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Supreme Court upholds lower court on Raynor fine

A last ditch effort to revive the $1 million fine imposed on insurance defense lawyer Nancy Raynor is over.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has overturned an appeal of a lower court decision throwing out the fine. The one sentence order on Dec. 5 effectively puts an end to a long-running legal battle over the sanction, which roiled the Philadelphia legal community and raised questions about how far trial judges can go to enforce courtroom edicts.

Philadelphia Common Pleas court judge Paul Panepinto imposed nearly $1 million in sanctions on Raynor in late 2014 for allegedly eliciting banned testimony from a witness in a medical malpractice trial. Members of both the defense and plaintiffs bar said the fine was by far the largest sanction ever imposed in a civil case in Philadelphia.

Many lawyers voiced concern that fines of that magnitude would expose lawyers to financially crippling sanctions for witness statements they might not be able to control.

Although Raynor eventually won, the costs have been enormous. Her bank accounts for a time were frozen, she lost clients, and had to substantially reduce the size of her practice to make ends meet.

Panepinto imposed the sanction in the 2012 trial of allegations that physicians at Roxborough Memorial Hospital had failed to properly diagnose a suspicious nodule in the left lung of patient Rosalind Wilson, who had gone to the emergency room complaining of chest pains.

Wilson later died of lung cancer, and at the trial lawyers for her estate asked the court to ban testimony on her life-long smoking habit. A defense witness nonetheless mentioned Wilson's smoking in his testimony, throwing the trial into an uproar and resulting in Panepinto's sanction order.

The sanctions were sought by attorneys for Wilson's estate.

Raynor later came forward with witnesses who testified they heard her advise the defense witness to avoid mention of Wilson's smoking. A Superior Court panel, the appellate court that heard Raynor's original appeal, found there was no evidence she sought to elicit precluded testimony. It was that finding that the Supreme Court upheld in its Dec. 5 order.