One of the U.S. attorneys representing Samsung in its California patent litigation with Apple was not admitted to practice law in the court’s jurisdiction, Samsung and the attorney admitted Thursday. Susan Estrich, a law professor and legal commentator for Fox News, recently represented Samsung in a motion concerning the deletion of relevant emails by both parties despite the fact that she was not licensed to practice law in the Northern District of California, where the trial is taking place.
Judge Koh, the presiding district judge for the litigation, instructed both parties last month that “ALL TRIAL LAWYERS must make appearances in this case and must be admitted in this District” (emphasis in original).
Unfortunately for Samsung, Ms. Estrich was only admitted to practice in the Central District of California, which is primarily the greater Los Angeles area, and not the Northern District, where the trial is taking place.
When the court discovered this rule violation, Samsung replied that Ms. Estrich, in good faith, believed that she was admitted to the Northern District in 1986 when she joined a California law firm which has since dissolved. Samsung told the court that, upon learning she was not admitted, Ms. Estrich “immediately applied for and ha[s] been admitted to practice before the District Court of the Northern District of California, and [has] filed an appearance in this case,” and she hopes that “the Court not [will not] hold these inadvertent omissions on [her] part against the merits of [her] client’s case.”
Ms. Estrich’s failure to may seem like a minor breach that, by itself, would normally warrant no further action, but it is merely the latest in a long string of ethical, judicial, and procedural violations by Samsung over the course of the litigation.
Attorney Susan Estrich (via USC)
The court is also aware, however, as FOSS Patents’ Florian Mueller states, “of the waves that sanctions against Samsung and a famous American lawyer, political activist, and Fox News commentator could make.” In as much as Samsung and Apple’s fight is a technical patent trial, it is also a trial of public perception and opinion. Delays in filing, releasing information to the press, and merely entering an empty court room are all relatively nebulous topics that are difficult to support or demonize in a mainstream sound bite. They are also topics that can be vulnerable on appeal, should Samsung lose the trial.
A direct, literal rule violation, as existed in Ms. Estrich’s case, is much simpler to understand and is far less likely to be successfully defended on appeal. The court, therefore, might use this opportunity to send a clear message to Samsung: further rule violations will not be tolerated.
The reasons behind Samsung’s continuing missteps are unknown. One theory posits that Samsung is intentionally attempting to anger Judge Koh in the hopes that she will hand down unreasonable sanctions that the company can later use as the basis for overturning any judgement against them.
If true, we should have many more violations of court rules and judicial orders to look forward to. The trial will then become a test of Judge Koh’s, and the legal system’s, patience.
Teaser graphic via Shutterstock.