Lawyers dressed down

In a court order rare in its bluntness, a federal magistrate last week gave an old-fashioned schoolyard scolding to a couple of seasoned lawyers she said were acting like “little boys” in a lawsuit.

On the wrong end of the written reprimand were attorneys Robert Kossack and Walter Cannon, who have been going to the mat over the past two years in the civil rights lawsuit former cocktail waitress Chrissy Mazzeo filed against Gov. Jim Gibbons and Las Vegas police.

Mazzeo has alleged that Gibbons assaulted her outside a Las Vegas restaurant three weeks before Gibbons was elected governor in November 2006 and that police, who did not file charges against Gibbons, covered up his actions.

Kossack, Mazzeo’s attorney, filed a motion in May asking for sanctions against Cannon, who defends the police, claiming he made improper “argumentative” and “suggestive” remarks during Deputy Chief Greg McCurdy’s deposition.

In his response, Cannon accused Kossack of engaging in the same conduct during Mazzeo’s earlier deposition.

With a “tall stack of other matters” on her desk, U.S. Magistrate Peggy Leen let it be known in her four-page order that she wasn’t happy about having to rule on the motion.

“I am not the Maytag repairman of federal judges desperately hoping for something to do,” she wrote. “To ensure that reading the 185 pages of these exchanges was not a complete waste of time, I assigned this motion to a law student (intern) to prepare a legal memorandum to further his education.”

The law student, she said, “correctly concluded that both lawyers engaged in misconduct” that violated the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.

“The exchanges related in excruciating, repetitive detail in the moving and responsive papers and their attachments were painful to read,” Leen wrote.

“If I was an elementary school teacher instead of a judge, I would require both counsel to write the following clearly established legal rules on a blackboard 500 times:

“I will not make speaking, coaching, suggestive objections which violate Rule 30. I am an experienced lawyer and know that objections must be concise, non-argumentative and non-suggestive. I understand that the purpose of a deposition is to find out what the witness thinks, saw, heard or did. I know that lawyers are not supposed to coach or change the witness’s own words to form a legally convenient record.

“I know I am prohibited from frustrating or impeding the fair examination of a deponent during the deposition. I know that constant objections and unnecessary remarks are unwarranted and frustrate opposing counsel’s right to fair examination. …

“I also know that counsel’s interjection that he or she does not understand the question is not a proper objection, and that if a witness needs clarification of a question, the witness may ask for the clarification.”

Leen concluded, “Although these papers and the conduct they relate make me feel like a schoolmarm scolding little boys, I am the judge whose duty it is to decide this motion.

“Accordingly, Mr. Kossack and Mr. Cannon are admonished for engaging in conduct which I know you know violates Rule 30. You are better men and better lawyers than the conduct in which you have engaged illustrates.”

She said their punishment would be “memorializing their misconduct” in the publicly filed order.

Contact Jeff German at jgerman@review or 702-380-8135 or read more courts coverage at

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