Seventh Circuit Slams Attorney For 345-Word Sentence and “Gibberish” — Demands Show Cause On Possible Disbarment

If brevity is the soul of wit, Walter Maksym may be the most witless lawyer in practice. That may soon change if the Seventh Circuit has its way. The court slammed Maksym recently for writing a brief full of gibberish, including a 345-word sentence. The court has ordered Maksym to show cause why he should not be disbarred.

Maksym represented an outdoor concert promoter charged the county sheriff with coercing him into hiring his deputies for security. Poor brief writing is not a basis normally for disbarment but the court found that Maksym was “unable to file an intelligible complaint.” Maksym was given three opportunities to correct the brief but “[e]ach iteration of the complaint was generally incomprehensible and riddled with errors, making it impossible for the defendants to know what wrongs they were accused of committing.”

Maksym was counsel in the high-profile case of Drew Peterson, a former police officer accused of murdering his third wife. Maksym insists that the briefs were written while he was struggling with treatment for cancer.

In the opinion below, there is no question the Maksym acted unprofessionally, including claiming in September that he could not file on a deadline because his computer was damaged in an earthquake in California in July. The court quotes such lines as:

Stanard and attendees, were stunned on the day of the family-oriented event, when an even more menacing law enforcement presence was created when Nygren’s armed deputies, without prior consent or permission, warrant or probable cause, arrived, not a part of any agreement and a surprise and upset when it arrive, uninvited, on and entered and trespassed on Plaintiff property with drug-sniffing ‘K-9’dogs, obviously and unfortunate that Defendants were ‘looking for trouble’ where there was none as distinct from “looking to serve”.

The court concludes with a bomb:

In short, Maksym’s entire approach to this case was alarmingly deficient. For all the foregoing reasons, we hold that the district court was well within its discretion to deny leave to file the second amended complaint and to dismiss the case with prejudice. We also order Maksym to show cause within 21 days why he should not be removed or suspended from the bar of this court or otherwise disciplined under Rule 46(b) or (c) of the Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure. We also direct the clerk of this court to send a copy of this opinion to the Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission of Illinois for any action it deems appropriate.

The decision of the trial court not to allow an amended complaint is a severe sanction. A court can also assign costs. I have concerns over raising this as a disbarment offense, however. There are an array of responses to combat this type of practice. The underlying case itself presented disturbing allegations of police misconduct. To be sure, those allegations were not presented in a professional way. However, the panel’s affirming of the dismissal was a harsh penalty and could subject Maksym to a malpractice claim. My concern is one of consistency and, frankly, fairness. Some public interest lawyers receive hostile reactions for judges, even respected judges like the recent controversy involving Richard Posner on the Seventh Circuit. I have seen government lawyers and prosecutors who have violated the same types of orders, filed false statements, and even put on perjurious testimony with no response from courts — despite motions filed to some action.

If courts are going to start referring poor brief writing to the bar, we will need to expand bar committees ten-fold. Courts have ample power to deal with such problems. The real problem is that such authority is not applied evenly among lawyers.

Source: Chicago Tribune as first seen on ABA Journal.

24 thoughts on “Seventh Circuit Slams Attorney For 345-Word Sentence and “Gibberish” — Demands Show Cause On Possible Disbarment

  1. raff, eniobob,

    I am with you on this one…Just because someone is a poor writer does not mean that they should be disbarred….My question presently is how did he get through law school or pass the bar exam if this is exemplary of his writing style…

  2. I posted this to JT on the corrections page but just realized it fits quite well here.

    Has anyone here ever read BRADSHAW v. UNITY MARINE CORPORATION, INC.? A district court case out of Texas circa 2001.

    The judge is ruthlessly sarcastic;

    for example:

    “Before proceeding further, the Court notes that this case involves two extremely likable lawyers, who have together delivered some of the most amateurish pleadings ever to cross the hallowed causeway into Galveston, an effort which leads the Court to surmise but one plausible explanation. Both attorneys have obviously entered into a secret pact–complete with hats, handshakes and cryptic words–to draft their pleadings entirely in crayon on the back sides of gravy-stained paper place mats ….”

    Full opinion available here:

  3. “The underlying case itself presented disturbing allegations of police misconduct.”
    perhaps it’s easier to disbarr an Attorney than to head on a pack of dog wielding law enforcement officers?

    and that Attorney should sue the law school that took his money and told him he was of a par to practice….

  4. If, as he claims, he was under treatment for cancer at the time he wrote this brief, it’s clear that the drugs were talking. Morphine is commonly used for the relief of cancer pain. It’s a very good drug for that purpose, but is clearly incompatible with writing legal briefs. This lawyer needs to take a leave of absence until the drugs are out of his system.

  5. Disbarment? Who has this guy pissed off beyond this case? However,
    the writing seems to come right out of the Orly Taitz school of lawyering.

  6. Yikes. That really reads like something that was written at 3 a.m. with no proof reading. The suggested penalty does seem harsh.

  7. Amen, JT. Swat the fly and allow the real threat to the integrity of the process to go free. There is a pecking order to discipline with some judges. The Courts are there for the citizens, not the reverse. If the claim was facially valid the Court could have disqualifed the claimant’s attorney and allowed the case to proceed with new counsel or pro se.

    As to the length of the sentence, the Court should read Hugo. He has a sentence in Les Miserables that spans 823 words; Joyce is said to have penned one in Ullyses a staggering 4391 words; and most appellate judges I read can easily top a 100 with their own vernacular. Spare me the black robed outrage. The point isn’t grammar; it’s justice.

    This was about as harsh as it gets and should be appealed.

  8. rafflaw,

    Read the link to what I posted earlier….this is out of it….

    Last month, Judge Sparks issued a sharply worded order in which he compared the counsel appearing before him to squabbling schoolchildren — and invited them to a “kindergarten party,” where they would learn such lessons as “how to telephone and communicate with a lawyer” and “how to enter into reasonable agreements about deposition dates.” In the end, Judge Sparks ended up canceling the party, after the publicly shamed lawyers worked out their issues — but not before his infamous order received national attention within the legal community.

  9. If this was Maksym’s first or only try, then questioning is ability to practice would be too harsh – but if this was his “do over” then he’s creating problems for himself, his client and the court.

    I wonder if the “show cause why you shouldn’t be disbarred” is basically, “Write a basic legal argument in coherent sentences and we’ll let you off.”?

    Like the discussion about elderly drivers not knowing when to stop driving, I suspect that this isn’t the only case of lawyers not knowing when to give up, um, lawyer-ing.

    That said, he’s exactly the lawyer that Drew Petersen deserves…

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