The plaintiff's attorney in a case in the Federal District Court of New York for the Southern District asked the Court for a three week continuance, stating as his reason that his wife had gone into premature labor and their child had been successfully delivered, but with complications. The couple had other children and the attorney needed to care for them, and for his wife once she was released from the hospital. The defense's lawyers naturally did not oppose the motion . . . no, I am joking, of course they did.
To be fair, the defendant was willing to allow the continuance, provided that plaintiff's counsel would agree to certain concession in the current litigation. But that was all they wanted. Sorry, I was joking again. They also asked for concessions in unrelated litigation with the same attorney that was in arbitration.
The judge, the VERY Honorable Paul Engelmayer, was not disposed to consider these conditions for granting the continuance. Here are two excerpts from his order:
The Court congratulates Mr. Seppinni and his family on the birth of their child and wishes Mr. Seppinni’ s wife a speedy and full recovery. The Court reminds defense counsel of the expectation of the judges in this District that counsel will comport themselves with decency. Counsel’s attempt to exploit a moment of obvious personal exigency to extract concessions from Mr. Seppinni, in other litigations no less, was unprofessional. The Court expects better.
The Court unconditionally grants Mr. Seppinni’s request for a three-week adjournment for his opposition….This order is without prejudice to Mr. Seppinni’s right, in the event of continuing medical complications, to seek a further extension of these deadlines, as Mr. Seppinni’s email to the Court suggests may become necessary.
The judge imposed no sanction on opposing counsel for their egregious behavior, and I suppose that was wise at it would give grounds for an appeal. I am sure that Judge Engelmayer will not allow this incident to prejudice his judgment in future rulings involving these parties, but I would be surprised if the defendant does find that some discretionary calls fall against them.
If this ever happens in a Virginia court (and sadly, it's not beyond reason that it could), I think the judge would respond in much the same way. I am even more certain that the judge would mark the defense counsel down as being very far from the genteel Virginia gentleman or gentlewoman that one hopes would be representative of the Virginia Bar, and therefore not to be given the benefit of the doubt the next time they request a continuance for a less compelling reason. And judges have long memories.