Thursday, December 10, 2015
C.A. Upholds Dismissal Sanction Against ‘Outrageous’ Lawyer
Extreme Penalty Justified After Counsel Fired Stun Gun at Deposition, Panel Says
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
The use of terminating sanctions was justified where an attorney brought pepper spray and a stun gun—which he discharged near opposing counsel—to a deposition and called the trial judge “sick and demented,” among other insults, in court papers, the Court of Appeal for this district ruled yesterday.
The panel upheld the dismissal of an action by Douglas J. Crawford of San Diego, who claimed that JPMorgan Chase improperly allowed his since-deceased mother to invest in an annuity—which the bank later cancelled—and then refused to reimburse him for lost interest.
Crawford is currently barred from practicing. He was placed on involuntary inactive status in February after his default was entered in a disciplinary proceeding, and in July, State Bar Court Judge Lucy Armendariz recommended he be disbarred.
Armendariz explained that Crawford’s default was entered after he walked out on the second day of a hearing and did not return. Disbarment was recommended on the basis of the misconduct deemed admitted, which overlapped with that for which the terminating sanctions were imposed.
Ventura Superior Court Judge Vincent J. O’Neill Jr. ordered Crawford’s suit against JP Morgan dismissed as sanction for what the veteran jurist called “the most outrageous behavior that I have ever heard of in my life by an attorney.”
That conduct occurred, in part, at an April 21, 2014 deposition in Crawford’s lawsuit. The deponent was Crawford’s brother, whom Crawford was representing along with himself.
Threat to Counsel
The deposition was set for that date by O’Neill, who had sanctioned Crawford after the brothers walked out of a previous deposition, claiming they were afraid for their personal safety. When the brothers appeared, Douglas Crawford—according to Presiding Justice Arthur Gilbert’s opinion for the Court of Appeal—pointed a can of pepper spray at Chase lawyer Walter Traver’s face from approximately three feet away.
Crawford told Traver that the spray was “legal,” and that he would use it if Traver got “out of hand.” He then pointed what he described as “a flashlight that turns into a stun gun” at Traver and suggested he would use it if the pepper spray “doesn’t quell you.”
He discharged the stun gun close to Traver’s face, at which point Traver terminated the deposition. Crawford opposed the motion for terminating sanctions, calling Chase “Heavenly Father,” questioning the validity of the order compelling his brother to appear for the deposition, describing O’Neill as a former prosecutor “masquerading as a Superior Court Judge,” and describing opposing counsel as “our Heavenly Father’s only begotten son.”
Terminating sanctions, Gilbert acknowledged, are reserved for “extreme situations, such as where the conduct was clear and deliberate and no lesser sanction would remedy the situation.” But “If ever a case required a terminating sanction, this is it.”
Not only did the trial judge not abuse his discretion, Gilbert wrote, “it would have been an abuse of discretion not to impose a terminating sanction.”
The presiding justice rejected Crawford’s argument that terminating sanctions should not have been imposed because the order compelling Matthew Crawford’s deposition was an abuse of discretion.
Even if the prior order was erroneous, Gilbert explained, Crawford’s remedy was to seek a writ or challenge it on appeal from the final judgment, “not to threaten opposing counsel with violence and file a contemptuous opposition to Chase’s motion for sanctions.”
The jurist also swept aside the contention that O’Neill should not have ruled on the sanctions motion because Crawford had moved to disqualify him. Gilbert noted that O’Neill had stricken the statement of disqualification and Crawford did not argue on appeal that he erred in doing so.
In an email message, Crawford told the METNEWs that he did not have a copy of the Court of Appeal decision, but claimed that it was necessary for four sheriff’s deputies to respond “with sirens wailing and guns drawn” to his “911 call that there was a man with a concealed weapon (hardly concealed) attending the deposition that refused to identify himself.”
“I would also be happy to talk about the Kangaroo Court known as State Bar Court where in the State Bar successfully moved ORALLY to preclude me from introducing any evidence or witnesses in my defense despite the unequivocal fact ORAL motions are not allowed in State Bar proceedings.”
Crawford was an unsuccessful candidate for San Diego Superior Court judge last year, drawing 18 percent of the vote against incumbent Judge Ronald Prager. In reporting on the race, the San Diego Union-Tribune and KPBS noted that Crawford had once moved to disqualify Judge Randa Trapp as having “racist bias and prejudice in favor of negroes and against whites.”
He described himself as a supporter of white supremacy and said Trapp’s status as a former leader of the local NAACP chapter should result in her disqualification. He told KPBS that the challenge was not personal and that he had apologized to the judge.
The case is Crawford v. JPMorgan Chase Bank, N.A., 15 S.O.S. 5889.
Copyright 2015, Metropolitan News Company