The case of LeFloris Lyon v. Canadian National Railway Company contains some of the most egregious treatment of a pro se litigant that I have ever seen.
It happened in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi. In his job as a paralegal for Mississippi law firm Wise Carter Child & Caraway, Lyon witnessed what he considered intentional efforts by two of the firm’s clients to criminally defraud their shareholders. He reported the clients — Canadian National and Illinois Central Railroad — to federal authorities. When his employer retaliated against him, Lyon sued the law firm and their clients as a whistleblower under the Sarbanes-Oxley Act.
You have to understand, railroad companies don’t hire just any old run-of-the-mill law firm. Canadian National is worth $60 billion and will celebrate its centennial next year. Wise Carter, Lyon’s former employer, is one of Mississippi’s biggest and best law firms, with 50 superstar lawyers. Few judges in the state wouldn’t jump at an offer of partnership there.
LeFloris Lyon had jumped on a tiger’s back by suing them.
If you’ve ever tried to sue a lawyer, you know how hard it is to find representation. But still, Lyons had a potentially lucrative Sarbanes-Oxley claim against some deep pockets. Lawyers would be lining up to take his case.
I couldn’t believe my eyes when I read the order by Magistrate Judge Linda R. Anderson. The judge entered an order preventing LeFloris Lyon from retaining a lawyer without first obtaining the defendants’ approval.
Yes, you read that right. The judge required Lyon to seek prior approval of the defendants for any lawyer hired to represent him. Lyon was barred from even talking with a lawyer unless he first provided the lawyer’s name and address and gave the defendants 48 hours to object to any contact. Magistrate Judge Anderson’s order stated further that if the defendants objected to Lyon talking to the specified lawyer, Lyon could not contact the lawyer without the court’s approval.
The order was outrageous and absolutely ludicrous. It went against the fundamental right to representation in the United States. Mind you, as an experienced paralegal and pro se litigant, Lyon had filed the complaint on his own and was prepared to litigate the case without representation. But a case as complex as his would need an occasional consultation with a Sarbanes-Oxley legal expert. The protective order forbade that consultation without the court’s approval.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, Magistrate Judge Anderson further ordered that any lawyer Lyon contacted had to sign a ridiculous statement containing cumbersome conditions before he could even consider taking the case, whether the lawyer ultimately agreed to represent Lyon or not. Here’s the statement a lawyer would have to sign before meeting him:
I have reviewed the Revised Protective Order that has been entered in the case styled LeFloris Lyon v. Canadian National Railway Company et al., No. 4:10-cv- 185, pending in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi, and I agree to be bound by and abide by the provisions of that Protective Order whether or not I agree to represent Plaintiff LeFloris Lyon. I further understand and acknowledge that, having been exposed to privileged attorney-client information and/or information protected by the work product doctrine, I would likely be disqualified from representing clients in cases adverse to the defendants in the above-referenced case, including Canadian National Railway Company, Illinois Central Railroad Company, Laird Pitz, Michael Novak, Constance Valkan, Wise Carter Child & Caraway PA, George Ritter, and Charlie Russell.
No lawyer in the country would ever sign such a statement, especially before seeing evidence of the claim. It would likely kill all future business prospects in the state. Besides that, an order like that was unheard of. The order effectively barred Lyon from consulting an attorney about his case. You really should read the whole thing:lefloris_lyon_protective_order
This is a classic example of the lengths to which federal judges will go to penalize pro se plaintiffs in their quest for justice. Something is very wrong here! This was not fairness or justice by any stretch of the imagination. It was preposterous for a judge to require a non-lawyer to obtain the approval of opposing parties before hiring an attorney.
This was not only an attack on pro se litigants as a class. This was an attack on the concept of justice in the United States. LeFloris told me it reminded him of the tortured reasoning a federal judge used to disqualify John Gotti’s lawyer at his racketeering trial, because the lawyer had defeated prosecutors every time they’d charged Gotti before.
Anyway, the defendants in Lyon’s case made light work of him. First the court sealed his complaint. Then they got it dismissed without prejudice, and they got the court to order Lyon to seek leave of court before amending it. When Lyon amended his complaint — as was his right prior to the defendants’ answers — the court dismissed his case with prejudice and sent him packing. He appealed, but the appellate court summarily affirmed the dismissal earlier this year.
The case is now at the U.S. Supreme Court on petition for certiorari. Let’s hope the justices take the case under review and correct this great injustice.