Commercial Division Blog
Celebrity Attorney Criticized for Deposition Misconduct
On August 25, 2017, Justice Kornreich of the New York County Commercial Division issued a decision in Gottwald v. Sebert, 2017 NY Slip Op. 31797(U), chastising a celebrity attorney for his misconduct at a deposition, explaining:
Mr. Geragos was deposed on April 25, 2017. After reviewing the nearly 150 pages of deposition transcript that were submitted, the court is dismayed at the conduct of a licensed attorney. As plaintiffs accurately explain:
At his deposition, Mr. Geragos initially refused to answer questions regarding his communications with the press and his statements on Twitter pertaining to Gottwald and the parties' dispute. As a result, counsel called Chambers during the middle of the deposition, at which time [after argument was put forth by both Mr. Geragos and his counsel,] Mr. Geragos was instructed that the questions he refused to answer were relevant and that he was required to answer them. Nonetheless, following the call with Chambers, Mr. Geragos still failed and refused to provide crucial information ...
First, based upon a meritless assertion of the work product doctrine, Mr. Geragos refused to provide the basis, if any, for his assertion on the Access Hollywood television program that a drug which Kesha claims to have received from Gottwald turned out to be the illegal drug GHB. ... The information which Mr. Geragos refuses to provide is not work product, given that Plaintiffs do not seek any materials reflecting Mr. Geragos's legal strategy but rather Plaintiffs simply seek to know what facts (if any) support an assertion that Mr. Geragos made on television ... Second, at his deposition, Mr. Geragos, by his own admission, was utterly unprepared to testify regarding his communications regarding the litigation and Gottwald on the Twitter social network-even though these communications were the express subjects of Plaintiffs' subpoena ad tesificandum, and the Court had already denied Respondents' motion to quash the subpoena with respect to those subjects.
Simply put, Mr. Geragos refused to abide by a court ruling that he answer certain questions.
Civil contempt has as its aim the vindication of a private party to litigation and any sanction imposed upon the contemnor is designed to compensate the injured private party for the loss of or interference with the benefits of the mandate. A defendant may be held in civil contempt when there is clear and convincing evidence that defendant knowingly disobeyed clear and unequivocal orders of the court. A hearing is not required to hold a party in civil contempt when there is no question of fact that a court order was knowingly violated. Judiciary Law § 773 provides that the contemnor may be obligated to pay damages or a fine sufficient to indemnify the aggrieved party or, if actual losses are not established, a fine may be imposed, not exceeding the amount of the complainant's costs and expenses, and $250.
As an initial matter, the court will refrain from addressing the question of whether serious contempt sanctions against Mr. Geragos are warranted as the court struck the contempt notice from the Order to Show Cause application. The court, therefore, will not consider the contempt request, although its basis is fully set forth in the papers and supported by documentation. Further, since Mr. Geragos is an attorney who presumably will promptly cease flouting this court's orders given the clear and unequivocal written mandate issued herein, the question of whether a substantial monetary sanction (including the costs of plaintiffs' motion) is tabled and will hopefully be mooted by Mr. Geragos's future compliance with this court's orders, the requirements of the CPLR and common courtesy to his colleagues in the Bar. That said, Mr. .Geragos must make himself available to be deposed for another seven hours and answer all questions he refused to answer at his first deposition. He was woefully unprepared for his first deposition, failed to provide clear answers to many questions, and baselessly objected to many others. His first deposition, simply put, was insufficient. Prior to his second deposition, Mr. Geragos must review the transcript from his first day of testimony and identify each and every instance where he claimed not to know or remember the answer to a question. He must do whatever is necessary to refresh his recollection and learn the answers to those questions and be prepared to provide complete and accurate answers when his deposition continues. He will be sanctioned if he does not follow this directive.
(Internal quotations and citations omitted).