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The Spirit of the Law versus the Letter of the Law – Rules, Rules, Rules

Posted by Guy DiMartino | Dec 30, 2012 | 0 Comments

The legal profession is all about rules.  There are criminal rules, civil rules, rules of judicial administration, disciplinary rules, evidentiary rules, state court rules, federal court rules, and local rules.  All legal claims and cases have something to do with rules.  A person gets a traffic ticket because he failed to follow the speed limit rule.  A person gets picked up for DUI because she didn't comply with the rule that we shouldn't drink and drive.  A person gets sued for a car accident because he didn't follow the rule of the road requiring us to keep a safe distance between our car and the car in front of us.

Sometimes lawyers and courts get lost in the rules (the letter of the law) versus the spirit of the law.  I would like to discuss a case in point.  Recently, a magistrate judge in the Middle District of Florida sanctioned an attorney for not having the proper margins in her pleadings.  The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Kornhauser reversed the ruling and reinstated the attorney's fee.

This was a disability case, and the local rule in the Middle District required margins to be 1 ¼ inches and the font on footnotes to be no less than a 10 point.  The magistrate reduced the $5,000 attorney fee award by $963 and the District Court judge entered the order on the magistrate's recommendation.

This matter was appealed to the Eleventh Circuit found that the District Court violated the attorneys due process because she did not receive adequate notice informing her that she might be sanctioned for failing to follow the local rule. Specifically, the Court of Appeals said:

By branding the attorney's rule violation “intentional” and imposing a monetary sanction without affording counsel an opportunity to show cause—“to respond . . . to the invocation of [the] sanctions and to justify [her] actions,” Mroz, 65 F.3d at 1575–76—the District Court denied the attorney due process of law and therefore abused its discretion.

Many times in life we are definitely right and somebody has violated a rule; however, sometimes instead of looking to the letter of the law, we need to look to the spirit of the law and understand that humans' error.

Join the conversation – what do you think of the $963 or approximately 20% sanction against the lawyer?

The Middle District of Florida handles cases that originate in Marion, Lake, Citrus, Hernando, Hillsborough, Polk, Pinellas, Orange, Volusia, Brevard, and Osceola counties. If you have any questions about a potential case in the Middle District of Florida give me a call at (352) 267-9168 or fill out the internet consultation form on the right side of the screen.

About the Author

Guy DiMartino

I have loved helping people in need for almost three decades.  It has been my privilege to serve people as their pastor, chiropractor, and lawyer.  The current focus of my legal practice and lifes passion is helping the seriously injured receive complete compensation for their injuries. I am a ...


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