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CASTILLO v. ST. PAUL FIRE & MARINE INS.

November 2, 1992

GUILLERMO CASTILLO, PLAINTIFF,
v.
ST. PAUL FIRE & MARINE INSURANCE COMPANY, ET AL., DEFENDANTS. IN RE THE MATTER OF JAMES G. WALKER, ATTORNEY-RESPONDENT.



Before Mihm, Chief Judge, Mills and McDADE, District Judges.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Per Curiam.

OPINION AND ORDER

A hearing was held before a three-judge panel of this Court on June 26, 1992, for a Show Cause Hearing against Attorney James G. Walker pursuant to Rule 1.3(A) of the Local Rules of the United States District Court for the Central District of Illinois. CDIL-LR 1.3(A). For the reasons stated in this Order, Mr. Walker is hereby suspended from the practice of law as a member of the bar of this Court for a minimum of one year.

BACKGROUND

This disciplinary proceeding was initiated under Local Rule 1.3(A) by the Court in the person of then Chief Judge Harold Baker based on the conduct of Mr. Walker as counsel for the Plaintiff in Castillo v. St. Paul Fire & Marine Insurance Co., Case No. 86 cv 2326, which was before Judge Baker.*fn1 Local Rule 1.3(A)*fn2 subjects a member of the bar of this Court to possible "suspension, disbarment, or other appropriate disciplinary action" if found guilty of "conduct unbecoming" a member of this bar. CDIL-LR 1.3(A). Pursuant to Local Rule 1.3(B), Attorney Charles L. Palmer was appointed to prosecute the Court's interests in this proceeding.*fn3 On December 5, 1991, Attorney Palmer filed a Complaint alleging violations of the Illinois Code of Professional Responsibility and conduct unbecoming a member of the bar of the Central District of Illinois by Attorney Walker. On January 13, 1992, Attorney Walker filed with the Court a motion for a hearing and to strike or for a more definite statement of subparagraphs 4(b), 4(c), and 4(e) of the Complaint pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(e) and (f). Both motions were subsequently allowed. On February 6, 1992, an Amended Complaint was filed by Attorney Charles Palmer. Mr. Walker filed his response on June 26, 1992.

On June 26, 1992, a hearing was held before United States District Judges Michael M. Mihm, Richard Mills, and Joe Billy McDade. Appearing before the Court were Attorney Charles L. Palmer on behalf of the Court and Attorney James Wilder and Respondent James Walker on behalf of Mr. Walker. At the hearing, the parties mutually agreed that the proceedings would not be closed*fn4 and would be inclusive of evidence and argument regarding whether Respondent Walker had violated the local rules and the proper discipline to be imposed, if any.*fn5

MR. WALKER'S CONDUCT

This matter stems from an antitrust action between Plaintiff Dr. Guillermo Castillo and Defendants St. Paul Fire & Marine Insurance Company and Burnham City Hospital. In that action, Dr. Castillo refused to increase his medical malpractice coverage to the limits required by the hospital, and this failure to comply resulted in the suspension of his medical staff privileges at the hospital. Dr. Castillo, represented by Attorney Walker (and his associate, Dean Engelbrecht), responded by filing suit alleging violations of the Sherman and Clayton Acts, the Civil Rights Act of 1871, and the Illinois Antitrust Act.

Mr. Walker's conduct as attorney for Dr. Castillo is memorialized in the October 31, 1989, deposition of Dr. Castillo and is thoroughly described and discussed in the Opinion of the Court of Appeals in Castillo and James Walker and Dean Engelbrecht v. St. Paul Fire & Marine Insurance Company, 938 F.2d 776 (7th Cir. 1991). In Castillo, the Seventh Circuit reviewed and approved the civil contempt, discovery, and statutory sanctions imposed by Judge Baker upon Mr. Walker for the conduct that resulted in the initiation of these disciplinary proceedings. The essential facts as summarized in that Opinion are as follows:

