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Tuesday, June 18, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Botching Case Could Spell Disbarment for Lawyer

CHICAGO (CN) - The 7th Circuit threatened a Chicago-area attorney with disbarment in a scathing opinion criticizing his treatment of a discrimination suit and calling his brief "wretched."

Cathleen Sambrano filed charges of race, sex, national origin, age and disability discrimination against her employer, the U.S. Navy, with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Empowered to resolve the grievances of federal employees, rather than simply mediate, the commission determined Sambrano's claim was unsupported.

Engaged by Sambrano to pursue her claims in federal court, attorney A. Jun Joaquin Jr. filed a complaint repeating the allegations from Sambrano's administrative proceeding. He did not conduct discovery, asserting that it was unnecessary because the case was an "appeal" from the commission.

"That proposition is wrong," 7th Circuit Chief Judge Frank Easterbrook. "A suit is not an appeal."

Joaquin instead filed a motion for judgment on the pleadings, which U.S. District Judge Charles Norgle denied.

Still no discovery was conducted, however. "By declining to present evidence, Sambrano's lawyer doomed his client's case," Easterbrook wrote.

After a year of inaction, Norgle dismissed the case for want of prosecution under Local Rule 41.1.

"That spurred Sambrano's lawyer to action - but the action he took was preposterous," according to the 7th Circuit. "He filed an ex parte motion for relief from judgment." Norgle also denied that motion because Joaquin deliberately failed to serve the defendant.

Joaquin appealed, arguing that Local Rule 41.1 violates the Fifth Amendment's due process clause.

"This appeal is frivolous," Easterbrook wrote. "It bypasses the only possible argument (that the district judge abused his discretion by dismissing the suit without first warning Joaquin about the risks of procrastination) while advancing an argument with no prospect of success."

"We have no idea whether Sambrano had a good claim against the Navy - but we do know that, if she had, Joaquin massacred it," he added.

The court gave Joaquin 21 days to show cause as to why he should not be subject to monetary sanctions, censure, suspension or disbarment.

"Judges are better able than clients to separate competent from bungling attorneys, and we have a duty to ensure the maintenance of professional standards by members of our bar," the court concluded.

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