Free Speech on the Docket

Cruz et al. v. English Nanny and Governess School, Inc., et al. (amicus)

Status:
Closed
Case Dates:
Saturday, 20 February, 2016 - Thursday, 8 June, 2017
Facts:

Mr. Pattakos, an attorney in the Chandra Law Firm, represented two employees of a nanny training school as plaintiffs in a lawsuit filed in the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas in 2012, after the employees reported child abuse by a client of the nanny school and the school terminated them. During the course of his representation, Mr. Pattakos communicated with the editor of Scene Magazine about the case and provided the magazine with public court records. After settlement negotiations between the parties stalled, Mr. Pattakos urged the magazine to publish the story. The magazine did publish a one-sided article, which some of the jurors read. A jury trial ensued, and Mr. Pattakos’s clients won. The defense then filed a motion asking the court to penalize Mr. Pattakos for having shared the information with the press.

On October 30, 2015, Judge Burt Griffin, relying upon a state statute authorizing attorney penalties for “frivolous conduct” (R.C. 2323.51), ordered sanctions totaling approximately $11,000 against Mr. Pattakos, The frivolous conduct envisioned by this statute consists of malicious actions undertaken for the sole purpose of harassing opposing counsel. In this case, the judge found that when Mr. Pattakos shared public records with the media he had acted frivolously, and that when he prevailed in the case, he had damaged his opponent. In so holding, the judge opined that Mr. Pattakos should have waited until the trial was over to make a press statement and should have taken steps to ensure the press statement did not influence the jury.

Legal Theory:

Judge Griffin’s use of the “frivolous conduct” statute creates precedent by interpreting this statute in a way that, if not properly limited, will threaten 8 the First Amendment rights of attorneys to talk to the press about non-confidential information, and as well as the rights of the public to learn of court proceedings.

Status:

Cross appeals were filed in the Eighth District Court of Appeals, with Mr. Pattakos appealing the imposition of sanctions and Defendants appealing the jury decision.

On May 13, 2016, Mr. Pattakos filed his Plaintiff-Appellees/Cross-Appellants brief, at which time we also filed our amicus brief. Professor and ACLU of Ohio Board Member Jonathan Peters wrote the amicus brief urging the Court to reconsider the trial court’s interpretation of the “frivolous conduct” statute. Defendant-Appellants/Cross-appellees filed their Reply/Answer Brief on July 7, 2016. Mr. Pattakos filed his reply on July 28, 2016. Oral arguments were heard on October 25, 2016. On June 8, 2017, the Court of Appeals ruled that Mr. Pattakos’s communication with the reporter was protected speech under the First Amendment, and reversed the trial court’s imposition of sanctions against Mr. Pattakos.