“The practice of law is not easy; it demands thorough research and writing, nearly always on a deadline. A quick turnaround does not excuse a lawyer’s ethical duties to the Court, and there is never an excuse for appropriating the work of another lawyer – let alone opposing counsel – and presenting it as one’s own.”
In this case, Mr. Stilp and Mr. Connolley brought an action challenging the Borough’s Burn Ordinance under the First Amendment following the suppression of their flag-burning protest. After discovery, Mr. Stilp and Mr. Connolley filed a number of motions in limine. One of these motions sought to preclude the Borough from offering lay opinion testimony by Officer Kevin Gore on the grounds that Officer Gore had not been previously disclosed as a witness and that any testimony he might provide as to the safety of the flag burning demonstration would require specialized knowledge. Prior to filing this motion, counsel for Mr. Stilp and Mr. Connolley transmitted a copy to the Borough’s counsel, on the evening before the deadline imposed by the Court to file motions in limine. The next day, the defendant’s attorney, Ms. Munion, filed a motion in limine on behalf of the Borough seeking to preclude lay opinion testimony by Mr. Stilp and Mr. Connolley for essentially the same reasons. “The blatant similarities between these two motions and the accompanying briefs are inescapable. Nearly every paragraph of Ms. Munion’s motion and brief contain language lifted word-for-word from Mr. Stilp and Mr. Connolley’s motion. That this was the product of plagiarism is apparent from the fact that Ms. Munion’s motion and brief even reproduce three editing errors – two missing closed quotation marks and a missing space – from Mr. Stilp and Mr. Connolley’s filings. It also appears that, in her rush to submit her brief by the Court’s deadline, Ms. Munion failed to change the names of the parties in several places, such that the brief as filed decries the failure of the Borough (her client) to produce and serve documents on the Plaintiffs.”
The Court found that this conduct violated Rule 3.3 (Candor to the Tribunal) and 8.4(c) (Misrepresentation).
The Court further found that the conduct violated Rule 1.1, which requires competent representation on behalf of her own client.
Notably, the Court explains in a footnote that where the attorney, rather than a client, is at fault, the sanction should ordinarily target the culpable attorney, not the innocent client. Hence, “while a copied filing will almost certainly be of lower quality than one carefully prepared by an attorney, a Court must still resolve a plagiarized motion on the merits.”
The Court found that the request for attorneys’ fees in the amount of $10,739.55 was slightly excessive based on the time that was reasonably necessary to prepare the motions to strike and for sanctions, and ended up sanctioning the offending lawyer a total of $8,483.55 in costs and fees.
Stilp v. Borough of West Chester, No.21-3989, 2022 U.S.Dist.LEXIS 189080, 2022 WL 10208256 (E.D.Pa. Oct. 17, 2022).