There is an interesting sanction imposed by U.S. District Judge William Zloch against Florida lawyer Loring Spolter for filings accusing him of having religious bias and engaging in potentially criminal conduct. Spolter was hit with $110,000 in sanctions for his filings over the course of 42 months to try to get Zloch to step down from employment cases due to his religious beliefs and those of his clerks. While Spolter accuses Zloch of a Catholic bias, Zloch dismisses his filings as “[c]onjecture and fantasy of this sort are usually scrawled on loose leaf and filed by inmates.”
The judge ordered the sanctions under Rule 11.
The judge begins with a statement of regret:
This has to be stated from the outset: I take no pleasure in issuing this ruling. These cases and the behavior of Loring Spolter, Esq. have been a great drain on my time and attention. Meritorious cases and motions have had to sit while I address the matters surrounding Mr. Spolter and his accusations. Nonetheless, his actions demand redressing.
He then gets to business and describes the long fight with Spolter:
Mr. Spolter has been persistent in seeking my recusal from his cases. Two years ago, in 110-pages of court filings, he raised my Catholic faith and political affiliations as supposed evidence of bias against him and his clients. Contemporaneous with filing a recusal Motion, he gave an interview to a local tabloid about my alleged bias and called into question the credentials of some of my former law clerks. See Julie Kay, Federal Judge Accused of Religious Bias, Daily Business Review, Aug. 13, 2007. I ignored the article as scurrilous nonsense and denied his Motion as meritless. On appeal, he again sought my recusal from his cases; that relief was denied twice by two separate panels of the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals.
Undeterred, Mr. Spolter recently conjured up a new reason for me to recuse: he alleged a complex web of prejudice and abuse-of-power that came together in a grand conspiracy against him and his clients. In this scheme, I am to have manipulated the case assignment system of the entire Southern District of Florida, for the sole purpose of ensuring that I receive a disproportionate number of Mr. Spolter’s cases. The sinister purpose of this plot is plain: I did it so I would have the opportunity to rule against Mr. Spolter’s clients more frequently than the normal case assignment system would otherwise allow. He claimed that he had proof of this beyond his intuition——he had an expert’s Report that established I received more of Mr. Spolter’s cases than a pure blind, random case assignment system would provide. Like a good pulp novel, the tentacles of this conspiracy went far beyond Fort Lauderdale, stretching across the nation’s judiciary. He bolstered his statistical proof with allegations that as Chief Judge and while serving on the Financial Disclosure Committee of the Judicial Conference of the United States, I wielded my power to protect a Federal Circuit Court Judge who is also Catholic.
The court describes the religious attacks: “Two years ago, in Sabatier and Bettis, Mr. Spolter claimed that I was a Catholic zealot bent on ruling against women who returned to work after giving birth. He extrapolated as much from the facts that I am Catholic, some of the law clerks I have hired attended Catholic law schools, and I have affiliations with the Federalist Society.”
The Court is clearly mindful that the sanctions raise free speech issues:
However, the Court wishes to make absolutely clear that Mr. Spolter is not being punished for his criticism of the undersigned. Despite Magistrate Judge Rosenbaum’s thorough and articulate 92-page Report and Recommendation confirming the same, this Court will state the basis for sanctions once more——for those who continue to mislead the public by characterizing Mr. Spolter as some sort of First Amendment martyr. Mr. Spolter has the absolute right to criticize a judge, but what he does not have the right to do is to file pleadings in Federal court for an improper purpose and in bad faith.
For a copy of the order, click here.
The lawyer was also suspended him from practice in the Southern District of Florida for 42 months and referred to the bar.
“Obsessed” with his desire to win the recusal of U.S. District Judge William Zloch from his clients’ cases despite having no factual or legal basis for doing so, plaintiff’s attorney Loring Spolter made “bad-faith filings laced with baseless accusations of criminal conduct,” says the judge in a Dec. 30 order (PDF) provided by the Daily Pulp blog of the Broward-Palm Beach New Times.
After detailing Spolter’s “bad-faith filings and unreasonable behavior,” the 68-page document concludes with the judge’s decision to fine Spolter $10,000 and require him and his law firm to pay nearly $100,000 in opponents’ legal fees. It also notes that Zloch is referring the matter to Florida Bar authorities.
The sanctions were imposed under Rule 11 and / or Rule 28 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and United States Code, Section 1927.
In a written statement (PDF) also provided by the Daily Pulp blog, Spolter describes the three cases and states or implies, among other criticisms of the judge, that Zloch’s oversight of the litigation may have been adversely affected by the claimed conservative religious beliefs of his clerks.
The ABA Journal post a link to what is purported to be a letter from Spolter giving his side in this dispute, here. The material details “unusual rulings” by the judge and notes that he has hired virtually all of his clerks from Ave Maria law school, a conservative religious law school. The material goes into great detail into controversies surrounding Ave Maria law school.
This is a very heavy sanction with fees going to the opposing lawyers in the case. One would expect an appeal to follow . . .