A judge has slapped a $5,000 fine on the lead attorney in a sexual-abuse lawsuit against Seattle Mayor Ed Murray, ruling the attorney, Lincoln Beauregard, has violated ethical standards with his aggressive tactics.
A judge on Thursday slapped the lead attorney in a lawsuit accusing Seattle Mayor Ed Murray of sexual abuse with a $5,000 fine for what she called “flagrant” violations of ethical-conduct standards for lawyers.
In a sternly delivered oral ruling, King County Superior Court Judge Veronica Alicea-Galván chastised Lincoln Beauregard, who is representing Delvonn Heckard, a 46-year-old Kent man alleging Murray abused him as a teenager.
Galván cited “troubling” court filings, which she said appeared designed “for the sole purpose and intent of generating publicity” as opposed to furthering a legitimate legal aim.
She granted a motion by Murray’s attorneys to impose sanctions, and warned if the conduct continued, she’d levy further penalties — perhaps even taking away Beauregard’s right to directly file court documents in the lawsuit.
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Beauregard told reporters afterward he respected the judge’s ruling but disagreed and would appeal. He said he looked forward to focusing on the substance of Heckard’s lawsuit.
“Sometimes in fighting your case you have to take one for the team as the lawyer,” Beauregard said. “We respectfully disagree with the ruling — we think it’s unconstitutional — but this should be a small part of the case. Let’s go talk about the merits.”
The mayor’s attorneys, Robert Sulkin and Malaika Eaton, quickly left the courtroom without commenting to reporters.
Jeff Reading, Murray’s personal spokesman, issued a statement minutes later.
“Clearly, the judge was disturbed by opposing counsel’s antics, and is taking the rare but serious step of sanctioning him,” Reading said. “Mayor Murray deserves a right to due process, and it is our hope that the court’s actions today will prevent opposing counsel from further undermining this basic right.”
Such sanctions against an attorney are “pretty rare” at such an early stage in a civil case, said Robert Aronson, a University of Washington emeritus law professor and ethics expert.
“Most judges would admonish the attorney (or both attorneys) to knock it off or sanctions would be imposed. That is often enough to stop the conduct,” Aronson said in an email.
But Aronson said he thinks Beauregard’s tactics in the case crossed “the admittedly fuzzy line” between free-speech rights and the improper filing of documents to influence potential jurors — or undermine Murray’s re-election chances.
In recent weeks, four men have alleged Murray paid them for sex when they were teenagers, decades ago. Only Heckard has filed a lawsuit.
Murray’s attorneys had asked for sanctions last month citing Beauregard’s scorched-earth tactics in the lawsuit, citing court filings with no immediately apparent link to the case. They argued such tactics violated professional conduct rules for attorneys.
In asking for sanctions, Murray’s legal team noted that, for example, Beauregard last month filed a subpoena and other documents, suggesting a police response to Murray’s house last year regarding a suspicious person was a “cover up.”
Murray called those claims “outlandish” and released a statement from five friends who had been at the house that night rebutting the claims.
This week, Beauregard filed a one-page court declaration from Lavon Jones, the fourth man to accuse Murray. Jones signed the document from the Regional Justice Center in Kent, where he’s being held on drug charges. That filing was accompanied by a photo of Beauregard and Jones in the jail, both smiling.
Supporting the sanctions request, Seattle University ethics professor John Strait wrote in a court filing that he had never seen a lawyer behave this way “in over 45 years of practice.”
In a phone interview later Thursday, Beauregard said he was unsure which specific actions led to him being sanctioned. Noting the lack of a detailed written ruling, he said “I don’t have guidance” on how to proceed and what he could make public in court or to the media.
“I think some of the stuff I did was less conventional, but I am not sure what was extraneous to the lawsuit,” he said.