Saying their lawsuit was “legally dead on arrival at the courthouse,” a Patrick County Circuit Court has sanctioned a veterinarian and his lawyer for pursuing a frivolous lawsuit in violation of Virginia Code § 8.01-271.1.
Like the Wicked Witch of the East, the lawsuit “was ‘not just merely dead,’” but really “‘most sincerely dead,’” said Judge Designate Clifford R. Weckstein.
Plaintiff William Lockhart Boyce sued witnesses who testified at a disciplinary hearing by the Virginia Board of Veterinary Medicine. The board placed Boyce on probation after finding he violated statutes and regulations in his care for a dog that belonged to one of the witnesses.
Lockhart did not appeal the board action. Instead, he began agitating against the witnesses on his weekly radio show and in newspapers, and talking to lawyers. He eventually hired John W. Swezey, a member of the Virginia bar since 1967. Swezey filed suit in 2004.
But Swezey and Boyce should have known better, according to the trial court’s opinion, released today. Two months before Boyce filed suit, the Supreme Court of Virginia, “in a case legally indistinguishable from this one,” held that the defendants were completely immune from suit. That case was Lindeman v. Lesnick.
Weckstein ordered the veterinarian and his lawyer to pay $23,288.50 in legal fees to three law firms who represented the defendant witnesses, as well as the witnesses’ costs and costs to the clerk’s office. He also ordered payment of reasonable expenses to the Office of the Attorney General, who intervened in the suit, as well as a $6,500 punitive sanction to the AG’s Office “to reimburse the citizens of the Commonwealth of Virginia” for legal services.
The court ordered additional ethics training for Swezey and for Boyce, in their respective professions.
By Deborah Elkins