    In June 1989 each of the defendants, after
  considerable scheduling difficulties, undertook
  to depose Dr. Castillo, but did not get very far
  with it even though it took all day and 281 pages
  of transcript. The doctor was at this session
  represented by attorney Dean Engelbrecht, an
  associate of Walker. The session began by counsel
  objecting, without prior notice to defendants, to
  producing certain documents previously requested
  on the basis that the documents were irrelevant,
  duplicative, or a violation of physician-patient
  privilege. The doctor's counsel also made it
  plain that the requested documents would not be
  provided because he argued the hospital had
  itself previously refused to provide the doctor
  with the same types of documents. Counsel also
  stated that this was the last and only time the
  doctor would be made available for a deposition.
  In spite of this rocky beginning and without the
  previously requested documents, defendants'
  counsel proceeded.
    After that, from time to time similar
  objections to questions followed. Sometimes there
  was a claim the question called for the doctor to
  speculate or give a legal opinion. If it was
  deemed irrelevant the doctor was also instructed
  not to answer in spite of Rule 30(c) requiring
  that evidence objected to shall be taken subject
  to objections. A number of questions for one
  reason or another did not get answered. When
  counsel for defendants tried to pursue a question
  which the doctor or his lawyer had tried to fence
  away the doctor's counsel charged harassment.
  Counsel, among other things, protected the doctor
  from answering questions about claimed damages,
  the meaning of letters the doctor had signed, and
  other questions related to the allegations of the
  complaint. The objections were on the basis that
  the doctor was not a lawyer and the letters and
  complaint, although signed by the doctor, had
  been composed by his present counsel. The
  questions called for legal conclusions or
  violated the privilege, it was claimed. Then
  followed some discussion about whether the
  deposition would have to be on the doctor's
  counsel. The doctor, however, needed little
  protection by his counsel as he was very adept at
  evading the questions, giving unresponsive
  answers and stonewalling.
    After reading the deposition, this court fully
  agrees with Judge Baker. It is plain, as Judge
  Baker said, that the doctor's counsel was engaged
  in a "deliberate frustration of defendants'
  discovery attempts." As a result of that conduct
  Judge Baker assessed fees and expenses of
  $6,317.66 divided equally between the doctor and
  his counsel. . . .
    As some of the deposition questions therefore
  had not been answered, Judge Baker directed that
  they forthwith be answered without interference
  from the doctor's counsel. A further effort was
  made to depose the doctor. This time it was
  attorney James Walker who appeared with the
  doctor, but this lawyer substitution did not
  improve the situation. Attorney Engelbrecht was
  also present. As Judge Baker later found and as
  is evident to us from the deposition, the
  doctor's counsel willfully and contumaciously
  disobeyed the court's order by interfering with
  the questions posed by defendants' counsel, and
  by directing the doctor not to respond to certain
  questions already approved by the court. The only
  issue of any possible consequence was the
  challenge in the questions allegedly on the basis
  of attorney-client privilege which, if answered,
  might waive the privilege. Judge Baker found,
  however, that few if any of the objections on the
  basis of privilege had any merit. We fully agree
  with that assessment. These repetitious
  obstructive tactics clearly deserved sanctions.
    One remarkable incident occurring at this
  second deposition deserves telling. The
  deposition this time was being taken in attorney
  Walker's offices in Bloomington, Illinois. At
  another impasse, counsel for the hospital
  suggested that the differences between counsel be
  resolved by an immediate telephone conference
  with Judge Baker, a procedure Judge Baker had
  recommended. Attorney Walker did not immediately
  respond to the suggestion and hospital counsel
  therefore indicated he would go ahead and place
  the call. Then attorney Walker did respond:
    MR. WALKER: I would caution you not to use any
    telephones in this office unless you are
    invited to do so, counsel.
    MR. STANKO: You're telling me I can't use your
    telephones?
    MR. WALKER: You can write your threatening
    letters to me. But, you step outside this room
    and touch the telephone, and I'll take care of
    that in the way one does who has possessory
    rights.
    When these deposition problems later came
  before Judge Baker he was not sure whether
  attorney Walker had actually threatened and
  intended physical violence or not. Attorney
  Stanko, the hospital counsel, advised the court
  that he had felt no fear of physical violence. Be
  that as it may, that exchange remains an example
  of professional incivility, a situation of
  general concern in this circuit and elsewhere.
  (Footnote omitted.)
    Judge Baker found that attorney Walker's
  arguments and statements were capricious and
  aimed at stymieing the defense efforts to find
  out through discovery what the doctor's case was
  about. The court's order which was intended to
  avoid a repeat of the prior deposition problem
  had been ignored. The proceedings had been
  unreasonably and vexatiously prolonged in
  violation of 28 U.S.C. § 1927. Attorney Walker was
  also subject to sanctions under Rule 16 and Rule
  37(b). The doctor's case was thereupon dismissed
  with prejudice and attorney Walker was found to be
  in civil contempt. Dismissal of a doctor's case for
  conduct similar to this is not unknown to us.
  Godlove v. Bamberger, 903 F.2d 1145 (7th Cir.
  1990), cert. denied, 499 U.S. 913, 111 S.Ct.
  1123, 113 L.Ed.2d 230 (1991). The contempt, it was
  provided, could be purged by paying the expenses
  and fees of the defense. In addition, Judge Baker,
  after a hearing on a rule to show cause,

  concluded that attorney Walker's conduct was so
  unprofessional that it required referral to the
  other two judges in the district to determine the
  appropriate discipline, if any, including
  reprimand, censure, suspension, disbarment, or
  whatever might be found to be just.
  Castillo, 938 F.2d at 778-80.

APPLICATION OF LAW

I.  The Court Has Authority To Censure, Suspend, Or Disbar An
    Attorney Whose Unprofessional Behavior Casts Doubt Upon
    His ...

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