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December 9, 2015

Crawford v. J.P. Morgan Chase Bank, N.A., (2015) 242 Cal.App.4th 1265

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The Second District holds threats of physical harm against opposing counsel justify terminating sanctions.

Douglas Crawford represented himself a dispute with Chase Bank about accounts held by his late mother. After numerous discovery skirmishes, he appeared for a deposition with a can of pepper spray and a stun gun, and threatened to physically harm opposing counsel.

Chase moved for terminating sanctions, arguing the threat of physical violence was the last straw in a string of discovery abuses.  In his opposition, Crawford made extremely disrespectful statements about the judge’s obsequiousness to Chase’s counsel and other insulting characterizations.  

The Court of Appeal upheld the trial court’s terminating sanctions. Crawford’s remedy, if he believed the case was not proceeding properly, was to seek court intervention, not to physically threaten opposing counsel or insult the judge.

Comment: This case illustrates the unsurprising point that outrageous litigation conduct can lead to dire consequences. In this case, the “client” was the attorney; no member of the public was harmed.  It is curious that there was no discussion of Crawford’s apparent mental instability, likely because Crawford represented himself and did not raise the issue.


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