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The imposition of sanctions reinforces the commitment of the judicial system to impartiality. Whether it is men or women who experience the burden of bias, the public has an interest because the judicial system has failed to adhere to the highest standards of fairness and impartiality. This concept was well stated by the Supreme Court of New York when it was presented with a request for sanctions relating to gender-biased insulting remarks made to counsel during depositions: Seeking sanctions from this court is not a display of an inability to overlook obnoxious conduct, but an indication of a commitment to basic concepts of justice and respect for the mores of the profession of law. The movant has turned to the court to give force to a basic professional tenet.
Appellant attorneys challenged sanctions imposed for discovery misconduct by them and their client, a male defendant in an action by a female plaintiff alleging he spread the herpes virus to her. In the midst of a deposition, one of the appellants made a derogatory remark about the plaintiff when she left the room to retrieve a document, and the remark led to various gender-biased insults directed at appellee, plaintiff's attorney. Appellee moved for protective orders based on the incident as well the defendant's alleged attempts to intimidate plaintiff's expert witness. The plaintiff was ultimately found contributorily negligent, and a judgment was entered for defendant. Appellants contended the sanctions were invalidly imposed after final judgment, their conduct did not warrant a protective order, and that a procedural irregularity invalidated the award.
Did the appellants’ conduct form sufficient basis for the sanctions imposed upon them?
Holding appellants’ conduct properly formed a proper basis not only for a protective order, but for an award of attorney fees, the court remanded the case without affirming or reversing the award in order to allow the lower court to determine whether it based the award solely on appellants’ conduct at the deposition, rather than on their conduct with respect to plaintiff’s expert witness, which raised the procedural irregularity. According to the court, the award would have been properly imposed based solely on appellants' insults. On remand, the lower court was ordered to consider whether the sanction was justified based only on the deposition conduct.