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The Association of the Bar of the City of New York is fighting legislation passed by the U.S. House of Representatives that would require judges to award sanctions whenever they find a lawyer has raised a frivolous claim or motion. The bill, which passed the House in September and is pending before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, would eliminate a statutory provision that allows attorneys to cure a frivolous filing. H.R. 4571 also would extend federal rules for sanctions in civil suits to state litigation when interstate commerce is affected. The bill is not likely to be enacted this year because the Senate is expected to reconvene next week for the limited purpose of passing an omnibus spending measure. There is often a flurry of last-minute maneuvering, however, to get legislation passed at the end of a congressional session. If the bill does not pass, it is almost certain to emerge next year with strengthened support in the new Congress. The sanction provision is contained in Rule 11 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and gives judges the power to award monetary fines, including an opponent’s legal fees, if a lawyer is found to have made a frivolous court filing. The bill would make sanctions mandatory. Harmful to courts? City Bar President Bettina P. Plevan recently wrote to 12 senators, including the majority and minority leaders of the Senate and its judiciary committee, objecting that the House-passed changes “are harmful to the courts, harmful to litigants and harmful to our system of justice.” Plevan’s arguments closely mirror those raised by the Judicial Conference of the United States when the bill was being considered during the summer by the House Judiciary Committee. Both the judicial conference, the policy-making body for the federal courts, and the city bar objected that the bill would directly amend the federal rules rather than follow the usual course. By statute, the judicial conference is authorized to propose changes in the federal civil rules that become final upon adoption by the U.S. Supreme Court. Congress, however, has at least seven months in which to veto a change that has been approved by the high court. Philip K. Howard, a lawyer and frequent critic of the legal system, said the House bill deals with the core problem that judges “do not impose Rule 11 sanctions.”

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