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Court Nixes Sanctioned Attorney’s Poverty Claim

(CN) - An attorney cannot claim poverty to reduce sanctions for his actions in court, the 7th Circuit ruled. James Gordon Banks was slapped with an $80,000 sanction after a judge ruled that he failed to reasonably investigate the claims in a lawsuit over a contested union election.

One of the charges brought by Banks' client was that the winner of the union election had threatened to fire Banks' client if he won. But the winner kept her on after the election and even gave her a raise.

Defense counsel asked Banks to delete some of these claims, but he refused. The district judge granted the defendants' motion for sanctions on the theory that Banks had "vexatiously multiplied the proceedings" without scrutinizing them.

Banks argued that he could not pay $80,000, because his assets only included $2,000, his watch, clothes and wedding ring. The defendants countered that the reason Banks is so poor is that most of his assets are in his wife's name.

Judge Easterbrook of the Chicago-based federal appeals court upheld the sanctions.

"Damages depend on a victim's loss, not a tortfeasor's assets," the judge wrote. "If Banks ... is poor because people are not willing to pay much, or at all, for his services, then he should turn from the practice of law to some other endeavor where he will do less harm."

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