August 26, 2019 Articles

Silly Lawyer Tricks XVII

Be wary of dilatory tactics to advance your case. They can backfire.

By Tom Donlon

This is the latest column in our continuing series on real mistakes and misdeeds by real lawyers in cases on appeal.

Matter of Lisse, 921 F.3d 629 (7th Cir. 2019)

This is a case where, as the court observed, the attorney had “not received the message” that frivolous appeals “will not be tolerated.” After her clients lost a foreclosure action in state court, the attorney had the home owners file bankruptcy, using “tag-team Chapter 13 bankruptcy filings by a husband and wife—each lacking a good faith basis—to postpone the orderly resolution of state-court proceedings.” While her tactics were successful, allowing her clients to remain in the house for eight years, her conduct ultimately resulted in financial sanctions and suspension from practice.

The bankruptcy court dismissed each of the successive bankruptcy petitions. The attorney then appealed each to the district court. After delays for a year, the district court set a deadline for filing her brief in the husband’s case. The attorney then moved for a stay, citing a doctor’s recommendation that she take leave from practicing law. The skeptical district judge, noting “her ‘history of frivolous and dilatory tactics,’ and efforts to ‘drag[] out the briefing on the merits by satellite skirmishes,’” granted her three more months. Meanwhile, the district court separately affirmed the bankruptcy court’s dismissal of the wife’s case. At the end of the three-month period in the husband’s case (during which the attorney admitted working for other clients instead of filing her brief), the attorney moved to withdraw the appeal. 

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