The Hanna Hammer
News Service Jan. 26, 2007, 4:48am
State Judge Harry Hanna of our neighbor the Buckeye State made national headlines last week for taking a novel, if overdue, stance: Lawyers who lie and scheme in his court will lose the privilege of practicing before it.
Here's hoping the trend spreads across the Ohio River.
Hanna banished the Brayton Purcell law firm, from tony Marin County in Northern California, after "junior partner" Chris Andreas made statements that "were patently false and could only have been designed to deceive this court."
Andreas also wore a t-shirt to a deposition that read "Killer Smokes -- Kent Cigarettes -- 1952-1956 -- Made by Lorillard Tobacco." Nice touch, as Lorillard is the defendant in this case, one of several Brayton Purcell has been trying to finger as it "double-dipped" the asbestos cancer death of client Harry Kananian.
A one-time Kent smoker, Harry was also a one-time laborer, one-time welder and one-time longshoreman. Andreas & Co. tried to pin full blame on all of them, collecting full cash settlements multiple times and puffing up their contingency fees.
Hanna sniffed out what they were up to. He wasn't impressed.
"For an officer of the court to show such lack of respect is shocking," Hanna said.
We wonder how Hanna would digest the antics of Pittsburgh plaintiff's firm Peirce, Raimond & Coulter. Last summer, it showed its respect for Judge Arthur Recht's Ohio County court by allowing -- some think enabling -- three plaintiffs to file fraudulent asbestos claims against their employer, CSX Transportation.
Rodney Chambers, Ricky May and Danny Jayne each schemed to leverage quick cash settlements from the rail giant.
Chambers used a "diagnosis" from a made-up physician -- "Dr. Oscar Frye" -- as evidence he got sick inhaling asbestos fibers on the job and deserved a cash settlement. May had an actually sick co-worker -- Mr. Jayne -- impersonate him for the medical examination. Infamous Bridgeport "radiologist" Ray Harron (who else?) reviewed their identical lung images and deemed them separately worthy. Both got paid -- May $8,000 and Jayne $7,000 before the scam unraveled.
Most judges simply would have dismissed this case, allowing the deceit to scurry into the Wheeling ether. Judge Recht didn't, and he deserves credit for the fact that we can even recount these regrettable details.
Still, for those without shame, mere public and professional embarrassment is no deterrent. It's time for real punishments -- with real teeth -- when lawyers misbehave in the courtroom. Judges need to hit 'em like Hanna -- or it's never, ever going to stop.