The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit has for the second time upheld a $1 million verdict won by a New Jersey lawyer who claimed his former client conducted a smear campaign against him.
The appeals court upheld dismissal of a motion by Matteo Patisso, which sought to overturn the $1 million judgment awarded to Morristown attorney Bruce Baldinger because of fraud on the court, and to have U.S. District Judge Peter Sheridan recused from the case. But the appeal was dismissed under the law of the case doctrine, since it was "essentially indistinguishable from prior requests for relief, which the District Court had denied and which we had affirmed," Judges Thomas Ambro, Cheryl Ann Krause and Richard Nygaard said in Baldinger v. Patisso.
Wednesday's ruling follows a September 2013 decision in which the court found no abuse of discretion by a trial judge in denying Patisso's motion for reconsideration of the $1 million award. The appeals follow a July 2012 award to Baldinger of $537,500 in compensatory damages, the same amount in punitive damages and $14,497 in legal fees, for a total of $1.09 million, on his defamation claim.
Patisso, of Huntington Station, New York, allegedly made statements about Baldinger online and in email and postal mail sent to his clients referring to his "chicanery," "abuse of his law license" and "unethical role" in his clients' criminal conduct. The statements also said Baldinger abused his former wife and is "perilously close to being disbarred." Patisso's website, National Fraud Constable, is also a defendant in Baldinger's suit.
The statements came after Baldinger represented a creditor, JMB Group, in the Eastern District of New York in a dispute over a $300,000 debt. Baldinger's client filed a third-party complaint against Patisso for allegedly brokering the loan. The appeals court also agreed with Sheridan's decision to deny Patisso's motion for reconsideration of the denial of his bid to overturn the judgment and recuse the judge. Patisso is not entitled to reconsideration because he failed to demonstrate an intervening change in the controlling law, the availability of new evidence that was not previously available or a clear error of law or fact, the appeals court said.