May 8, 2021

Panel deplores Depo from Hell

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Gilbert_Arthur-Vert-201512111820By Marisa Kendall, from The Recorder

SAN FRANCISCO — Weighing in on an episode that could redefine “discovery fight,” a state appellate panel lambasted a San Diego solo this week for allegedly threatening to pepper-spray and Tase opposing counsel at a 2014 deposition.

In upholding termination sanctions in his pro per case, the justices chastised Douglas Crawford for making the practice of law dangerous and reminded lawyers of the need for civility. The state bar in July moved to disbar Crawford over the incident, and he’s currently ineligible to practice.

“Those attorneys who allow their personal animosity for an opposing counsel or an opposing party to infect a case damage their reputations and blemish the dignity of the profession they have taken an oath to uphold,” wrote Justice Arthur Gilbert of the Second District Court of Appeal, who was joined by Justice Kenneth Yegan and Justice Steven Perren.

Crawford, a lawyer who sued JPMorgan Chase Bank over the bank’s handling of his elderly mother’s finances, pointed a can of pepper spray at opposing counsel’s face during a deposition in April 2014, according to the panel’s opinion. Crawford told Chase’s lawyer, Musick, Peeler & Garrett partner Walter Traver, “I will pepper-spray you if you get out of hand.” The panel says Crawford then produced a stun gun and threatened: “If that doesn’t quell you, this is a flashlight that turns into a stun gun.” Crawford discharged the stun gun close to Traver’s face, according to the panel’s opinion. Traver ended the deposition.

Chase moved for terminating sanctions, and Crawford’s response was “openly contemptuous” of the trial court, according to the justices. In his written opposition, Crawford called Ventura County Superior Judge Vincent O’Neill Jr. “sick and demented,” referred to him as Traver’s pet dog and accused him of “masquerading” as a superior court judge. “If ever a case required terminating sanctions, this is it,” the justices wrote. “It would have been an abuse of discretion not to impose a terminating sanction.”

Reached for a comment Friday, Crawford said he would supply a written statement, but he had not done so by deadline. Traver declined to comment.

The Ventura court also sanctioned Crawford $4,850 for discovery abuses. The state bar recommended disbarment in July, finding that the threats constituted an act of moral turpitude, and also faulted Crawford for failing to self-report sanctions of $14,500 and failing to pay sanctions of $26,302.

The underlying case stems from Crawford’s 2008 instructions to Chase that the bank not withdraw or transfer more than $5,000 from his elderly mother’s account without first contacting Crawford. In 2011, a Chase adviser facilitated the withdrawal of $200,000 from the account to invest in a 29-year annuity. Chase rescinded the annuity, but Crawford claims that the bank failed to reimburse $2,000 in lost interest. Crawford’s mother has since died, and Crawford is litigating the matter on behalf of her estate.

The pepper-spray confrontation, which took place during the deposition of Crawford’s brother, Matthew Crawford, was the culmination of a long fight between both sides over where, how and when to conduct the deposition.

In his appeal, Crawford challenged the court’s monetary sanctions by claiming that Chase failed to file meet and confer declarations.

“Crawford threatened opposing counsel with physical harm,” the justices wrote. “Yet he complains about the lack of opposing counsel’s attempt to informal resolution. The irony is not lost on us.”

IMAGE: Presiding Justice Arthur Gilbert California Court of Appeals for the 2nd District

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