A New Jersey appeals court has refused to overturn sanctions against an Edgewater law firm and its head partner for being “vexatious” in efforts to defend itself in a defamation lawsuit filed by a rival firm.
The two-judge Appellate Division panel, in an unpublished ruling, said a trial judge acted correctly in dismissing multiple motions and demands for discovery filed by the firm, Abrahamsen Law Firm, and its founder, Richard Abrahamsen.
Appellate Division Judges Mitchel Ostrer and Jessica Mayer also affirmed a trial judge’s ruling that imposed $17,155 in sanctions against Abrahamsen and his firm.
Abrahamsen did not return a telephone call seeking comment.
He and his firm are being sued by a competitor, Seidman & Pincus of Hasbrouck Heights, and its head partner, Mitchell Seidman. He also did not return a telephone call.
“A judge, in his or her discretion, has the inherent authority to sanction a party for behavior that is vexatious, burdensome or hearsay,” the appeals court judges said. “Although the power to sanction should be invoked sparingly, the circumstances presented in this case support the award of the attorney’s fees as the proper sanction for the Abrahamsen defendants’ vexatious and harassing motion practice.”
The dispute stems from a defamation and tortious interference claim filed by Seidman’s firm against Abrahamsen’s firm over Seidman’s loss of a longtime client, the opinion said.
In response, Abrahamsen and his firm, the opinion said, began filing a flurry of motions in response, along with demands for discovery.
A Passaic County Superior Court judge, who was not identified, rejected the Abrahamsen motions and cautioned Abrahamsen and his firm from pursuing further motions and demands.
Abrahamsen persisted, however, and sanctions were imposed.
“The underlying facts are not complex,” the appeals court said. “However, the procedural history is convoluted because of the sheer number of motions filed by the Abrahamsen defendants.”
The trial judge, the appeals court said, expressly warned Abrahamsen and his firm about filing discovery demands, but the warning was ignored.
“Plaintiffs’ claims were not frivolous,” the appeals court judges said. “We conclude that there is sufficient, credible evidence in the record to support the judge’s award of attorney’s fees against the Abrahamsen defendants.”