Bad Lawyers

Cleveland Attorney Peter Pattakos Gets $11K Sanction Thrown Out
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Summary: After being slapped with an $11,000 sanction for giving a reporter friend details on a case, he was able to get the fine tossed in an appeal.

A Cleveland attorney was given an $11,000 sanction after he revealed details of a case he was working on to a reporter friend. Peter Pattakos used his journalist friend to gather public support on his case when things weren’t going his way. On appeal, he was able to get the sanction taken away.

  
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The Ohio 8th District of Court of Appeals easily found that the contact between Pattakos and his journalist friend were protected by the First Amendment. This reversed the trial judge’s ruling and $11K sanction.

Pattakos was arguing a lawsuit against a “nanny school” that had allegedly covered up sexual abuse. He was representing a former nanny and employee of the English Nanny & Governess School in Chagrin Falls. The nanny claimed that the school got rid of a report she filed about a client who had sexually abused his daughter. The employee claimed she was fired for refusing to discredit the nanny. The jury awarded them $390,000.

The case turned into a high-profile case filled with fiery allegations. He provided his friend Vince Grzegorek with copies of the lawsuit documents. Grzegorek is the editor of the Cleveland Scene, an alt-weekly publication. Pattakos directed Grzegorek to not publish anything about the case until he gave the permission.

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Pattakos was trying to settle the case but when negotiations did not as he had hoped, he gave Grzegorek the green light to get his “reporting pants on.” The Scene published their story on the case on the same day that jury selection began, angering the defendants. They went to the court, asking for sanctions for Pattakos role in handing over the documents to the media.

Two jurors admitted to have reading the headline of the article but denied reading the full article. A week later when Pattakos was out for health reasons, Griffin declared a mistrial. A new jury was formed that ruled in favor of Pattakos’ clients.



Judge Burt Griffin, a Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court Judge who had since retired, was presiding over the case. He was brought back to deal with the latest issue, handing Pattakos an $11,000 sanction under the Ohio statute prohibiting “frivolous conduct” by counsel. He stated that Pattakos went to the media to discredit and harass the defense. The sanction was to pay for the legal fees the defense had paid on their attorney for the time spent on jury questioning. Griffin said, “If one lights fire in a forest that starts a forest fire, he is responsible for the forest fire even if he did not intend it.”

Generally “frivolous” conduct happens during pleadings or pretrial discovery. The appellate court found Griffin’s sanction to be an abuse of discretion sanction. Judge Kathleen Ann Keough noted “It should not be held that merely urging a media outlet to cover a trial constitutes frivolous conduct.”

Do you think counsel should be allowed to freely go to the media to give details of their case? Tell us your thoughts in the comments below.

To learn more about attorneys with sanctions, read these articles:

Photo: pixabay.com



 

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