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.