Baker et al v. Ocwen Loan Servicing et al

Northern District of California, cand-4:2015-cv-02676


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1 2 3 4 UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT 5 NORTHERN DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA 6 7 JEFFREY BAKER, et al., Case No. 15-cv-02676-JSW Plaintiffs, 8 ORDER ADMONISHING COUNSEL v. AND DISCHARGING ORDER TO 9 SHOW CAUSE WITHOUT IMPOSING 10 OCWEN LOAN SERVICING, LLC, et al., MONETARY SANCTIONS Defendants. 11 12 Northern District of California United States District Court 13 This case came before the Court for a case management conference on December 11, 2015, 14 at 11:00 a.m. Lead counsel for Defendants in this matter failed to appear. Alternate counsel, who 15 had not filed a notice of appearance, appeared on behalf of Defendants. Counsel did not seek 16 leave from this Court for alternate counsel to appear in lead counsel's place. Alternate counsel 17 stated that he had been hired through a website called Alternate counsel was not 18 prepared with regard to either the case itself or lead counsel's schedule. Indeed, alternate counsel 19 had not spoken directly with counsel of record regarding this case and was not even aware of 20 which party he was to represent. 21 This Court's Civil Local Rules provide as follows: 22 Unless excused by the Judge, lead trial counsel for each party must attend the initial Case Management Conference. Requests to 23 participate in the conference by telephone must be filed and served at least 7 days before the conference or in accordance with the 24 Standing Orders of the assigned Judge. 25 N.D. Cal. Civil L.R. 16-10(a). 26 Additionally, this Court's Order Setting Case Management Conference in this case 27 provided: 28 The parties shall appear in person through lead counsel to discuss all items referred to in this Order and with authority to enter 1 stipulations, to make admissions and to agree to further scheduling dates. 2 (Dkt. No. 11.) 3 On December 10, 2015 at 10:33 a.m., Defendants filed a motion for leave for Defendants' 4 counsel Ryan K. Woodson, Esq., to appear telephonically at the case management conference the 5 following day. The motion was untimely filed and provided no showing of good cause, only a 6 boilerplate assertion that it would be unduly burdensome and costly for Defendants' counsel to 7 travel from Irvine, California to Oakland for the conference. The Court denied this motion by 8 order filed on December 10, 2015 at 11:46 a.m. The Order Denying Defendants' Motion to 9 Appear Telephonically at Case Management Conference reiterated: 10 As set forth in the order setting the case management conference, all 11 parties must appear in person through lead counsel with authority to enter into stipulations, to make admissions, and to agree to further 12 scheduling dates. Northern District of California United States District Court 13 (Dkt. No. 50 (emphasis in original).) 14 On December 14, 2015, the Court issued an order to show cause why Mr. Woodson should 15 not be sanctioned in the amount of $2,500.00 for violation of this Court's rules and orders. On 16 December 24, 2015, Defendants timely filed a response to the December 14, 2015 order to show 17 cause, signed and e-filed by Mr. Woodson. On January 7, 2016, Mr. Woodson filed a 18 supplemental declaration in response to the order to show cause, in which he asserted that John C. 19 Steele, Esq., was his "boss, named Partner, and the Managing Director of Litigation at" the Law 20 Offices of Les Zieve, and that Mr. Steele, who is also counsel of record in this case, "is admittedly 21 the lead trial counsel for Defendants so he had the legal obligation and professional responsibility 22 to personally appear at the CMC pursuant to Local Rule 16-10(a) and the CMC Court Order." 23 (Dkt. No. 57, ¶ 2.) Mr. Woodson further asserted that after he requested that Mr. Steele take the 24 responsibility of responding to this Court's order to show cause, the Law Offices of Les Zieve 25 suspended Mr. Woodson without pay. (Id., ¶¶ 17-18.) On January 11, 2016, Mr. Steele filed a 26 separate supplemental declaration in response to the order to show cause and in response to Mr. 27 Woodson's supplemental declaration. On January 12, 2016, Mr. Woodson filed a second 28 2 1 supplemental declaration. Both of Mr. Woodson's supplemental declarations are captioned with 2 his own name and address only, and do not purport to represent the position of Defendants or of 3 the Law Offices of Les Zieve. 4 The responses to the order to show cause make clear that a personnel dispute has arisen 5 within the Law Offices of Les Zieve in connection with this matter, in which the Court declines to 6 involve itself. The Court addresses only the failure of counsel to abide by this Court's rules and 7 orders. 