Copying Boilerplate Language Leads to Attorney Sanctions

By Robyn Hagan Cain on December 02, 2011 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

California’s Fourth Appellate District Court said bah-humbug to a plaintiff’s motion for default judgment on Wednesday, finding that the plaintiff’s allegations had not sufficiently supported the judgment he sought.

The Fourth Appellate District overturned a trial court’s default judgment in favor of Plaintiff-Respondent Gil Kim, finding that - despite the defendants’ failure to respond - Kim had not sufficiently pleaded factual allegations to support judgment in his favor.

After disposing of its business with Kim, the court slapped his attorney, Timothy Donahue, with $10,000 in attorney sanctions.

So what did Donahue do to earn the judges' ire?

When the defendants, facing a default judgment, finally filed a brief to appeal the judgment, Donahue requested a filing extension for his own brief. In his request, Donahue explained - under penalty of perjury - that he needed the time to address the "complex issues" raised by the appellants and fulfill other commitments.

The judges were understandably peeved when Donahue simply copied - almost verbatim - another brief that he had previously filed with the same court.

The court noted that Donahue's brief included a boilerplate accusation of misconduct against appellants' counsel and a boilerplate request for sanctions based on a purportedly "frivolous appeal."

The judges seemed especially bothered by the "frivolous" assertion, since Donahue's extension request was based on complex issues

The jig was up when the court noted that Donahue's signature on the brief indicated that he was representing the Plaintiff/Respondent from the earlier case in which he had filed the same appeal.

While the court acknowledged that attorneys frequently take advantage of requests for filing extensions, the judges were irked that Donahue's brief "did not reflect any research of complex issues, and its preparation simply could not have claimed any significant amount of his time." They concluded that his claims supporting the extension request "were - not to put too fine a point on it - untrue."

Attorney sanctions are no laughing matter. If you choose to modify a document from one of your past cases for a current client, use the "Find" and "Replace All" functions in your word processor to substitute names as needed, and ask a second person to proofread the finished product before you file. Make sure that you change the facts and arguments from your old document to conform to the new case.

And most important, avoid angering the judges: don't apply for an extension unless you really need it.

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