Court to Lawyer: Church Duties Are Not Excusable Neglect

By George Khoury, Esq. on November 20, 2017 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

A recent case out of the First Circuit Court of Appeals may inspire a new rule of thumb: Attorneys that blame voluntary commitments to their church as a reason for missing a deadline are, per se, acting in bad faith.

All kidding aside, an experienced bankruptcy practitioner actually tried to claim that their duties with the church as a music director during the week of Easter were so onerous that they blew a deadline for filing an appeal. Unfortunately for the pious-to-a-fault lawyer, the bankruptcy court, the district court, and the circuit court all agreed: Having a commitment to your church will not support a finding of excusable neglect.

Emphasis on Excusable

As the circuit court explained to the religiously devoted lawyer / music director, there's a difference between excusable neglect and just plain old fashioned neglect, also known as mere inadvertence. Generally, if you want the court to believe they should excuse neglect, it has to be the result of the unexpected or unanticipated, and not a holiday that has been scheduled since the great schism and one that you are scheduled or expected to work at during your second non-lawyer job.

Each court asked to hear this matter has essentially opined that the attorney mishandled his duties, and had plenty of time to file the appeal the week preceding the Easter holiday, but he simply failed to do so. Even without any prejudice to other parties, this sort of failure to meet a deadline is inexcusable and terminal. The First Circuit, while it did go into detail about counsel's failure, it explained that it only really reviewed the decision of the district court for an abuse of discretion, which it did not find. Further, it nearly chastised the counsel for comparing his scheduled holiday to that of a father who missed a deadline due to caring for his sick infant.

Unfortunately for the client, this all means that her appeal will not be heard, and she'll have to start her bankruptcy all over again.

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