Pennsylvania Record

Friday, December 13, 2019

Lawyer says his expert witness called judge 'some a**hole,' refused to be videotaped

Attorneys & Judges

By John O'Brien and John Breslin | Jul 10, 2019


SCRANTON – A prolific expert witness on construction matters has reached a settlement that would vacate judicial orders that required him to pay more than $22,000 for refusing to be videotaped during a deposition.

That order, issued a year ago in Pennsylvania federal court, said Michael Panish called the judge who ordered he be taped "some a**hole judge."

That judge, magistrate Martin Carlson, had refused Panish's request for a protective order in a wrongful death case. Panish, who heads Panish Construction Corp., describes himself as a nationally recognized expert on construction and claims to have worked on more than 1,000 cases.

Panish was hired by Bordas & Bordas to undertake an emergency inspection linked to a wrongful death lawsuit involving automatic sliding doors at the Hampton Inn in Gettysburg. However, the relationship soured over whether the subsequent deposition would be videotaped.

"Mr. Panish does not permit videotaped depositions of himself, except under very limited circumstances, to protect his professional reputation and image," his lawyers stated. "Mr. Panish does not permit his picture to be taken for professional purposes and does not even use his picture on his website."

Panish said he told the Bordas firm at least 18 times that he would not agree to be videotaped.

"It is unconscionable that the Bordas law firm allowed the issue to fester until March 2017 when the firm could have, and should have, secured a substitute liability expert early in the case or seek permission from the Court to extend discovery to do so," Panish's lawyers wrote.

Once the deposition was scheduled, Panish claimed to be stricken with laryngitis. 

Defense counsel filed for sanctions, and the Bordas firm joined.

Fighting back, Panish received little support from Carlson, who ordered him to pay more than $22,000 in sanctions. Carlson's order includes the following passage:

"(W)hen notified by Plaintiffs’ counsel following the court’s conference call with the parties that the court had denied his request for a protective order which would have forbidden this videotaped deposition Mr. Panish replied: 'I don’t care about you or her [the decedent Plaintiff, Shirley Ruehl] or some a**hole judge.'”

Panish's Standard Rate Sheet stipulates that he not be videotaped. Bordas attorney Chris Regan claimed the firm didn't receive that sheet for more than two years.

Regan said Panish asked that the Bordas firm obtain a $10 million bond from Lloyd's of London to protect Panish in the event the video were ever released, claiming possible damage to his reputation and business.

"At that point I realized that regardless of his credentials to discuss automatic doors, in regard to the deposition Mr. Panish was adopting the posture of a crank - making grandiose statements and demands for impossible things to be done as a tribute to the self-regard he apparently desired to demonstrate by refusing to be reasonable about the situation," said Regan, who works out of the firm's main office in Wheeling, W.Va.

Indeed, Regan scribbled some notes as his concerns grew. His pad was introduced as an exhibit and includes the "a**hole judge" remark, as well as Panish claiming Carlson has his "head up his a**."

Panish says there are two reasons why it was inappropriate for the court to sanction him:

First, Mr. Panish was not subpoenaed by Defendant’s counsel to testify at deposition," his lawyers wrote. "For reasons only known to the Bordas law firm, the firm withheld Defendant’s notice to take Mr. Panish’s deposition for three weeks before it provided the notice to Mr. Panish. 

"It is reasonable to infer under the circumstances that the Bordas law firm wanted to avoid confronting the reality of the fact that it had known for three years that Mr. Panish would not permit his deposition to be videotaped.

"Second, neither Plaintiff nor Defendant moved for an order compelling Mr. Panish to testify at deposition. Even if either party had done so, it is respectfully submitted that this Court could not compel Mr. Panish’s deposition as his engagement with the Bordas law firm set forth the terms and conditions of his retention.

Carlson wrote that Panish's desire to stay off camera is an "odd and speculative concern that his visage and words would be digitally altered by unknown sinister actors."

"Indeed, when Plaintiffs’ counsel appealed to Panish’s conscience by noting that the family of the deceased plaintiff, Shirley Ruehl, was counting upon his testimony and assistance, Panish responded in a manner that was cold, calculating and cruel, reportedly stating that: 'Nothing will bring her back so who gives a s**t,'" Carlson wrote.

Panish appealed the ruling to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. On July 8, the parties filed a joint motion that says the matter will be settled as long as the two rulings that ordered the sanctions be vacated. Any financial terms of the proposed settlement were not disclosed.

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