Law Firm Fined for 'Piling On' Claims

An unprecedented $400,000 fine against one of Seattle's largest law firms is shaking the legal community, prompting some lawyers to predict that local litigation may never be the same.

Those applauding the fine say it will make lawyers think twice about "piling on" unfounded legal claims just to harass their opponents.

Others say it will have a chilling effect on the zealous advocacy that lawyers owe to their clients, ultimately making it harder to redress the harms they've suffered.

In an opinion circulating throughout the city's law offices, a King County Superior Court judge found that the Dorsey and Whitney law firm had no good reason for filing eight of the 18 claims in a wealthy client's prolonged, high-stakes business dispute.

Dorsey & Whitney, of course, plans to appeal. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer has the story here.

UPDATE: It occurs to me (without a great deal of thought on the subject) that this kind of sanction is dangerously close to infringing upon the First Amendment's prohibition against "abridging . . . the right of the people . . . to petition the Government for a redress of grievances." If the claims lack merit, the court should simply throw them out. Then, if the claims were brought without foundation and with malice, the defendant can sue for malicious prosecution or abuse of process. But (absent gross abuse) it shouldn't be the court's business to punish people -- especially lawyers acting as advocates for others -- for attempting to assert claims that the court doesn't happen to like or agree with. I predict reversal.