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In re Brady

United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Eastern Division

September 26, 2019

In re PAULINE A. BRADY, et al., Debtors,
HON. CHARLES E. RENDLEN III, [1] Appellee. ROSS H. BRIGGS Appellant, In re Long, In re Beard, In re Moore, In re Logan, In re Stewart, In re Shields



         This matter is before the Court on the appeal of Appellant Ross H. Briggs ("Briggs") from the Bankruptcy Court's June 25, 2018 Order denying his motion to disqualify Judge Rendlen from ruling on Briggs's reinstatement. For the following reasons, the Court will affirm the decision of the Bankruptcy Court.

         I. Background

         As noted previously, these consolidated cases have a complex and complicated history. The following is a recitation of the facts that are relevant to this bankruptcy appeal, which includes a history of the Bankruptcy Court's various orders related to Briggs's conduct.

         Since 2001, Briggs has had various business and contractual relationships with Critique Services, [2] a now defunct bankruptcy petition preparation company founded by Beverly Diltz. (Briggs Brief, Doc. No. 6, at 13). In June 2014, the Bankruptcy Court suspended one of the lawyers associated with Critique Services (James Robinson), and Briggs thereafter assumed the representation of many of Robinson's former Chapter 7 clients.

         Following the resolution of a number of those cases, the Bankruptcy Court directed Robinson, Briggs, and Critique Services to turn over certain documents related to the disgorgement of attorney's fees.[3] (Bank. Ct. Doc. No. 47). They failed to comply, and, on July 6, 2015, the Bankruptcy Court indicated that it was contemplating the imposition of sanctions for noncompliance. (Bank. Ct. Doc. No. 70). During hearings related to the disgorgement of funds, Briggs made representations that he was not affiliated with Critique Services and was not in the "power circle, " thus rendering him unable to answer questions or seek the documents and information sought by the Bankruptcy Court.

         On July 22, 2015, the Bankruptcy Court found these statements not credible, citing numerous connections between Briggs and Critique Services. The Bankruptcy Court advised Briggs that if he agreed to comply with a number of terms, including a six-month suspension, the Court would not impose additional sanctions on him or refer his misconduct to the Missouri Supreme Court's Office of Chief Disciplinary Counsel ("MO OCDC"). (Bank. Ct. Doc. No. 88). Briggs responded by denying his connection with Critique Services and requesting that the matter be transferred to this Court for a de novo hearing and determination. (Bank. Ct. Doc. No. 90). The Bankruptcy Court denied his request. (Bank. Ct. Doc. No. 91).

         Following a flurry of filings by Critique Services, the Bankruptcy Court issued a 250-page order ("April 2016 Order") sanctioning Robinson, Briggs, and Critique Services for their failure to comply with the Bankruptcy Court's orders compelling turnover of documents. As relevant to this appeal, the April 2016 Order prohibited Briggs from filing any new bankruptcy cases for six months or using his login credentials on the Bankruptcy Court's online filing system ("CM-ECF"). Briggs was permitted to seek reinstatement on or after October 1, 2016. (Bank. Doc. No. 114).

         Thereafter, Briggs then engaged in considerable litigation challenging the April 2016 Order. See In re Reed, 2017 WL 44645 (E.D. Mo. Jan. 3, 2017) (Judge White); In re Reed, 2017 WL 994798 (E.D. Mo. March 15, 2017) (Judge Fleissig); In re Reed, 888 F.3d 930 (8th Cir. 2018). In each of those appeals, he sought the disqualification of Judge Rendlen on remand, all of which were denied.

         On May 10, 2016, the Bankruptcy Court-on Briggs's motion-reinstated his right to file new cases for certain existing clients and to use the CM-ECF filing system because Briggs had provided an extensive statement to the Missouri Attorney General regarding his involvement with Critique Services. However, on June 29, 2016, the Bankruptcy Court again suspended Briggs's ability to use CM-ECF after his login credentials were used to file a pleading signed by another attorney. (Bank. Ct. Doc. No. 153). The Bankruptcy Court also referred Briggs to MO OCDC.

         On August 13, 2016, Briggs filed a motion seeking early reinstatement, citing completion of the continuing legal education requirements contained in the April 2016 Order. (Bank. Doc. No. 155). The Bankruptcy Court denied his request as premature. (Bank. Doc. No. 156).

         In January 2017, Diltz was deposed in connection with a state investigation of Critique Services and testified that she had a close relationship with Briggs, that she had financial dealings with Briggs, and that she had received a "cash packet" from Briggs as recently as December 2016. On February 3, 2017, the Bankruptcy Court filed an Order referencing the Diltz deposition and notifying Briggs that if he sought reinstatement, he might have to to address whether he had any financial or professional involvement with Diltz or Robinson since the April 2016 Order, which prohibited him from any such involvement. (Bank. Ct. Doc. No. 162). The Bankruptcy Court again referred Briggs to MO OCDC. (Bank. Ct. Doc. No. 164).

         On May 23, 2017, the Bankruptcy Court filed an Order notifying Briggs that if he sought reinstatement, he might have to address questions regarding representations made on his website that appeared to be misleading or false in light of his suspension. (Bank. Doc. No. 167). The Court also alerted the bar admission and regulation authorities of Illinois and Florida regarding representations made by Briggs on his website that he operates law businesses in those states, despite not being licensed in those states. On June 19, 2017, the Bankruptcy Court, at the suggestion of the Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission of the Supreme Court of Illinois, forwarded a copy of the relevant orders to the Bankruptcy Court for the Northern District of Illinois, as well as the Bankruptcy Court for the Middle District of Florida.

         On September 26, 2017, Briggs initiated a miscellaneous proceeding seeking reinstatement from Chief Bankruptcy Judge Kathy Surratt-States. In re Briggs, Case No. 17-401-659 (E.D. Mo. Bank.). On November 6, 2017, Judge Surratt-States denied the request, holding that there was no basis for the relief requested under the local bankruptcy rules or the Rules of Disciplinary Enforcement for the District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri. Id. at Doc. No. 2. Shortly thereafter, on November 13, 2017, Briggs filed a petition seeking reinstatement from Chief District Judge Rodney W. Sippel. In re Briggs, 4:17-mc-00674-RWS. On December 15, 2017, Judge Sippel denied Briggs's motion for reinstatement for lack of jurisdiction, holding that "[c]learly, Briggs should seek reinstatement from Judge Rendlen directly." Id. at Doc. No. 5. Briggs appealed both decisions denying his motion for reinstatement. While the appeals were pending, the Bankruptcy Court filed a notice advising that Briggs could seek reinstatement, but that it would require a hearing. (Bank. Doc. No. 170).

         On April 25, 2018, the Eighth Circuit affirmed the decisions of Judge Surratt-States and Judge Sippel, holding that Briggs should file his motion for reinstatement directly with Judge Rendlen. In re Reed, 888 F.3d at 940. The Eighth Circuit also denied Briggs's motion to ...

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