Philadelphia Common Pleas Court Judge Paul Panepinto appears immovable on a controversial roughly $1 million sanction imposed on insurance defense lawyer Nancy Raynor after a witness discussed a bar subject in his testimony. Raynor insists that she told the witness not to discuss that a woman in the case was a smoker. Various witnesses have come forward to say that they heard Raynor give such instructions, but Panepinto has dismissed the new evidence and refused to budge on the sanction. Many lawyers are worried about the standard being set by the case since witnesses will sometimes stray in their testimony without any direction or knowledge of counsel.
The case involved a medical malpractice trial in 2012 in which the estate of Rosalind Wilson, who died of lung cancer, sued Roxborough Memorial Hospital and doctors, for malpractice.
Raynor appealed the $946,147 sanctions order and, in February, the appellate panel ordered Panepinto to reconsider the penalty after trial technician Joseph Chapman came forward with a sworn statement.
Panepinto rejected the new evidence of Chapman who testified in March that he overheard Raynor advise emergency room physician John Kelly that there could be no mention of the woman’s smoking. While other witnesses have supported Raynor, Panepinto dismissed the testimony as an attempted “alibi” and even added that “This court has a number of serious concerns about Chapman’s memory, and overall capacity for telling the truth.”
Panepinto’s refusal to rescind or remove the fine has left many lawyers worried about what the standard is for such sanctions — and what they need to show to rebut the allegations. Panepinto remains convinced that “Raynor’s conduct was orchestrated to improperly influence the outcome of the trial.”
I am not familiar with the record and Panepinto clearly believes that there was intent here. However, that would mean that these witnesses are lying. That is usually not something that a court finds without a very strong basis on the record.
Judge Paul P. Panepinto attended Villanova University and graduation in 1971. He received his Juris Doctorate from the Widener University School of Law in 1976. He was appointed as a Judge of the Court of Common Pleas in 1990. He was subsequently elected in 1991 and retained in 2001. Notably, Judge Panepinto was appointed to the Committee of Judicial Discipline from 2003 to 2007.
32 thoughts on “Philadelphia Judge Refuses To Reverse $1 Million Fine Against Lawyer Despite Supporting Testimony From Multiple Witnesses”
$1million fine based on pure supposition upheld despite direct evidence to the contrary. Spiteful.
Yeah, one more thing for the lawyer to do during trial; getting all the witnesses to acknowledge the in limine rulings. In writing. Perfect.
Excluding evidence that the decedent was a smoker in a case where the decedent died of lung cancer?
AMartel – I saw that lung cancer thing and then thought maybe their was a defendant they had previously settled with.
As Don stated, “There is a simple solution for all attorneys in this situation, however. When a judge issues an order in advance precluding witnesses from mentioning a certain fact, the attorney prepares a written acknowledgment of the judge’s order for the witness to sign. That is good CYA practice for attorneys.”
If she has previously done this, then the failure to do so here would certainly buttress the judge’s decision. If she has not, well, live and learn.
On the other hand, shouldn’t courts simply require such signed orders from each witness, then collect them as the witness comes forward?
Could such orders be nullified by the witness’ subsequent oath to “…tell the WHOLE truth…”?
Nick Spinelli said “I’m guessing the judge was a plaintiff’s attorney prior to becoming a judge.”
Jeez, what gave it away?
Thanks Richard. I think a fine to cover plaintiff’s costs is appropriate.
Justice Holmes – if the fine is appropriate shouldn’t a fine against judges who are overturned be appropriate?
When I worked for the prosecutor’s office, I would often prep witnesses. I have a bunch of instances where a witness said something out of the blue on the stand. Good attorneys understand that and can adjust. They can think on their feet. Good judges understand this very basic concept. This guy is a bad judge. There are plenty of them.
I think this judge is out of line, but I am not sure what can be done except appeal the award amount.
hskiprob, an attorney is not responsible for what a witness says on the stand but is responsible for ensuring that the witnesses he calls are aware of the court’s orders and their legal obligation to follow it. The question is whether or not the attorney provided that guidance to the witness, and apparently the judge believes she did not in spite of testimony to the contrary.
