Senior U.S. District Judge David Hittner of Houston dismissed with prejudice the disciplinary and sanctions proceeding against a Fort Worth attorney, his former co-counsel and the two lawyers’ former client. In January, U.S. District Judge John McBryde sanctioned Joseph F. Cleveland, a partner in Brackett & Ellis; his former client John Gillig; and Cleveland’s former out-of-state co-counsel Melvin Silverman, according to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals' April 4 opinion in In Re Joseph F. Cleveland, et al. In an order, McBryde found that Gillig made "false accusations" against McBryde and that the "lawyers sponsored the false testimony" in a complicated intellectual property case, the 5th Circuit wrote. Among other things, McBryde suspended Cleveland from practicing law before the Northern District of Texas for two years and prohibited Silverman from seeking admission to the Northern District bar or appearing pro hac vice in McBryde's court. Gillig, Cleveland and Silverman appealed McBryde's order to the 5th Circuit. On April 4, the appeals court vacated the sanctions, because during the sanctions hearing, McBryde "repeatedly questioned the witnesses about [his] own statements and conduct," according to the 5th Circuit’s order. Without considering the merits, the 5th Circuit remanded Cleveland to the district court for a different judge to consider the question of sanctions. Edith Jones, the 5th Circuit’s chief judge, later assigned Hittner of the Southern District of Texas to hear Cleveland. After holding a show-cause hearing in July, Hittner issued an opinion on Aug. 29 dismissed with prejudice the disciplinary and sanctions proceeding against all of the men. Hittner ruled that Gillig did not violate federal rules by making a statement in the litigation that was critical of McBryde. Hittner also wrote he was unwilling “to assess disciplinary measures for ‘unethical behavior’ and ‘conduct unbecoming a member of the bar’ ” against Cleveland and Silverman, because their actions in the case were “not improper, [were] substantiated at least in part by the evidence, and the prefiling investigation was objectively reasonable.” Steven Tatum, managing partner of Fort Worth’s Cantey Hanger who represents Cleveland, is pleased with Hittner’s decision. “Joe’s actions were, in fact, reasonable given the circumstance he was in at the time,” Tatum says. Tatum read the following statement by Cleveland: “I adhered to the highest principles of ethics and professionalism in representing my clients’ legitimate right to a fair and unbiased consideration of his case. I am very pleased that Judge Hittner agreed and I look forward to finally putting this matter behind me.” Silverman, of Fort Lauderdale's Melvin K. Silverman & Associates who represented himself and Gillig in the sanctions hearing, says both he and Gillig are also happy with Hittner's decision. “I thought it was very fair, comprehensive, balanced and well-reasoned. I’m of course very pleased with it, and I’m praying that it brings this whole unpleasant chapter to an end." McBryde did not return a call seeking comment.
-- John Council