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United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

November 16, 2004.

IN RE ERIC D. TROUTT, Attorney Disciplinary Matter.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: MICHAEL J. REAGAN, District Judge


A. Introduction and Procedural Background

On June 25, 2004, attorney Eric Troutt was suspended from the practice of law in this District under Rule 83.4 of the LOCAL RULES OF THE SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF ILLINOIS. The suspension was based on a September 2002 Order of the Supreme Court of Oklahoma approving Troutt's resignation pending disciplinary proceedings.

  Troutt sought review of his suspension by motion filed July 6, 2004. Randomly assigned to this case, the undersigned District Judge convened a status conference/hearing on July 30, 2004, heard argument from Troutt, and accepted supplemental material in support of Troutt's motion.

  On August 6, 2004, the undersigned District Judge granted the relief sought by Troutt and reinstated Troutt to the roll of attorneys admitted to practice in this Court. Later that day, Troutt filed two pleadings. One (Doc. 12) was a motion to alter or amend the Court's reinstatement Order. The other was a document captioned "Response to Court Order" (Doc. 11). In that pleading, Troutt harshly criticized the undersigned District Judge for three sentences in the reinstatement Order. Based on the filing of that "Response," this Court ordered Troutt to appear at a hearing (set in October 2004) to show cause why he should not be held in criminal contempt. See Doc. 17. In mid-August 2004, a party not involved in the disciplinary matter before this Court filed a motion seeking a temporary restraining order ("TRO") or injunctive relief against Troutt. This Court conducted a hearing on the motion and denied the request for a TRO or injunction. During the hearing on that motion, however, certain other facts came to light which resulted in the Court entering a Supplemental Show Cause Order on September 3, 2004.

  That Order reminded Troutt that he must appear for a show cause/contempt hearing on October 29, 2004 before the undersigned Judge. The September 3rd Order also directed Troutt to respond in writing by September 24, 2004 to both the original Show Cause Order and the Supplemental Show Cause Order. Troutt filed a written response on September 25, 2004 (Doc. 27). Although, technically, the response was filed belatedly, the Court accepted and considered it.

  Two days before the October 29, 2004 show cause/contempt hearing, Troutt moved to continue the hearing due to personal, confidential reasons. The Court (without requiring Troutt to delineate the personal, confidential reasons) immediately issued an Order continuing the hearing for two weeks, "so that he (Troutt) may rest and get well" (Doc. 31). The hearing was rescheduled for November 12, 2004, one of very few open slots on the Court's docket/calendar for the month of November. The Court also reiterated that, at the show cause/contempt hearing, Troutt would be permitted not only to orally argue the points advanced in his September 25th response to the Show Cause Orders but also to call witnesses and present evidence relevant to the contempt issues. On November 10, 2004 (again, two days before the scheduled hearing), Troutt moved the Court to cancel the hearing and instead schedule a status conference in this matter (Doc. 32). The Court denied the motion immediately (Doc. 33).

  The following day, November 11, 2004 (a day on which the Courthouse was closed for the observance of Veteran's Day), Troutt filed a motion again asking the Court to delay the show cause/contempt hearing (Doc. 34). That motion hinted that Troutt would not appear at the hearing the following day, due to commitments in other Courts, before other Judges.

  Because the undersigned Judge and one of his law clerks both were working from their respective homes on the Court holiday, they were electronically alerted to Troutt's Veteran's Day filing and were able to draft and e-file an Order that same day denying Troutt's motion and emphasizing that he must appear at the November 12th hearing, that the Court would render a decision with or without Troutt present, and that Troutt's failure to appear November 12th would be construed as contumacious behavior (Doc. 35).

  Despite having been given multiple notices of the hearing (Docs. 17, 23, 31, 33, 35), Attorney Troutt failed to appear at the show cause/contempt hearing.

  B. Jurisdiction and Venue

  Eric Troutt has been a lawyer practicing in this District since February 14, 2003. Local Rule 83.4 of this District provides that the Judges of this Court, in furtherance of their inherent power and responsibility to supervise the conduct of attorneys admitted to practice before them, may conduct disciplinary proceedings. Additionally, 18 U.S.C. § 401 provides the federal district courts with general contempt authority. Section 401 provides:

A court of the United States shall have power to punish by fine or imprisonment, or both, at its discretion, such contempt of its authority, and none other, as —
(1) Misbehavior of any person in its presence or so near thereto as to obstruct the administration of justice; . . . [and]
(3) Disobedience or resistance to its lawful writ, process, order, rule, decree, or command.
  Furthermore, FEDERAL RULE OF CRIMINAL PROCEDURE 42(b) empowers a United States District Court to "summarily punish a person who commits criminal contempt in its presence if the judge saw or heard the contemptuous conduct and so certifies." The undersigned District Judge now certifies that he did witness, first-hand, contemptuous conduct by attorney Eric Troutt.

  C. Analysis

  In the original Show Cause Order (Doc. 17), the Court outlined three reasons Troutt should show cause why he ought not be held in criminal contempt.


