Disbarred Lawyer Fights Sanctions at 9th Circuit

     SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – A disbarred California attorney asked the Ninth Circuit on Thursday to overturn a federal judge’s ruling that imposed sanctions against him, arguing that he committed no sanctionable conduct.
     The attorney, Gregory Haynes, “engaged in a wide variety of incompetent and unprofessional actions” while helping a client sue San Francisco and dozens of city and state officials on excessive force and unlawful detention claims related to the client’s involuntary detention in a psychiatric facility, according to a previous Ninth Circuit opinion ordering a new hearing of the case.
     All of the claims were eventually dismissed, but the defendants amassed large legal bills both defending themselves and engaging in “multiple discovery disputes” with Haynes.
     A magistrate judge recommended that a federal judge in San Francisco impose more than $360,000 in sanctions on Haynes for the defendants’ fees and costs. Presiding U.S. District Judge Jeffrey White adopted the recommendation in full.
     The Ninth Circuit in 2012 ordered a new hearing on the sanctions, giving Haynes another chance to show that he could not pay the fine on the “less than $20,000 per year” that he earns from his practice.
     At Thursday’s hearing before the Circuit’s three-judge panel, Haynes challenged not just the sanctions’ amount but their imposition in the first place, claiming that the Standing Committee on Professional Conduct in the Northern District of California “has engaged in extremely unreasonable and unethical conduct.”
     He added that such conduct is an “anomaly” because the committee “is charged with upholding the high standards of the district court with regard to attorney conduct.”
     Haynes argued that his case does not fall within the committee’s scope of prosecution according to local rules for the Northern District of California, since the provision of the rule at issue is limited to “reciprocal discipline and felony conviction.”
     Nor did the presiding judge have sufficient cause to refer the case to the committee, he said.
     David Fry, who argued for the committee, contended that “a judge may refer a matter to the Standing Committee if the judge has cause to believe that there was unprofessional conduct.”
     “The judge does not need to conclude that there was,” Fry said. “The Standing Committee may need to investigate that.”
     In his rebuttal, Haynes argued that since the trial court found for the committee on summary judgment, “if there’s a question of fact [summary judgment] automatically reversed.”
     He added, “We believe that this case is one that is without merit and is a harm to the entire federal judiciary because it allows the committee on the part of the judge to engage in ethical conduct and the district court to make no comment as to the unethical conduct.”
     Haynes has practiced in San Francisco.
     Fry serves on the Standing Committee of Professional Conduct and also practices with Munger Tolles.

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