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A federal judge has imposed sanctions of more than $100,000 on attorney Wayne A. Schaible of McCann Schaible & Wall for causing a mistrial in February 2010 that derailed a multiweek trial of a wrongful death suit. U.S. District Judge Mary A. McLaughlin of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania had ordered the sanctions in a May 2010 opinion in Ferguson v. Valero Energy Corp. that included no dollar figure, but instructed the defense team to submit its bills. Now McLaughlin has held Schiable and his firm jointly responsible to pay $100,436.25 within 30 days. Schaible’s lawyer, John J. Leonard of Leonard Sciolla Hutchison Leonard & Tinari, said in an interview that he intends to appeal the ruling and believes the issue of the sanctions was resolved when the case settled on confidential terms. In her May 2010 ruling, McLaughlin said Schaible should reimburse the defense team from Ballard Spahr‘s Voorhees, N.J., office, and Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld in Washington, D.C., for the time they had wasted on the three-day aborted trial. “This case has to be retried, and all of the expenses of the first attempt to hold a trial have been wasted,” McLaughlin wrote. She cited Schaible for making repeated references to prohibited topics during his opening statement and in his questioning of the first few witnesses. When the defense team filed its petition for fees and costs, it sought more than $106,000, noting that the five-lawyer team was billing at rates of $265 to $645 per hour and logged more than 100 hours working on the canceled trial. Akin Gump attorney Michele A. Roberts billed at $645 per hour and her partner, Michael C. Starr, billed at $500 per hour, but the Ballard Spahr lawyers were considerably cheaper, with John B. Kearney billing at $373.50 per hour and Paul F. Jenkins and David M. Stauss each billing at $265.50 per hour. When all five lawyers were on the clock, along with a paralegal billing at $171 per hour, the combined hourly rate was more than $2,200. The suit was filed on behalf of John Jerry Ferguson Jr., a 29-year-old boilermaker who died in a November 2005 refinery accident in Delaware City, Del., when he was trapped in an area that was flooded with nitrogen and suffered asphyxiation. As the case was nearing its trial date, McLaughlin ruled that the plaintiffs team was barred from making any mention of their claim that Valero’s interest in pursuing corporate profits after hurricanes Katrina and Rita contributed to the death of Ferguson. The pretrial orders also prohibited the introduction of evidence of personnel shortages as a possible contributing factor in the death, and prohibited any evidence of prior nitrogen incidents at Valero refineries. But as the trial got under way, defense lawyers argued that Schaible seemed to ignore the rulings, forcing the defense team to lodge 30 objections during Schaible’s opening statement that were sustained by the judge. McLaughlin found that Schaible assured her he would stop violating her orders, but that he continued to do so during the questioning of the first two witnesses. As a result, McLaughlin declared a mistrial on the morning of the third day of a trial that had been scheduled to last four weeks.

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