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December 28th, 2010

California Bar: No Discipline Against Prominent Plaintiffs’ Attorneys

The California State Bar has announced that two of the state’s most prominent plaintiffs’ lawyers will face no further discipline for allegedly attempting to enforce an invalid $489 million judgment obtained in Nicaragua against the Dole Food Company.

In a “strong stand” recognized in the Rogues’ Gallery of this year’s Judicial Hellhole report, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit had found, just five months earlier, that Walter Lack submitted fraudulent appellate briefs in an effort to collect the money.   The problem was that the lawyers obtained the judgment by suing “Dole Food Corporation,” a corporate entity that does not exist, and the foreign court did not permit a lawyer for the actual “Dole Food Company” to defend against the suit.  The Ninth Circuit ruled that Lack and others at his firm “chose to remain willfully blind to the fact they were making false statements” in appealing a trial court ruling that his clients were not entitled to the funds.  Lack was temporarily suspended from practice before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.  His co-counsel, Thomas Girardi, was found reckless in allowing his signature to be put on documents. 

The federal appellate court’s view of the conduct was not shared by the California State Bar, the organization that is responsible for licensing and disciplining lawyers in the state.  The bar opted to impose no additional sanctions, and, in fact, found no intentional misconduct at all.  In the view of the bar, in seeking to impose an invalid judgment on the company over the course of several years, the lawyers simply made a $489 million mistake.

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