Attorney Sanctioned for Frivolous Claim

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You are what you eat – but for lawyers, you are what you sign, file, verify or plead.  An attorney in Pittsburgh just learned this lesson the hard way and is now $20,000 lighter in the wallet.  The failure to properly investigate his client’s “frivolous” gun malfunction claim has landed Attorney Jason Schiffman with the hefty sanction after the judge disagreed with the attorney’s plea that he had reasonably relied on his client.

In Ellis v. Beemiller, Plaintiff Regis Ellis alleged that a gun improperly discharged in his hand.  He was represented by Attorney Schiffman.  According to U.S. District Judge Alan N. Bloch of the Western District of Pennsylvania, Attorney Schiffman ignored reason and blindly relied upon his client’s representation of the underlying events even when the plaintiff changed his story. 

Judge Block wrote: “Counsel’s errors are more troubling than his characterization suggests, and his conduct can be described more accurately as that of an attorney who ignored red flags surrounding the veracity and plausibility of his client’s story [and] lodged allegations without having reasonable belief that they were well-grounded in fact.”

Aggressive and zealous representation has its limits.  Bearing in mind that all professionals must maintain the client’s interests first, there may come a time when the best advice is to reassess rather than pursing a dead-end.  Memories change, new evidence is discovered and litigation takes unexpected turns.  Accordingly, professionals must be willing to adapt, or even disengage, if the current path is troublesome.