The U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals recently publicly reprimanded a Chicago lawyer for taking a brief and changing it in ways that went beyond its specific orders.
The disciplinary measure stemmed from a brief that Lee Lowder, an Illinois attorney representing the Board of Education of the City of Chicago, filed in a lawsuit over the board’s review of a school district’s assessments of a boy’s educational needs.
The court in August resolved the case in favor of the board, but it also asked Lowder, long-time deputy general counsel in the board’s law department, to show why the court shouldn’t publicly reprimand her for mishandling a brief she had filed on March 30.
Lowder was not only a week late in filing the brief, even though she had obtained five deadline extensions from the court; she also filed her last request for an extension a day after a previous extension had ended – violating local court rules, which require all requests for deadline extensions to be filed seven days before a brief is due.
Moreover, Lowder’s brief’s appendix contained information the court had previously ordered her to black out. She got the court to grant her motion to correct the error, but then went on to fill a brief that made extensive changes to the citations of laws and facts found in her previous brief. The court ordered her to file the new brief again, making sure it was identical to the previous one except for the sections of the appendix that it had previously said should be blacked out.
Despite that order, the new brief Lowder filed on April 16 didn’t match either of the two briefs she had filed earlier.
The court on April 20 ordered Lowder to refile again, threatening to ban Lowder and her client from oral arguments should there be any further shortcomings.
The new brief Lowder filed afterward matched the brief from March 30 and contained the required changes.
In response to the order to show cause, Lowder explained that she thought the court’s original order had implied that she could make other changes. She also said that she had made a mistake in her naming files on her computer.
That didn’t sit well with a three-judge panel of the court, which publicly reprimanded her on Oct. 12 in a per curiam decision calling her errors “made with an empty head” and “inexcusable.” The panel consisted of Judges William Bauer, Frank Easterbrook and Joel Flaum.
“Lowder’s errors forced counsel for the other side to read, reread, and re-reread, and to make changes in the draft reply brief,” the court wrote. “They have compelled this court to enter multiple orders in an effort to bring stability to the submissions under consideration. The delay in filing the brief, and the errors in the appendix, also have wasted the time of the court, its staff, and Lowder’s adversary.”
The court noted that although neither its local rules nor sections of Practitioner’s Handbook expressly state that briefs must remain unchanged after they’re filed, a recent case, Khan v. Midwestern University, does.
“The problems exemplified in this appeal and Khan must not occur again,” the court wrote.
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