An attorney who is representing 31 criminal defendants in pending cases has been fined $500 by a judge for showing up 35 minutes late for the start of a trial.
Acting Supreme Court Justice Suzanne Mondo in Brooklyn (See Profile) said Douglas Rankin ignored a court directive to appear for the beginning of a client’s trial at 9:30 a.m. on March 5, despite having been warned that he would be fined if he was not in court at the appointed time. She imposed the fine after a March 23 hearing.
Mondo said Rankin entered court at 10 a.m. and then immediately walked out, talking on his cellphone or BlackBerry. The Brooklyn solo practitioner, who plans to appeal the ruling, returned five minutes later and blamed traffic on the Long Island Expressway and other roads for not being on time for the start of a welfare fraud trial for his client Marcia King.
“Although counsel knew that his timeliness on March 5, 2012, was of paramount importance, he clearly made no effort to arrive by 9:30 a.m.,” the justice wrote in Matter of Imposing a Sanction Pursuant to Part 130-2 of the Rules of the Chief Administrator of the Courts (22NYCRR) v. Rankin, 6145.
The judge called the lawyer’s tardiness “premeditated, blatant and willful,” quoting a case upholding a contempt charge against an attorney who disobeyed a court order to begin a trial, Matter of Harris v. Rowley, 72 AD3d 1252 (2010).
It was only the latest in a series of instances where Rankin showed up late, sometimes by several hours, keeping judges, potential jurors and court personnel waiting, Justice Mondo said.
“He knew full-well that a trial would commence and that it was his obligation to be present at 9:30 a.m., the time the Court ordered him to appear,” Mondo wrote in her March 30 decision. “Mr. Rankin’s conduct in the Marcia King case exemplifies his practice of failing to appear on specific dates and times before this and other courts.”
Mondo cited what she called Rankin’s “pattern of practice to delay trials.” Quoting state Office of Court Administration statistics, she said he had 31 retained cases pending in Brooklyn Supreme Court as of the end of January, 19 of them more than two years old.
She said hundreds of adjournments had occurred in the cases, “wast[ing] hundreds of hours of court resources.”
In one case, People v. Hennis, 111 adjournments occurred, the judge noted.
Mondo said Rankin was warned about starting the March 5 trial promptly after the court granted his request to adjourn the case for four days for doctor’s appointments and other scheduling conflicts.
On March 5, Rankin argued that his tardiness was harmless.
“In my experience, it’s never been a time certain in any up front part especially when most of the time it’s about trial,” the lawyer told the court when pressed about why he was late, according to the ruling. “We’re just being sent out for trial. I’m ready for trial. I’m ready to go Judge. I don’t really see the prejudice here or any other issue than the Court seeking to create one.”
But Mondo told Rankin, “I ordered you, many times on the record, to be here exactly [at] 9:30.”
She continued, “There are 60 jurors that have been waiting since 9:30 this morning to be sent up to [Justice Joel M. Goldberg's] part,” Mondo said. “In addition to that, your client has been here. This Court has been here sitting and waiting for you. It’s totally unacceptable.”
Mondo said the $500 sanction “will deter counsel from disregarding the Court’s orders and his duty to his clients and opposing counsel.”
The length of some of Rankin’s cases prompted court officials to assign all of his Brooklyn cases initially to Mondo so they could be scheduled more expeditiously and his roster of pending matters pared down.
Rankin’s attorney during the sanction proceeding against him, Richard Grayson of White Plains, said state court system figures about adjournments involving Rankin’s cases are misleading.
For example, of the 66 adjournments between 2007 and 2011 in another case, People v. Remy, Grayson argued that 37 were attributable to either the district attorney’s office or the court, not to Rankin.
Of the 35 adjournments between 2008 and 2011 in the case involving Rankin client Vernett Shaw, Grayson said 20 were attributable to the court or the prosecution, and 15 to Rankin.
Grayson said he has not had time to go over the cause for the adjournments in the Hennis case with his client, who has been on trial, but that “what I am seeing so far is a pattern where the implication that my client is responsible is not the reality.”
Grayson added, “What I take from this is that my client is being singled out and that is not the way the justice system should work. If you look at the length of time that these cases have been on the calendar, I think that the majority of the time is the result of the D.A. not doing what the D.A. is supposed to be doing.”
As for not being prompt for the March 5 trial, Grayson said Rankin argued that there was not a set time for the commencement of an “upfront part,” where a judge like Mondo assigns a case for trial to another judge.
“As he has stated, there is no particular time by which lawyers are supposed to show up in the upfront part,” Grayson said.
He said Rankin intends to appeal the sanction to the Appellate Division, Second Department.
Rankin did not return calls for comment on the sanction.
King was acquitted on March 15 of grand larceny, welfare fraud and other charges, Grayson said.
@|Joel Stashenko can be contacted at email@example.com.