Sanctioned Lawyer Throws Himself on the Mercy of the Court

[Updated and bumped, for update see below]

Readers may recall the case of GMAC Bank v. HTFC Corp. GMAC is infamous because of an opinion by E.D.Pa. Judge Robreno discussing the deposition of HTFC CEO Aaron Wider, in which Wider profanely abused plaintiff’s counsel Robert Bodzin. If you need to see it, and are in environment where lots of cursing isn’t going to get you in trouble, hit play and shudder at the decline of civility in American life:

In his opinion, Robreno also sanctioned Wider’s attorney Joseph Ziccardi for failing to restrain his client and even (allegedly) snickering at the bad conduct. Ziccardi was stripped of his pro hoc admission, fined $29,000 (equally with his client) and referred to the Bar.

Ziccardi has filed a motion for reconsideration. I found it quite persuasive. In the memorandum in support of the motion, and the reply, Ziccardi provides evidence that he didn’t snicker at Wider’s profane conduct but instead tried to stop it off the record. The evidence was purportedly not submitted earlier because Ziccardi was still representing Wider and lacked notice that the Court was considering sanctioning him under the discovery rules as a co-offender. Ziccardi has provided affidavits from (among others) himself and Wider. The latter in particular is a must read. Wider falls on his sword for his former lawyer, stating that Ziccardi had repeatedly cautioned him not to act out and worked to prevent his outbursts behind the scenes. (Oddly, based on this document, I’m not sure that anyone is currently representing Wider. The affidavit is very much not in his interest, but sounds like it was a lawyer-generated document. Ziccardi’s conflict is quite acute at this point, as he realizes, and I wonder how he handled that communication.)

The general thrust is that it is procedurally unfair to punish Ziccardi with such a large fine for what boils down to his client’s bad conduct, and, ultimately, for merely failing to adjourn the deposition and withdraw as counsel immediately. In his last reply, filed a month ago, pro se, Ziccardi has thrown himself on the Court’s mercy:

Of all of the statements made by Aaron Wider during the two days of his deposition testimony, there is one subject on which he was conclusively and indisputably wrong: the intelligence of GMAC’s lead counsel. No one can credibly deny that Mr. Bodzin is a brilliant legal strategist whose litigation savvy is likely unparalleled in any jurisdiction. Unfortunately for defendant HTFC, Mr. Wider took every inch of the twelve hours worth of “rope” that was handed to him and successfully hanged himself with it.

Now heading for the gallows right behind Mr. Wider is defense counsel, Joseph Ziccardi, an honorable but mild-mannered attorney with a modest practice and an impeccable ethical record maintained throughout his nearly fifteen years practicing law – until now. Ziccardi now finds himself in the unenviable position of having lost a case, lost a client, and most important, lost the ability to honestly state that “no one has ever called into question” his professional conduct.

This might all be palatable to Ziccardi if only it were not so unjust. In a situation where, as here, neither the facts nor the law have been found or applied in accordance with the mandates of the Constitution that Ziccardi swore to uphold, acceptance of one’s fate is counter-intuitive to the well-educated and ethical lawyer. Nevertheless, Ziccardi holds out hope that the system that he has dutifully served for most of his adult life and the principles that he has defended on behalf of numerous needy clients will not fail him now.

Notwithstanding the purple prose, as I’ve already said I think Ziccardi has a very strong argument that his conduct doesn’t merit the sanction that Judge Robreno imposed (GMAC naturally disagrees.)

The big picture question here is the degree to which attorneys should be punished for failing to affirmatively prevent their clients’ incivility. Some punishment of this client is certainly warranted. But punishing the “mild-mannered” solo practitioner attorney as if he were equally culpable goes too far. I hope that the Court walks it back a bit.

[Other coverage of the latest happenings: Law Blog; The Legal Intelligencer]

[Update: Judge Robreno has ordered a hearing on the pending motion for reconsideration, to be held June 18. This may be a good sign for Ziccardi.]

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5 Responses

  1. Samir Chopra says:

    Given Mr. Wider’s behavior in this excerpt, I find it hard to believe that Mr. Ziccardi would have had much luck in restraining him. By the way, something seems messed up in your quote above. Its not from the article you link to?

