November 14, 2019
On October 1, 2019, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed a ruling imposing sanctions of nearly $30,000 against a lawyer for “unreasonably and vexatiously” multiplying litigation. See Morrison v. Walker, 939 F.3d 633 (5th Cir. 2019). The lawyer who was sanctioned, Morgan, represented a criminal-defense attorney who sued a state-court judge, alleging that the judge had falsely accused her of suborning perjury. As the Fifth Circuit explained, judges are immune from liability for acts taken in their judicial capacity. The Fifth Circuit concluded that sanctions were appropriate because Morgan had “persistently pursued a meritless case barred by judicial immunity.”
The Fifth Circuit found that Morgan had acted with “reckless disregard” of his duty to the court because he “disregarded overwhelming evidence” that his client’s claims were barred by judicial immunity. Although Morgan argued that he was “entitled to rely on his client’s representations” that her claim against the judge had nothing to do with any case that the judge had presided over, the Fifth Circuit held that “it was unreasonable for Morgan to rely on his client’s dubious factual allegations when there were glaring red flags that Morgan needed to investigate further.”
As the ruling in Morrison demonstrates, a lawyer’s duty to the court sometimes requires him or her to go beyond information provided by a client and investigate the accuracy and merit of the client’s claims. Our lawyers have extensive experience in counseling and representing other lawyers who are required to justify and defend their professional decisions, including in disciplinary and malpractice actions.
Morrison also demonstrates the power and importance of immunity doctrines that protect judges and other officials from liability. Our lawyers have extensive experience applying these doctrines in the defense of judges, prosecutors, and other government officials.
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