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Finding that a Pennsylvania lawyer had committed a “laundry list of unethical actions,” a federal judge has imposed more than $10,000 in sanctions and ordered the lawyer to complete six hours of ethics training. U.S. District Judge J. Curtis Joyner’s 10-page opinion in Holsworth v. Berg is packed with criticism of the conduct of attorney Philip Berg of Lafayette Hill, Pa. “Other attorneys should look to Mr. Berg’s actions as a blueprint for what not to do when attempting to effectively and honorably perform the duties of the legal profession,” Joyner wrote. “This court has grown weary of Mr. Berg’s continuous and brazen disrespect toward this court and his own clients. Mr. Berg’s actions … are an enormous waste of judicial time and resources that this court cannot, in good conscience, allow to go unpunished,” Joyner wrote. In the suit, Berg is accused of legal malpractice by former clients who claim his failure to respond to an ERISA claim against them led to a default judgment. But the sanctions against Berg stem from his decision to file a third-party counterclaim of fraud against a pension fund that had sued his former clients, according to court papers. Joyner blasted Berg for filing the fraud claim, calling it an “irresponsible decision” because the claim was “utterly barren of any scintilla of legal principles.” In the ERISA suit, Berg’s former clients — Richard Holsworth and his company, Richard’s General Contracting — were sued by a group of pension funds led by the Carpenters Health and Welfare Fund of Philadelphia and Vicinity. Carpenters Health claimed that Holsworth and his company had failed to make required payment of fringe benefit contributions. According to court papers, Joyner found that Berg “neglected to file a response to [Carpenter Health's] claim or provide any legal defense whatsoever for his client.” Even after a default judgment was entered against Holsworth, Joyner found that Berg “remained silent.”In April 2002 — two months after the default judgment was granted and 11 months after the suit was first filed — Joyner found that Berg “broke his silence” by filing a petition to strike the judgment or to open the default judgment. Berg’s motion was rejected and a default judgment of more than $5,300 was entered against his clients.The judgment swelled to more than $10,000 when Carpenters Health later successfully moved for a supplemental judgment to recover more than $4,700 in attorney fees for its efforts in responding to Berg’s untimely motions. Holsworth and his wife later filed a legal malpractice suit against Berg in the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas, alleging that Berg negligently failed to represent them in the Carpenters Health case. A year later, in February 2005, Berg moved to join Carpenters Health as a third-party defendant in the malpractice suit, demanding more than $20,000 in damages. In his counterclaim, Berg alleged that the ERISA suit filed by Carpenters Health in 2001, which led to the malpractice claim against him, was “a fraud upon the court and a fraudulent taking from the Holsworths.” Carpenter Health’s lawyers removed the case to federal court and filed a motion to dismiss the claim.Joyner agreed, finding that Berg’s fraud claim was “frivolous” and was motivated by an intent “to harass Carpenters Health and the Holsworths, as well as to delay and disrupt the administration of justice.” The claim was fatally flawed, Joyner found, because Berg had no standing to bring suit against Carpenters Health and had “failed to conduct even a minimally reasonable inquiry before filing his complaint.” Granting summary judgment in favor of Carpenters Health, Joyner said he found it “wholly unnecessary” even to consider the facts of the ERISA case because it was “abundantly clear” that Carpenters Health was entitled to a judgment as a matter of law. Joyner invited Carpenters Health to file a motion for Rule 11 sanctions. When it did, Joyner found that Berg “continued his trend of unprofessional conduct by, once again, failing to file a timely response.” In a footnote, Joyner said Berg’s response to the sanctions motion was due on May 26. In a phone call to chambers on May 31, Joyner said, Berg’s assistant requested permission to move for an extension of time, saying Berg had been out of town for two or three weeks and would not be returning until June 9. Joyner said he agreed to accept such a request if it were filed the next day, but none was. Instead, Joyner said, a letter signed by Berg’s assistant was faxed to chambers on June 2, requesting that the deadline be extended until June 27. Joyner said he refused because “in light of Mr. Berg’s persistent and repeated neglect of his professional obligations, this court was not inclined to permit Mr. Berg to further delay the review of Carpenters Health’s ripe motion.” In a June 2 opinion, Joyner found that Berg had violated Rule 11 by “filing a complaint completely devoid of any basis in fact or law, as would be apparent to any reasonable attorney after the slightest inquiry.” Berg’s fraud claim, Joyner said, was “inadequately pled, not grounded in fact, time-barred, and utterly irrelevant to the pending malpractice action against him.” In his sanctions order, Joyner ordered Berg to reimburse Carpenters Health the $10,668 in attorney fees and costs it incurred in defending the claim. He also ordered Berg to complete six credits of ethics courses certified by the Pennsylvania Board of Continuing Legal Education, and recommended that Berg be investigated by the Pennsylvania Bar Association’s Committee on Legal Ethics and Professional Responsibility. On June 16, Berg filed a motion for reconsideration urging that the sanctions imposed on him should be forgiven due to “extenuating circumstances,” including health problems, a three-week European business trip and financial difficulties. Berg conceded in his brief that “there were numerous procedural errors, untimely responses and omissions,” but said he “did not do so with intention or defiance.” Joyner flatly rejected the motion, saying “in no way, shape or form do the ‘extenuating circumstances’ proffered by Mr. Berg even begin to justify, excuse, or explain his unprofessional and unethical course of conduct throughout this matter. These transparent excuses are not only patently insufficient to meet the legal standard for a motion for reconsideration, they are insulting to this court and demeaning to the legal profession.” Berg, reached in his office, declined to comment on Joyner’s decision except to say that he is considering whether to file an appeal. Carpenters Health was represented by attorneys Sanford G. Rosenthal and Eric B. Meyer of Jennings Sigmond.

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