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Kentucky Bar Association v. Deters

Supreme Court of Kentucky

May 14, 2015

KENTUCKY BAR ASSOCIATION, MOVANT
v.
ERIC C. DETERS, RESPONDENT

Released for Publication August 20, 2015.

IN SUPREME COURT.

OPINION AND ORDER

John D. Minton Jr.

In two now-consolidated disciplinary actions, the Kentucky Bar Association Board of Governors found Eric C. Deters[1] guilty of a number of ethical violations and recommended he be suspended thirty days for each. Deters petitions this Court to strike the Board's Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law, and Recommendation because the Board failed to provide its findings to this Court within the time specified under Supreme Court Rules (SCR) 3.370(6). We now deny Deters's petition and adopt the Board's recommended thirty-day suspension for each action, to run consecutively.

I. KBA FILE NO. 19343.

In 2006, Deters filed a civil complaint in Kenton Circuit Court.[2] The complaint involved the alleged violation of an individual's rights bye the Kenton County Jail. Initially, Deters named only the Kenton County Jailer in his official capacity as a defendant in the action. Deters eventually filed an amended complaint, including the Jailer in his individual capacity and the County Judge-Executive and County Commissioners in their respective individual capacities. At the time of this amended complaint, the evidence indicated the County Judge-Executive and County Commissioners had no direct personal involvement with the plaintiff, Deters's client, under the circumstances giving rise to the complaint. In addition, Deters's amended complaint included " Unknown Kenton County Jail Medical Personnel" and " Unknown Deputy Jailers" as defendants.

The County Judge-Executive and County Commissioners were dismissed by summary judgment because, according to the trial court, there was " absolutely no basis in law or in fact to support the claims." The " unknown" defendants were especially curious because Deters's client " testified in his deposition that he had given the names of the individuals whom he believed to have violated his rights to his attorney 'in the beginning." ' Deters finally attempted to file a second amended complaint naming additional parties; but the trial court summarily rejected it because the statute of limitations had expired and, considering that Deters was attempting to substitute a named defendant for an unnamed defendant, the amended complaint was not within the relation-back rule.

Ultimately, the trial court found that Deters's complaints were not " well grounded in fact nor were they warranted by existing law." Specifically, the naming of improper parties was found unreasonable under the circumstances. So, in the trial court's view, the complaints were signed in violation of Kentucky Rules of Civil Procedure (CR) 11. And the trial court ordered Deters to pay $29,381.41 for the opposing party's attorneys' fees. The trial court's order was entered November 22, 2010, nearly four years after the initial complaint was filed in the matter.

The Inquiry Commission issued a two-count Charge against Deters for his conduct associated with the frivolous or unsubstantiated filings. The Charge alleged violations of SCR 3.130(3.1)[3] and 3.130(3.4)(c).[4] The matter was referred to a trial commissioner, who found Deters guilty of both counts and recommended a thirty-day suspension. Deters appealed the determination to the Board. The Board likewise found Deters guilty of both counts and recommended a thirty-day suspension.

II. KBA FILE NO. 19711.

In April 2011, Deters was sanctioned by the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky. The district judge found that Deters " knowingly and vexatiously" multiplied the proceedings and, consequently, under the authority of 28 U.S.C. § 1927,[5] ordered Deters to pay the costs incurred by the opposing parties in defending the case. More specifically, the district judge found Deters " knowingly pursued frivolous claims against these two defendants long after he knew the claims to be such, thereby causing defendants to incur additional litigation costs." In the end, the district judge ordered Deters to pay $12,765.45.

Deters appealed the district judge's determination to the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. Finding no abuse of discretion, the Sixth Circuit upheld the district judge's sanction. The Sixth Circuit noted that Deters ignored existing law and failed to allege any facts against the defendants that would have entitled his client to relief. Furthermore, Deters failed to allege any facts that, even arguably, could have served as grounds for extending or modifying existing law. The defendants filed a motion seeking sanctions, alleging that the appeal was frivolous, as well. The Sixth Circuit agreed and ordered Deters to pay attorneys' fees and costs relating to the appeal.

The Inquiry Commission again issued a two-count Charge against Deters; and, again, the Charge alleged violations of SCR 3.130(3.1) and 3.130(3.4)(c). The trial commissioner found Deters guilty of both counts and recommended a thirty-day suspension from the practice of law. The Board adopted the ...


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