First, the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provide no procedural vehicle for an attorney who is dissatisfied with a Court Order to excoriate the Judge issuing that Order. In appropriate circumstances, motions may be filed. But lawyers may not engage in mordacious attacks on the Court via diatribes labeled as a "Responses" to Orders.
Second, the substantive contents of the Response warrant issuance of a Show Cause Order. Troutt pointedly accuses the undersigned Judge of disparaging his character and maligning his performance. . . .
Third, Troutt's Response not only constitutes an unbridled attack on the undersigned Judge's authority, Troutt also appears to be using this Court's electronic case filing system as a bully pulpit from which to belittle his former business partner, attorney Terry Sharp. The Response accuses Sharp of "fraudulently billing clients . . . for a long time" and snidely quips that Sharp "has had quite the RICO operation going." Doc. 11, p. 2. Troutt then challenges this Court to meet its obligation to discipline Sharp "for such gross violations." Id.
If Troutt truly believes that the undersigned Judge has shirked his judicial duties, he should file a complaint with the Clerk of the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, for transmission to Chief Judge Joel Flaum. If Troutt has evidence that his former law partner (Terry Sharp) fraudulently billed clients or masterminded a RICO operation, then Troutt likely has an obligation, under In re Himmel, 533 N.E.2d 790 (Ill. 1988), to report Sharp to the Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission. . . . Clearly, though, this closed miscellaneous case is not the venue in which Troutt should vent these accusations. At best, Troutt's jeremiad is inappropriate. At worst, it constitutes contempt of Court.
  The original Show Cause Order plainly stated that the Court was contemplating holding Troutt in criminal contempt and explained that, under the law of this Circuit, contempt orders are considered criminal if the purpose is "to punish the contemnor, vindicate the court's authority, or deter future misconduct." In re Grand Jury Proceedings, 280 F.3d 1103, 1107 (7th Cir.), cert. denied, 536 U.S. 925 (2002). The Order also acknowledged that criminal contempt requires proof beyond a reasonable doubt. See Doc. 17, p. 2, citing U.S. v. Dowell, 257 F.3d 694, 699 (7th Cir. 2001).

  In the Supplemental Show Cause Order (Doc. 23), the Court added three more potential grounds for holding Troutt in criminal contempt:

(1) Troutt's apparent filing of five pleadings in Case No. 04-cv-4100-JLF, after he was suspended and before he was reinstated to practice in this District (Docs. 18-22);
(2) a six-page ex parte communication faxed to the undersigned Judge on August 24, 2004 (now part of the record in Case No. 04-mc-0029-MJR at Doc. 19) which, inter alia, stated that the undersigned Judge is "doing the bidding" and "dirty work" of other District Judges in Benton, Illinois; and
(3) a flier entitled "Corruption Alert!" accusing Judge George Timberlake of the Second Judicial Circuit of Illinois of being "for sale," "bought and paid for," and disinterested in "upholding the law" (that flier was admitted into evidence at the August 26, 2004 hearing held before the undersigned Judge).
  For the purposes of this show cause/contempt proceeding, the Court dispenses with the final potential ground for a finding of contempt (listed third in the Supplemental Show Cause Order) and determines that Troutt's distribution of the "Corruption Alert!" flier is not cause to hold Troutt in contempt in this Court. While distribution of such a flier is inconsistent with the professional decorum expected of attorneys in the State of Illinois, Troutt's actions relating to the flier are best resolved in a state court forum. They are, however, indicative of his pattern of inappropriate behavior in judicial settings.

  The Court concludes that the other five grounds quoted above (which were outlined in full in the original Show Cause Order and Supplemental Show Cause Order), constitute a valid basis for holding Troutt in contempt. Specifically, the Court FINDS BEYOND A REASONABLE DOUBT that Troutt's conduct in this Court constitutes criminal contempt.

  Troutt filed five pleadings in this Court after he was suspended and before he was reinstated to practice here. That alone would warrant the imposition of further discipline. (The Court rejects Troutt's claim that he filed those pleadings in his capacity as a trustee, and thus the filings did not violate the terms of his suspension.) Moreover, Troutt's failure to appear in Court at the show cause/contempt hearing on November 12, 2004 — after this Court continued the hearing at his request and reminded him via five Orders that he must appear at the hearing (where he could present both evidence and argument) — bolsters the conclusion that Troutt's pattern of disregard for the authority and process of this Court justify finding him in contempt.

  In summary, Troutt's vitriolic attack on the Court (labeled as a "Response" to the Court's reinstatement Order), his use of this Court's electronic filing system to abuse his former business partner, his filing of five pleadings in Case No. 04cv-4100-JLF while he was suspended from practice in this District, his six-page ex parte communication faxed to the undersigned Judge, and his ultimate failure to appear at the show cause/contempt hearing warrant this Court finding attorney Eric Troutt in criminal contempt and suspending him from practice in this District, on the terms below described.

  Finally, the Court DENIES Troutt's motion to alter or amend the Court's reinstatement Order (Doc. 12).

  Troutt has demonstrated no basis for the Court to alter or amend its Order. FEDERAL RULE OF CIVIL PROCEDURE 59(e) permits a Court to alter, amend, or reconsider an Order based on an intervening change in the law, new evidence or a clear legal error. See Baicker-McKee, Janssen & Corr, FEDERAL CIVIL RULES HANDBOOK, p. 835 (2002). See also Publishers Resource, Inc. v. Walker-Davis Publications, Inc., 762 F.2d 557, 561 (7th Cir. 1985). In his challenge to the Court's reinstatement Order, Troutt identified no change in the law, newly discovered evidence, or clear legal error. D. Conclusion

  Having found, beyond a reasonable doubt, that Eric D. Troutt's conduct before this Court constitutes criminal contempt, the Court hereby SUSPENDS Troutt from the practice of law in this District Court for a period of five (5) years.

  Troutt is alerted that the Chief Judge of this District Court may require Troutt to complete continuing legal education ("CLE") that addresses legal ethics, as a condition to his reinstatement to practice in this District.*fn1

  Troutt SHALL ATTACH a copy of this Order to his application for admission (whether generally or on a pro hac vice basis) to practice before any United States District Court. If Troutt seeks readmission here, he must also show proof that he has made state courts where he has practiced law aware of this Order.

  The Clerk of this Court SHALL PROVIDE copies of this Order to the ethics authorities in the state and federal courts in which Troutt currently is licensed or authorized to practice law.


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