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The Howard Shipley case: A lesson for others

The Supreme Court’s threat of discipline for a Washington lawyer based on a nearly unintelligible filing he had submitted has ended with no punishment, but with a lesson for advocates before the Court about their professional duties.  The Court, in a brief order Monday, indicated that it would not take action against that lawyer, Howard Neil Shipley.

In October, over Shipley’s signature as counsel of record, his firm filed a petition seeking Court review of a petition (Schindler v. Lee, docket 14-424) that seemed to be about interpretation by the Patent Office of patent claims.  Neither the questions presented nor the body of the filing were clear, however, and many symbols and abbreviations were used throughout its thirty-seven pages.

On the final page, a foonote said that an inventor, Sigram Schindler, who was the firm’s client, “should be recognized for significant contributions to this petition.”

The Patent Office chose not to reply, and the Court denied the petition on December 8.  On that same day, the Court told Shipley to “show cause why he should not be sanctioned for his conduct as a member of the Bar of this Court in connection with the petition.”

By the time Shipley replied to that order, on February 20, he had hired a noted Supreme Court advocate, Paul D. Clement, to file on his behalf.  Clement’s response asked for mercy, and put much of the blame for the contents of the petition on the inventor/client, described as insistent and demanding.

Nothing further happened until Monday, when the Court lifted the threat of discipline.  But its order pointedly cautioned members of the Bar that they had a duty, under the Court’s rules, to take responsibility themselves for what they said in filings, and not to hand that task over to clients.

Recommended Citation: Lyle Denniston, The Howard Shipley case: A lesson for others, SCOTUSblog (Mar. 24, 2015, 12:53 PM),