What remedy can one have under this situation, if one believes themselves and has the evidence that they are innocent. If one is innocent and has no remedy, is this now the American system of Justice? It appears so from the many cases I’ve heard and read about over the years.
Prosecutors lie to the court all the time but seldom are they treated like this and if they are, they are usually guilty.
How would the Judge know if the guy just made a mistake or even more important said it intentionally despite what his attorney has said.
Making such an assumption by especially a Judge is ludicrous. “To much power in the hands of to few.”
An tax attorney and attorney of the years in 2013, from Jacksonville while going up against the IRS was slapped with a $5,000 fine for “alleged” Frivolous Claims, may I add by the Judge. We of course are well aware of the various published frivolous claims and did not use them. How does one fight this level of blatant tyranny?
I don’t get it. Since when can one person be responsible for the speech of another. What about the legal doctrine of “Not being your brothers keeper.” What’s the Latin phrase for that?
It’s like the income tax issue. Employers are responsible for collecting and paying the tax liability of their employees?
I disagree with what someone said in the thread, about our judicial system being run by weak mined, silly individuals; daffier, was the word.
Our system is being run by a very intelligent bunch of scumbag SOBs who will screw over anyone or any group that gets in their way. To me, crap like this should be considered one of the primary causes and a part of the definition of tyranny. The Judiciary has almost always had a contributory factor in the usurpation of individual rights and constitutional abrogations.
I keep saying and showing over and over again how government is foremost a confiscatory cartel. To the extent that about 1/3 of our society can now be considered financially insolvent.
We’ve got to stop this, as much of the middle class is really feeling the affects. How do you curtain government expansion and keep it limited as most of our founding fathers believed? The problem is, I don’t think there is a way.
Justice Holmes, there was a mistrial due to the reference to smoking. The case alleged that doctors failed to advise a woman that she had a nodule on her lung, resulting in a delay in diagnosing lung cancer. At the subsequent trial, the jury found for the plaintiff in the amount of 2 million dollars.
I found this, that the award was based on the Plaintiff’s costs. Since this is a medmal case, this amount is not that unreasonable:
Panepinto later declared a mistrial and ordered that Raynor pay $946,197 to the plaintiffs’ lawyers and their client to compensate them for the cost of the mistrial.
Thanks for this link. By the appellate court’s unfreezing of her accounts based on the new evidenced to be heard in the trial court, it appears that the trial judge is not-so-tacitly being instructed he’s gone too far.
That is an astounding dollar amount, whether the sanction was appropriate or not. Regardless whether justice was served, I’d guess his will be a lonely courtroom in the future but for the sound of dings from the forthcoming challenges from defense counsel.
I’m wondering why the fine was so high. I’m also wondering if the judge had previous experience with the sanctioned attorney.
There is a simple solution for all attorneys in this situation, however. When a judge issues an order in advance precluding witnesses from mentioning a certain fact, the attorney prepares a written acknowledgment of the judge’s order for the witness to sign. That is good CYA practice for attorneys.
Justice is not only blind, but stupid, vindictive, and capricious.
Speaking as an outside observer, our nation’s convoluted legal system appears to be growing daffier with each passing day.
In April of 2011, the presidents of the top trial lawyers’ associations in Texas testified before the Texas Sunset Commission in its review of Texas’ Judicial Review process. In their testimony concerning a near complete lack of accountability for judges, these leaders, representing upwards of 10,000 trial attorneys called the judges ‘Black Robed Tyrants’. After 20 years of courtroom experience, the statement could be considered mild.
Did I miss it? What was the outcome of the case? Did the plaintiff lose because of this “mistake”?
I am sure the witnesses are telling the truth but they have no way of knowing what the witness was instructed at the preparation sessions.
I am curious as to what the basis for the dollar amount of the sanction is.
I’m guessing the judge was a plaintiff’s attorney prior to becoming a judge.
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