A federal judge in Philadelphia, in prose suggesting barely suppressed chortles, reduced a lawyer's request for fees last month because his filings were infested with typographical errors.
The lawyer, Brian Puricelli, had offered this vigorous but counterproductive defense:
"Had the defendants not tired to paper plaintiff's counsel to death, some type would not have occurred. Furthermore, there have been omissions by the defendants, thus they should not case stones."
The judge was amused. But he was not moved.
"If these mistakes were purposeful," Magistrate Judge Jacob Hart ruled, "they would be brilliant." His decision was first reported in The Legal Intelligencer, a Philadelphia newspaper.
In the time-honored legal tradition, Hart supported his ruling with evidence. "We would be remiss," he wrote, "if we did not point out some of our favorites."
In one letter, Puricelli had given the magistrate's first name as Jacon, not Jacob.
"I appreciate the elevation to what sounds like a character in The Lord of the Rings," Hart wrote. "But, alas, I am only a judge."
In all of Puricelli's filings, moreover, he identified the federal district court in Philadelphia as the US District Court for the Easter District of Pennsylvania.
But the magistrate was quick to add that in many ways Puricelli is a terrific lawyer, at least when he is on his feet at a trial.
"Considering the quality of his written work," the magistrate wrote, "the court was impressed with the transformation. Mr. Puricelli was well prepared, his witnesses were prepped, and his case proceeded quite artfully and smoothly."
Indeed, Puricelli won the case he tried before Hart. He represented John DeVore, a former Philadelphia police officer, in a civil rights case against the city and several of its officials. DeVore said he had been fired in retaliation for reporting that his partner had stolen a cellphone. The jury awarded him US$430,000, which Hart reduced to US$354,000.
The law under which DeVore sued allowed him to recover his legal expenses, too, and Puricelli sought more than US$200,000. The defendants objected, saying that the quality of the work had not been worth US$300 an hour.
Hart agreed, in part, awarding US$150 an hour for the time Puricelli spent writing legal papers. Never mind the typos, he wrote, Puricelli's prose was "vague, ambiguous, unintelligible, verbose and repetitive."
"Mr. Puricelli's complete lack of care in his written product shows disrespect for the court," Hart wrote. "Mr. Puricelli's lack of care caused the court and, I am sure, defense counsel, to spend an inordinate amount of time deciphering the arguments."
He reduced Puricelli's fee by US$31,500, to US$173,000. Puricelli, in a telephone interview, said he regretted the mistakes but considered them minor.