The Philadelphia judge who imposed sanctions of nearly $1 million on defense lawyer Nancy Raynor has defended his action in an opinion in which he accused Raynor of violating a court order as part of a trial strategy.
Common Pleas Court Judge Paul Panepinto said Raynor intended to elicit testimony from a witness that was precluded at the start of the trial.
In the opinion, his first official explanation of the underlying facts and legal rationale for the penalty, Panepinto also accused Raynor of repeatedly changing her story as she challenged efforts by opposing lawyers to have her sanctioned.
"It is glaringly apparent that Raynor's conduct was orchestrated to improperly influence the outcome of this trial," he said.
The case centers on the testimony of one of Raynor's expert witnesses in a medical-malpractice trial in 2012. The witness, Dr. John Kelly, blurted out that a deceased woman whose heirs were suing Roxborough Memorial Hospital and physicians there had been a smoker. The woman's doctors had failed to advise her of X-ray results showing a suspicious nodule. She later died of lung cancer.
Panepinto had earlier banned testimony on the woman's smoking at the request of plaintiffs' lawyers, who were concerned it would divert focus from the failure by the physicians and hospital to inform her of the X-ray results.
The judge eventually ordered a new trial, and lawyers for the woman's heirs moved for sanctions, asserting that retrying the case had cost their side more than $1 million.
"Raynor had an absolute duty to properly advise Dr. Kelly about the preclusion of any reference to smoking and failed to do so," Panepinto said in his opinion. "Her failure to properly advise Dr. Kelly had no justification, and was intended to harass the presentation of opposing counsel's case."
Efforts to collect the $946,197 in sanctions began several weeks ago, and Raynor says her bank accounts have been frozen and a lien placed on her Berwyn home. Unless the bank accounts are unlocked, she says, she may have to close her law firm, Raynor & Associates. The money would be paid to the plaintiffs' lawyers and their clients.
A hearing is set for Feb. 19 before Panepinto on a request by Raynor's lawyer, Jeffrey McCarron, that the sanctions be halted while she pursues an appeal in Superior Court.
Attorneys with long experience practicing in Philadelphia courts say they have never before seen sanctions of the magnitude imposed by Panepinto. Raynor typically defends physicians in medical-malpractice cases, and the sanctions have drawn a critical response not only from the city's Association of Defense Counsel but also from the Pennsylvania Medical Society, which is expected to file legal papers in support of Raynor's appeal.
Panepinto said it was her duty to advise Kelly that there was to be no testimony on the smoking habit of the deceased woman, Rosalind Wilson. He said Kelly was credible when he said at the time of the trial that he had no recollection of Raynor's advising him the smoking testimony was precluded.
Kelly has given varying accounts of what he recalls of what Raynor told him. Raynor has offered testimony from her client, an emergency-room doctor, and an insurance adjuster that they heard Raynor tell Kelly he was not to mention Wilson's smoking.