Legal Ethics

Attorney Loses Appeal of Contempt Finding for Not Taking Stand

March 26, 2019, 10:07 PM

A Washington, D.C., attorney is in criminal contempt of court for refusing to answer questions about where his client’s assets could be found, the District of Columbia Circuit affirmed March 26.

Matthew LeFande disregarded oral and written orders to answer questions on the witness stand by the magistrate judge in the underlying case, the appeals court said in an opinion by Judge Cornelia Pillard.

The underlying litigation began when Anita Warren sold a property through District Title, a real estate settlement company, according to the court. District Title mistakenly transferred almost $300,000 back to her instead of to her mortgage lender.

Warren transferred the funds to her son, Timothy Day, and District Title sued them both. LeFande represented the pair. Day also sold a house he owned and sent the proceeds to a bank account in New Zealand, allegedly counseled by LeFande.

The district court granted summary judgment for District Title, and the company sought to collect from Warren and Day. Seeking to subpoena LeFande, the company said the attorney “may have information concerning assets held or transferred by Timothy Day.”

But LeFande didn’t respond to letters and emails, and evaded service of process at his house. When he later appeared at a status conference, and the magistrate judge ordered him to answer questions, he refused to take the stand, asserting broad attorney-client and Fifth Amendment privileges.

After the judge said he must assert privilege on a question-by-question basis, and he refused to do so, the court found him in criminal contempt of court and imposed a $5,000 fine.

Here, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit upheld the contempt order. The order didn’t violate attorney-client privilege, it said, and LeFande’s argument that District Title sought to depose him for an improper purpose was irrelevant to the contempt order. The court also said LeFande’s disagreement with the basis for discovery didn’t entitle him to disobey a court order.

LeFande appeared pro se, with a brief by Horace L. Bradshaw Jr.

The Justice Department represented the U.S.

The case is United States v. LeFande, D.C. Cir., No. 18-7031, 3/26/19.

To contact the reporter on this story: Martina Barash in Washington at mbarash@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Jo-el J. Meyer at jmeyer@bloomberglaw.com; Steven Patrick at spatrick@bloomberglaw.com

To read more articles log in. To learn more about a subscription click here.