A Buffalo attorney was fined $16,065 today by U.S. District Judge John T. Curtin in what is believed to be one of the biggest financial sanctions imposed by a judge against a Western New York lawyer.
Arnold Weiss was scolded for filing "immaterial, speculative and threatening" court statements in a lawsuit that was filed 12 years ago and dismissed in 1988.
"I do not take this action because I consider Mr. Weiss' conduct a personal affront," Curtin wrote in a stern 16-page decision. "Rather, I do so because I have a duty to uphold the dignity of this court, and to . . . make clear that conduct such as that displayed by Mr. Weiss in this case, which serves only to obstruct the just and efficient adjudication of cases, will neither be condoned nor ignored."
Although it could not be determined whether the fine against Weiss was the largest such sanction in local history, today's action is nearly three times as large as the $5,500 fine imposed in State Supreme Court last October against Paul W. Beltz, another Buffalo attorney.
The Beltz fine, which is being appealed, was described by the Erie County Bar Association as the largest in recent memory.
Court officials said Curtin's decision was also unusual because Weiss personally -- rather than his client -- was directed to pay legal fees to the other party in a lawsuit.
Weiss said today he will appeal Curtin's ruling. He accused Curtin of being "prejudiced and bigoted" against him because Weiss holds different political views than the judge and has battled in court against attorneys who are Curtin's friends.
"What you've got here is a war," Weiss said. "I'm not a liberal, and I don't dance to his tune.
"Curtin is absolutely prejudiced against me. We intend to show absolute prejudice on his part. He fined me once before and then had to reverse himself."
The $16,065 fine was ordered in connection with a 1978 lawsuit filed by Greater Buffalo Press Inc. against the Federal Reserve Bank and Marine Midland Bank.
Greater Buffalo Press, represented
by Weiss, accused the Federal Reserve and Marine of breaking U.S. banking codes through the slow processing of checks. Curtin dismissed the $5.2 million suit in March 1988, and his decision was affirmed by a federal appeals court 10 months later.
In the related ruling, Curtin refused Weiss' request to remove himself from a 1989 lawsuit filed by Joseph R. Person against the General Motors Corp. In that case, Person, a black man from Cheektowaga, claims he was laid off from his job at the Saginaw Gear plant in 1987 and not rehired because of his race.
Weiss is defending General Motors in the $11 million suit, which is still pending.
Curtin said Weiss has accused him of showing in the courtroom his dislike for the attorney.
"(Weiss claims) I have given 'physical evidence' of my hostility toward him in conversations I have had with other attorneys and jurists and in my 'obvious and undisguised anger, red-faced grimaces, criticisms, impatience and hostile reaction to deponent during court appearances,' " Curtin wrote.
Curtin denied the accusations.
"Through the years, I have handled many cases in which Mr. Weiss represented various clients," the judge wrote. "A review of the record would indicate that Mr. Weiss was successful in many of the cases urged before me -- not because there was any bias on the part of the court for or against him, but simply because the facts and the law were on his side."
In the Greater Buffalo Press case, Curtin wrote, Weiss had "frequently" been given extensions of time to file court motions and Weiss slowed the progress of the case by filing "unnecessary" and "repetitious" motions.
Weiss claimed Curtin's actions today stemmed from bitterness over another, unrelated case. Weiss said Curtin removed himself from the case of Fannye Markel vs. Scoville Manufacturing Co. after Weiss raised questions about Curtin's friendship with attorney Alvin Glick, who represented Scoville.
Curtin removed himself from the Markel-Scoville case in November 1988 and turned it over to Judge Richard J. Arcara. He also dropped sanctions of $14,368 he had imposed against Weiss in 1987, Weiss said.
Curtin is "absolutely out to get me" because of the allegations he raised about the judge in the Markel-Scoville case, Weiss said.
"We've accused him of wrongdoing and violations of judicial conduct," Weiss said.
The judge today said he would have no comment on the situation beyond what was stated in his written decision.
According to papers filed in the Markel-Scoville case, the sanctions imposed in 1987 by Curtin are now being "held in abeyance" and may be adopted or rejected by Arcara.
The fact that he removed himself from the Markel-Scoville case should not be taken as an admission of guilt to any of Weiss' claims, nor is it a mandate to remove himself from any other cases involving Weiss, Curtin wrote.
"My decision to recuse myself from Markel was neither an acknowledgment of the legal sufficiency of counsel's motion in that case nor a suggestion that I would not be able to act without bias or prejudice in future cases involving him," Curtin wrote. "There are circumstances in which a judge may wish to recuse himself, although a legally sufficient affidavit of bias and prejudice could not be presented against him."