“A paradigm for ‘frivolous'”

This week, Roy Pearson, the Judge With the Missing Pants, has replaced Duke Lacrosse prosecutor Mike Nifong as the symbol of lawyers run amok in the United States. And after hearing the story of Pearson’s lawsuit, approximately 65 million people — one for every dollar Pearson is demanding — have asked me in exasperation what it takes for a lawyer to get disciplined in this country. Well, perhaps one reason it’s so difficult to discipline an attorney can be illustrated by a case handed down on Thursday in the Ninth Circuit, involving an attorney named Richard Canatella. Mr. Canatella has a rather… spotty disciplinary history. As described by the California State Bar:

Canatella stipulated to filing numerous frivolous actions in courts in San Mateo, San Francisco, and Santa Clara county courts, as well as in the California Court of Appeal and federal district and appeals courts.


Canatella’s involvement in nine other matters also was the subject of discipline.

Sanctions were ordered against him or his clients 37 times. Courts repeatedly found him responsible for frivolous, meritless and vexatious actions. Sanctions totalled more than $18,000 in one matter, and the opposing parties were granted all fees and costs in another.

In one case, a federal judge said, “This complaint is a paradigm for ‘frivolous.’” Wrote another federal jurist: “Plaintiff’s repeated attempt to challenge the sanctions and judgments . . . in the face of clear authority that his claim is frivolous evidences his bad faith and wrongful purpose.”

So what did Canatella do? You guessed it: he sued the California Bar and various Bar officials for publishing this disciplinary record online, claiming that it violated his civil rights. The California Appellate Report elaborates:

You’d probably freak out too if that’s what they said about you. Mind you, Cantanella offers the following defense (?) of his conduct in his second amended complaint, and alleges that he was not actually sanctioned 37 times, but was instead “investigated” for 47 “purported sanction orders” over a nine year period and was sanctioned on at least 26 “separate” occasions by federal and state courts between 1989 and 1998. Once you hear that, by the way, do you think the judges have a pretty good sense regarding whether Cantanella’s a particularly sympathetic figure? Or, perhaps, think — shockingly — that a person sanctioned this pervasively is precisely the type of person who would file the present action?

Not surprisingly, Canatella lost his suit. So, showing the same level of sense that got him sanctioned all those times, he appealed. He lost again, in the decision handed down yesterday.

This wasn’t the first suit he filed against the Bar, by the way.

So, it’s not hard to see why state bar officials may be a little cautious in disciplining attorneys.


  • Another illustration of the need for loser-pays.

  • Your commentary is slanted, and tends to emphasize problems with plaintiffs. What of the billers? http://www.philalawyer.net/archives/the_grifters_gu.phtml Consistency isn’t just a virtue.

  • Fair and balanced: we are not required to be fair and balanced. This is a blog, not a scholarly journal. That having been said, we discuss defense attorneys when appropriate, but

    1) Defense attorneys by definition don’t initiate meritless lawsuits, and
    2) Defense attorneys who engage in sleazy billing practices primarily affect their own client, not an innocent bystander. And the client has every incentive to police his attorney — unlike the contingency fee plaintiff. (Of course, a defense attorney’s dilatory tactics can increase costs to the plaintiff, but his incentive to do so is limited by the fact that he’s also running up his own client’s costs at the same time.)