  2. J says:

    Having only skimmed the Response and Reply, I agree that it seems excessively harsh to hold Mr. Ziccardi equally culpable with Mr. Wider. Nevertheless, I think his conduct (or lack of conduct) is clearly sanctionable, and I predict that the sanctions will be substantially upheld. I also don’t see the Reply as throwing himself on the Court’s mercy. Aside from the “purple prose,” the tone of the Reply seems inappropriately aggressive for someone in his position, as does his legal argument.

    Although the Court advised him that he might face financial and other sanctions, ordered him to show cause why he should not be sanctioned, and suggested that he obtain representation, Mr. Ziccardi claims that he didn’t have notice that he might be sanctioned under the Fed. Rules of Civil Procedure. I think the Judge made himself clear enough, and I imagine the Judge thinks so too.

    Finally, does anyone know whether Mr. Wider is the sole owner of HTFC? If not, I think his conduct at the deposition created a clear conflict of interest between himself and the corporation, making it unethical for Mr. Ziccardi to continue representing Mr. Wider.

  3. Anonymous says:

    I’ve actually met Aaron Wider and he is a 100% charachter. I do believe he takes medications for mental issues.

    He is one of those very bright people, but you don’t know where reality and their imagination starts and ends.

    I don’t know if Mr Ziccardi can be held in contempt or not – Aaron is not the kind of person to be held back by typical social ‘norms’.

    I always wondered what HTFC stood for – he replied in the deposition he stood for ‘Hit The Fucking Clown’. Knowing him, I believe that is probably what it means.

    I’ve read some coverage of the legal issues he faces on LI – I believe he was flipping property and using a trust to hide- you can read more here:,0,1279712,full.story

    I look forward to further coverage.

  4. Aaron Wider says:

    To all you knuckle heads that have bashed Aaron Wider in favor of Robert Bodzin. This story depicts he is a great statagist. This is false. Wider beat Bozdin that represented GMAC and the case was dismissed by the same Judge Roberno that fined Wider & Ziccardi. In fact Wider was Pro-Se. A legal pro hired by a Giant that that is beat by any Pro-se is profound. Wider has demonstarted his genious over and over again and subsequently took over GMAC now Allay bank, So the idiot that wrote this story is less than competent, inaccurate and subsequently inferior in all aspects in dipicting fact from fiction. Bozdin then sued Wider again and used a corporate & residential address that is non existent because there is no legal merit to their claim. This case is also pending dismissal for improper service. The writers and Bloggers on the site are stupid, uneducated and simply all wrong. Now how stupid do you all feel.

    Guess who!

  5. Allegra H. Millman says:

    I have known Mr. Wider for several years, not just “met” him, and I know him professionally. I am also educated very well legally and have worked in the field of law for 10 years. When I read these blogs and this news story, I ask myself how anyone can make such wrongful opinions. My peers and I who have watched the videos, read and studied in detail the case, all of us, ask the same question, how could an attorney like Bozdin conduct a deposition so unprofesionally? Look at the video through the eyes of an objective attorney, attorneys are not suppossed to make allegations, not suppossed to promote their clients interests, or declare their innocence or justify their client’s reason for suing.

    That video depicts an attorney, Bozdin, who is very unprofessionalyy and unsuccessfully conducting a witch hunt, not a legal deposition. My collegaues (civil litigators)and I agree that you have to look past the “noise” and look and understand what is really going on here; a very poor attempt by an attorney to correctly depose Mr. Wider.

    As for Mr. Wider, he and some of his business collegaues support non for profit organizations and charities for the disabled and his business transactions are all conducted ethically and legally. Yes, Mr. Wider did not address Bozdin quietly, and respond to Bozdin’s direct and unprofessional allegations with a civil, and polite tongue. If Mr. Bozdin had deposed me and I was the defendant in this case, I would have silenced the bully, with both some intersting and colorful explicitives and some clear direction as to how to properly conduct his deposition.

    Before you base the merits of this case on Wider’s use of foul language, I suggest that you review the merits of the case, and you’ll find out that Bozdin is actually the Wolf in Sheeps clothing…Bozdin is not making the “noise” in this video, but he’s the one pulling the “wool over your eyes”.