8 District courts have the inherent power to sanction a lawyer for a full range of litigation 9 abuses, as well as the power to sanction attorneys for violation of court rules. Chambers v. 10 NASCO, Inc., 501 U.S. 32, 55 (1991); Evon v. Law Offices of Sidney Mickell, 688 F.3d 1015, 1035 11 (9th Cir. 2012). Because the scope of the sanctioning power is so broad, the Court must "exercise 12 caution in invoking its inherent power, and it must comply with the mandates of due process." Northern District of California United States District Court 13 Chambers, 501 U.S. at 49. The Court may sanction counsel for a willful violation of a court order. 14 Evon, 688 F.3d at 1035. Such a sanction "does not require proof of mental intent such as bad faith 15 or an improper motive, but rather, it is enough that a party acted deliberately." Id. To satisfy due 16 process, the Court must ensure that the sanctioned party has notice of the challenged misconduct 17 and an opportunity to respond to the charges. In re Deville, 361 F.3d 539, 548-50 (9th Cir. 2004). 18 Subject to these safeguards, the court may "fashion an appropriate sanction for conduct which 19 abuses the judicial process." Chambers, 361 U.S. at 44-45. 20 The Court is mindful that the December 14, 2015 order to show cause was directed only to 21 Mr. Woodson. However, Mr. Steele was served with the order, was involved in crafting the initial 22 response to the order, and subsequently filed his own supplemental declaration in response to the 23 order, specifically responding to Mr. Woodson's assertions that Mr. Steele bore the responsibility 24 for the violations set forth in the order. Accordingly, the Court finds that Mr. Steele had adequate 25 notice and opportunity to respond regarding the issues set forth in the order to show cause, and 26 due process does not prevent the Court from addressing his conduct in this order. 27 Upon review of all of the responses, declarations, and documents that have been submitted, 28 the Court finds that John C. Steele, Esq. and Ryan K. Woodson, Esq., Defendants' two attorneys 3 1 of record at the Law Offices of Les Zieve, willfully and recklessly failed to read any of the rules or 2 orders listed above. As a result of this disregard for the rules and orders of this Court, counsel for 3 Defendants did not become aware of the requirement that lead trial counsel attend the initial case 4 management conference, and may not even have made an internal decision who at the firm would 5 be lead trial counsel. It appears that Mr. Woodson, an associate attorney, was primarily 6 responsible for the management of this case, at least at the pretrial stage, at the time of the case 7 management conference. As the Managing Director of Litigation and the senior attorney of record 8 on this case, Mr. Steele was Mr. Woodson's supervisor but declares that he did not, in fact, 9 oversee the conduct of this case. Mr. Woodson, an experienced attorney, was given a great deal of 10 independence, although Mr. Steele was copied on Mr. Woodson's emails regarding the request for 11 telephonic appearance and the hiring of appearance counsel. 12 Neither attorney appears willing to accept responsibility for this case as of the time of the Northern District of California United States District Court 13 case management conference. This lack of accountability, combined with the failure of either 14 attorney of record to read this Court's rules and orders, resulted in the failure any counsel of 15 record for Defendants, much less lead counsel, to appear at the case management conference, and 16 in the appearance of wholly unprepared alternate counsel. This conduct was unprofessional and 17 disrespectful, and hindered the Court's ability to conduct a case management conference. 18 Furthermore, in their responses to the order to show cause, these attorneys have displayed an 19 unseemly eagerness to cast blame at each other, and avoid responsibility themselves, that is nearly 20 as unprofessional as the underlying violations. 21 The Court ADMONISHES both attorneys of record, Mr. Steele and Mr. Woodson, for the 22 failure to read the relevant rules and orders, for failure to ensure that lead trial counsel appeared at 23 the initial case management conference, and for failure even to provide appearance counsel with 24 basic information about the case such as which party he was to represent. 25 Nonetheless, the Court DISCHARGES the December 14, 2015 order to show cause 26 without imposing monetary sanctions, in the exercise of discretion. The Court declines to expend 27 further judicial resources in pursuing this matter at this time. 28 The Court cautions counsel that further failure to read and abide by the rules and orders of 4 1 thiss Court—even the slighttest violation n—shall be ttreated with the utmost sseverity. 2 The Co ourt further reminds coun nsel that if anny attorney oof record ceases to repreesent 3 Deefendants in this t matter, counsel c shou uld comply w with this Couurt's rules reegarding witthdrawal or 4 sub bstitution of counsel. 5 IT IS SO S ORDER RED. 6 Daated: January y 15, 2016 7 8 ___________________________ JE EFFREY S. W WHITE 9 Unnited States D District Judgge 10 11 12 Northern District of California United States District Court 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 5