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Can Gibberish Complaints Get an Attorney Disbarred?

By Robyn Hagan Cain | Last updated on

Attorneys appearing before the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals are on notice: both substance and style matter when filing in federal court.

In an opinion released this week, the Seventh Circuit affirmed a district court’s decision to dismiss a complaint with prejudice after an attorney failed three times to file “an intelligible complaint” for his client.

The attorney, Walter Maksym, appealed the district court’s dismissal, arguing that his second amended complaint complied with court rules, and, even if it did not, he should have been offered a third chance to replead. The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed.

The circuit found that the district court was well within its discretion to dismiss the case because each iteration of the complaint was incomprehensible and riddled with errors, making it impossible for the defendants to know what wrongs they were accused of committing.

Maksym's lawyering skills had not improved with appeal, either. The Seventh Circuit also observed that Maksym's appellate briefing was woefully deficient, and ordered Maksym to show cause why he should not be suspended from the bar or disciplined for conduct unbecoming a member of the bar.

Need examples of the types of errors that could get an attorney disbarred or suspended? Here are a few of Maksym's mistakes:

  • Maksym's original complaint asserted 28 claims against 23 defendants in 52 pages, but did not specify which individual defendants were alleged to be liable on each claim.
  • Maksym missed multiple filing deadlines by periods of both weeks and months.
  • In one of the deadlines that Maksym actually met, he moved for an extension of time to file an amended complaint at 10:34 p.m. on September 30, the deadline, claiming that he should be granted more time because his computer was damaged in an earthquake while sitting for the California bar in late July, two months before the deadline.
  • One of Maksym's pleadings included a "staggering and incomprehensible" 345-word sentence."

The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals noted that lack of punctuation, near incomprehensibility, inability to follow directions, and grammatical errors, collectively, are egregious enough to warrant denial of the motion for leave to amend. The court is forwarding its ruling to an Illinois disciplinary board, which will determine if Maksym should be suspended from the bar.

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