Between 1983 and 1993, federal courts maintained relatively strong rules authorizing the levying of sanctions against lawyers or clients who pursue ill-grounded lawsuits, pleadings, motions or defenses. In 1993, following a quiet but determined lobbying campaign by organized litigation interests, Congress more or less gutted those rules, making sanctions much harder to obtain. Reinvigorating Rule 11 has long been high on our list of reform priorities, so we’re glad to see that Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Tex.), who chairs the House Judiciary subcommittee on courts, last week announced that he was introducing a bill entitled the Lawsuit Abuse Reduction Act, restoring a strong Rule 11. According to the Congressman’s Jun. 15 press release, the bill (begin direct quote):
* Makes sanctions against attorneys or parties who file frivolous lawsuits mandatory rather than discretionary;
* Removes a “safe harbor” provision that allows plaintiffs and their attorneys to avoid sanctions for frivolous suits by withdrawing them within 21 days;
* Allows sanctions for frivolous or harassing conduct during discovery, which is the phase of litigation where parties disclose documents;
* Permits judges to order plaintiffs to reimburse reasonable litigation costs, including attorney?s fees.
(end direct quote). According to the release, the bill also contains a provision to curb forum-shopping, and “[e]xtends Rule 11 sanctions to state cases that affect interstate commerce”. The last-mentioned clause sounds more than problematic from a federalist point of view, but presumably can be left on the cutting room floor at some point so that the other provisions can be considered on their own merits. More: Point of Law, Aug. 17.