found that such statements – in addition to harming the many female attorneys that regularly endure similar treatment – degrades the legitimacy of the legal system itself.

Gendered attacks “reflect and reinforce the male-dominated attitude of our profession.”[8] At a time when the opportunity for female attorneys to advance to leadership roles in law firms remains stymied,[9] our profession should, at the very minimum, not tolerate such Mad-Men-styled sexism from its members.

Fortunately, M.J. Grewal suffers no fools. Because of defendants’ attorney’s egregious misconduct, M.J. Grewal awarded plaintiffs their fees and costs in bringing the motion for sanctions, as well as attorneys’ fees for depositions, including the deposition during which the sexist comment was made. Recognizing that monetary compensation for plaintiffs’ attorneys' fees and legal costs falls short of a just result, M.J. Grewal ordered the “specific and appropriate sanction” of compelling defendants’ attorney to “donate $250 to the Women Lawyers Association of Los Angeles Foundation … and submit a declaration to the court confirming his compliance with this order.”[10]

Courts should emulate Magistrate Judge Paul Grewal, enforcing both women’s equality and basic civility in the legal profession.

[1] Claypole v. Cnty. of Monterey, No. 14-cv-02730-BLF (filed June 12, 2014). More information regarding the case can be found here.
[2] The Northern District of California’s Professional Guidelines are available here:
[3] Claypole, No. 14-cv-02730-BLF, slip op. at 1 (N.D. Cal. January 12, 2016).
[4] Id. at 2-3, 5.
[5] Id. at 6.
[6] Id. at 8.
[7] Id. (Defendants’ attorney “offered only a halfhearted politician’s apology ‘if [he] offended’ Plaintiff’s counsel, and he nevertheless tried to justify the comment because it ‘was made in the context of [Plaintiff’s counsel] literally yelling at [his] client and creating a hostile environment during the deposition’ … Other than his own characterization, [Defendants’ attorney] offers no deposition excerpts or other evidence that suggests this.")
[8] Id.
[9] Stephanie A. Scharf & Roberta A. Liebenberg, Am. Bar Ass’n, First Chairs at Trial: More Women Need Seats at the Table 14-15 (2015), available at
[10] Claypole, at 10.