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A United States Magistrate has re-opened an employee termination case where both sides agreed to a settlement, after it was revealed that the plaintiff’s attorney falsely misrepresented terms of the settlement agreement to his client. New Haven, Conn., attorney William Palmieri, of Williams & Pattis, who was previously sanctioned in the termination case by another federal judge, wrongly convinced his client she was responsible for his $14,000 sanction, according to a recent decision by U.S. District Court Magistrate Judge Donna Martinez. In restoring the case, Thea Randis Grudzien v. Waterbury Hospital Health Center Inc. to the active docket, Martinez granted Grudzien’s motion to set aside the settlement agreement, giving her time to find a new attorney. According to Martinez’s decision, Grudzien agreed to settle her case for $16,000, and the forgiveness of attorneys’ fees, last June. However the plaintiff later argued to the court that the case should be re-opened because Palmieri falsely represented to her that she was responsible for $14,000 in defense attorneys’ fees that he had been ordered to pay. Grudzien said Palmieri told her that “if she did not settle the case, she would be found in contempt, would serve jail time, fined multiple fees of $14,000 and her case would be thrown out.” During the discovery phase of the case, U.S. District Court Judge Robert Chatigny sanctioned Palmieri $13,681.27 for defense attorneys’ fees and costs, and ordered him to forgo his own billing, because Palmieri repeatedly failed to respond to discovery motions. Chatigny also ordered Palmieri to deliver complete discovery responses within seven days of his ruling. In May 1999, Palmieri was ordered by Chatigny to show cause why the case should not be dismissed for failure to provide responses to the defendant’s discovery requests and failure to comply with a previous court order. Palmieri said during the hearing that his failure to respond was his own “personal mistake.” Chatigny found that Palmieri had been inattentive to deadlines and failed to comply with the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure as well as a court order, thereby stalling discovery. Palmieri’s show cause hearing was not the first time there were problems in the case, according to Martinez, who noted noncompliance with court deadlines at the outset of litigation. The court also mentioned a letter written by Grudzien in 1999 to Williams & Pattis name partner John Williams, complaining that Palmieri also failed to return her phone calls, ignored court filing deadlines, lost documents in her case, failed to contact witnesses and failed to adequately prepare her for depositions. Neither Williams nor Palmieri returned telephone calls. However Norm Pattis, also of Williams & Pattis, said he and Williams stood by Palmieri. “Obviously, Judge Martinez’s decision is troubling. However, this firm has a long and proud tradition of giving its employees autonomy. John and I stand by that tradition,” Pattis said. In his testimony, Palmieri “flatly denied” that he told Grudzien she was responsible for the $14,000 in attorneys’ fees, but the defendants introduced a June 9, 2001, voice mail message from Palmieri to Maureen Danehy Cox, of Waterbury, Conn.’s Carmody & Torrance, who represents Waterbury Hospital. In the messag,e Palmieri describes a demand of $18,000 from his client, calculating a “make whole relief” amount minus the “forgiveness of fees” to come up with a monetary amount to make the case “go away.” Grudzien had previously been ordered to appear for a show cause hearing in June of 2000 to explain why she shouldn’t be held in contempt of court for failing to comply with Chatigny’s order of providing discovery materials. During a deposition months after Chatigny’s sanction of Palmieri, the plaintiff revealed in a deposition that she had tape recordings she had not given to the defense. By producing the tapes a month later, the defendants moved to dismiss the case. Cox declined comment due to the pending litigation. Shortly afterward, Palmieri began settlement negotiations with the defendants to avoid the show cause hearing. But Grudzien failed to sign the settlement agreement and sent a letter to the court highlighting her concerns. Martinez, who had since taken over the case, scheduled a hearing last October, construing the letter as a motion to set aside the settlement agreement. On the morning of the hearing, the court noted that Palmieri filed a motion to enforce the settlement agreement on the grounds that Grudzien had “voluntarily and knowingly entered into the agreement.” However, he later withdrew his motion. Martinez said after “painstakingly” reviewing the court records she was “compelled to reach this troubling conclusion.”

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