Based on these similarities and blatant copying, the court stated “…there can be no serious argument that [counsel’s] filings were not the product of plagiarism.” Ultimately, and after “some initial reticence,” counsel for the defendant admitted that she had plagiarized the motion.
The court granted sanctions and awarded attorney fees based on the court’s inherent authority to do so when a party has acted in bad faith, vexatiously, wantonly, or for oppressive reasons. In calculating attorney fees, the court considered the amount of time the plaintiffs’ counsel spent on their original motion and their hourly rates. The defendant’s counsel disputed the number of hours, arguing it was excessive relative to the complexity of the motion. Based on these considerations, the court found that the number of hours listed by the plaintiffs’ counsel was greater than reasonably necessary, but still awarded plaintiffs $8,483.55 in fees and costs.
The court discussed the “disservice” to the defendant due to counsel’s plagiarism. “In substituting plagiarism for preparation, counsel presented an unreasoned, error-filled filing and placed both her client’s motion and potential for alternative resolution at risk.” Finding that the lawyer’s conduct was “objectively unreasonable in light of her ethical obligations,” the court imposed the sanctions award upon counsel but not upon the defendant.
Sloppy Lawyering Diminishes Persuasiveness of Arguments
Cut-and-paste briefing is inconsistent with effective client advocacy. “One cannot rely on arguments formed and articulated by another attorney. Doing so with opposing counsel’s arguments shows that the defendant’s counsel sought not only to lift the legal reasoning, but also to avoid any sort of factual analysis required for adequate client representation,” observes Tiffany Rowe, Washington, DC, cochair of the Litigation Section’s Professional Liability Litigation Committee.
Some Section leaders suggest that the court might have addressed this issue in a different way. “Sloppy work makes a brief less persuasive, and an unpersuasive brief is more likely to be denied than a well-written one,” asserts Michael S. LeBoff, cochair of the Section’s Young Lawyer Leadership Program and cochair of the Ethics subcommittee of the Commercial & Business Litigation Committee. “The judge’s first priority should have been the merits. The court could have denied the motion due to a lack of merit. The focus should have been cutting and pasting to the extent that the motion did not make sense, and the merits of the motion were not there,” suggests LeBoff.
Significant Risks to Client
Even though the sanctions in this case were imposed on the lawyer rather than the client, Section leaders believe counsel’s plagiarism can create significant client risks. “An attorney has a duty to provide their own legal advice, based on their research and analysis,” states Rowe. Noting that Pennsylvania Rules of Professional Responsibility applied in this case, Rowe observes that “not only has counsel jeopardized her own good standing with the Pennsylvania bar, but she has also exposed her client to allegations of bad faith in the course of the litigation.”