Virginia: Special Cases – a Lawyer’s Sanctions (February 18, 2014)

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On January 10, 2014, Shebelskie v. Brown, No. 13053, was handed down by the Virginia Supreme Court. It concluded that two lawyers did not violate Va. Code Ann. §8.01-271.1 because one did not sign the brief in question or make a motion, and because the other “could have formed, after reasonable inquiry, the belief that the Show Cause Response Brief and the arguments set forth therein were warranted under existing law”. Id. at 1 and 20.

“In applying the abuse of discretion standard when reviewing a sanction imposed under Code §8.01-271.1, we employ ‘an objective standard of reasonableness’ to determine whether an attorney, after reasonable inquiry, could have formed a reasonable belief that the pleading was warranted by existing law or a good faith argument for the extension, modification, or reversal of existing law,” delineated Shebelskie. “While the possibility of sanctions can ‘protect litigants’ from ‘unfounded factual and legal claims and against the assertions of valid claims for improper purposes’, the threat of a sanction should not be used to stifle counsel in advancing novel legal theories or asserting a client’s rights in a doubtful case.Id. at 10 (emphasis added).