Good Father, Malpracticing Lawyer

Awwww. Lawyer Jerry L. Steering of California missed the deadline to file a response to a motion to dismiss the case that he had filed on behalf of a client. He had a good reason, he thought, having seen “Field of Dreams” a bunch of times. (OK, I’m guessing here.) U.S. District Judge Josephine L. Staton of the Central District of California, an appointee of former President Barack Obama, had already granted a deadline extension to Steering once, but he requested more time, he explained, because he was “presently in Chicago” to watch his son “play American professional baseball.”

What a good dad! What a bad lawyer! The judge didn’t grant the extension, and in an unpublished per curiam opinion that a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit issued yesterday, her decision was upheld. The lawyer’s “excuse for not meeting a deadline that had already been extended 90 days at his request was frivolous: Counsel chose to attend a ballgame instead of timely filing his client’s response to the motion to dismiss,” the 9th Circuit said.

Frivolous? FRIVOLOUS??? Watching one’s son “have a catch” for money and supporting him from the stands is “frivolous”? Well yeah, it is. This is a flaming breach of to many legal ethics rules to list, but competence and diligence will do. I have to assume that Jerry is willing to accept the consequences for his choice, which will include a slam-dunk legal malpractice and maybe disciplinary action from his bar association as well.

When family obligations conflict with professional ones, it’s tough. Still, the professional standards leave a lot less wiggle room than family duties; I think Junior would have understood.

Even if Kevin Costner wouldn’t.


11 thoughts on “Good Father, Malpracticing Lawyer

  1. “Still, the professional standards leave a lot less wiggle room than family duties; I think Junior would have understood.”

    Or, dad could have used his 90 extra days of deadline extension to actually do the work his client expected of him, and then gone to the ballgame with no conflict and worry-free. But we increasingly don’t live in that kind of society anymore, where people are motivated by a personal work ethic to at least do a half-ass job. You’re lucky if you can get an eighth of an ass out of most people these days.

    • Half of that is more and more people expect to be supported, and the other half is that more and more people get tired of supporting those who do nothing but ride in society’s wagon. This judge was a rarity. I’ve had opponents miss deadlines many times, but the judges don’t want to give anyone a slam dunk legal malpractice claim against them nor exposed anyone to potential professional discipline. The thought seems to be that we’re all trying to make a living in this field and we should give each other a break when we can and try to make life easier, not more difficult, for all concerned. I guess that Federal judges, who have lifetime appointments and are accountable to no one, can get away with visiting consequences on lawyers that hurt. State judges, who are often elected, have to be a little more circumspect, less they not be reelected. In New jersey, where judges are appointed for an initial 7-year term and then granted or not granted tenure by the governor those in their initial 7-year term must make sure not to piss off the governor, and even those who are tenured must beware less they annoy the powers that be and end up spending their entire career doing emotionally draining family law cases or headache landlord tenant cases.

    • This.

      Sorry, lawyer friends, but your profession is awful – absolutely, inexplicably horrible, at waiting until the last possible minute to do anything, and then your lack of planning creates emergencies for your clients.

      I don’t understand it… I’m sure there are things happening in the background (unless there aren’t), but we go through months of meetings with weeks of time in between them, and then all of a sudden, three days from the deadline, there’s this hair-on-fire sense of urgency that just seemed to be missing as recently as the day before. I don’t know if the profession has a time management problem or if this is a billable hours thing, or something completely different… But it’s too consistent and common to just be a couple of bad apples.

  2. Oh, it is understandable. He missed the deadline because that the baseball game has lasted a really, really long time, going into hundreds and hundreds of extra innings. It’s true! That game is in the Guinness Book of World Records as the longest game ever, with 6,872 innings and counting, and it’s the bottom of the inning with 2 runners on base, a 3-2 count and two outs, the Reds at bat. His son is pitching masterfully.


  3. It is only a good legal malpractice case if the underlying case had merit. My experience is that lawyers typically miss deadlines like this when they don’t like the case, often with good reason. It is a civil rights case; most of those cases are longshots. Doesn’t make the attorney/dad’s conduct any better, but probably not a great legal malpractice case.

    • Well, the client might have to go to his daughter’s violin recital out of town instead of mailing that check, right?


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