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Lawyer suspended for repeat incompetence

A lawyer who bungled two costly cases for the same client has had his license suspended for 60 days by the Virginia State Bar Disciplinary Board.

Jerrod M. Smith of Chesterfield mishandled both a pharmaceutical product liability claim and a warranty claim for home repairs, according to evidence presented by the bar.

One federal judge referred to Smith’s “persistent incompetence” as the lawyer sought to preserve the product liability action. Another federal judge described Smith’s 119-page complaint in the home warranty case as “rambling and nubilous.”

The client, Monica Ball, hired Smith in 2011 to represent her in connection with medical problems allegedly caused by prescription medication, the VSB alleged.

Ball had taken the drug Dexilant for gastric problems and believed it had caused physical problems including a painful condition known as “Stevens-Johnson Syndrome,” according to court documents.

On behalf of Ball, Smith sued the maker of the drug, Takeda Pharmaceuticals America Inc., in federal court. When he repeatedly postponed discovery meetings and failed to disclose any expert witness, Takeda lawyers asked U.S. District Judge John A. Gibney to impose sanctions.

Gibney dismissed the case altogether.

“This is the sixth time the plaintiff has moved to amend her complaint,” the judge wrote in 2013.

“The plaintiff’s complaint failed to correct errors, remedy omissions, or provide valid, supporting law, despite possessing detailed notice of those shortcomings,” Gibney said.

“This Court’s patience with and sympathy for the plaintiff’s medical misfortunes are necessarily bounded by its responsibility for judicial efficiency and order, and its consideration of the not inconsiderable burden that the plaintiff’s counsel’s persistent incompetence places on the defendant,” Gibney wrote.

Smith reportedly testified at the bar discipline hearing that he had no prior experience in a products liability case but thought he could “hold his own” until he found more experienced counsel to associate.

Smith also failed to promptly tell the client that her medical claim had been dismissed, the bar said.

In the home warranty case, the same client allegedly paid approximately $20,000 in Smith’s fees and $13,450 in arbitration costs to receive an award of just $1,500 for repairing cracks in drywall.

U.S. District Judge Robert E. Payne dismissed a later civil lawsuit over the alleged construction defects for lack of jurisdiction.

The Disciplinary Board heard the ethics charges against Smith on Oct. 2 and imposed the 60-day suspension, effective that day. Smith was not represented by counsel.

“The Board was particularly struck by the fact that both Judge Payne and Judge Gibney were moved to comment on Respondent’s performance in their orders dismissing the lawsuits,” wrote Whitney G. Saunders, chair of the five-member Disciplinary Board panel.

Smith was licensed in Minnesota in 1995. He was licensed in Virginia in 2004.

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