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Mollis v. Corso

Superior Court of Rhode Island

January 22, 2015

A. RALPH MOLLIS, in his official capacity as Rhode Island Secretary of State, and not in his individual capacity
v.
MICHAEL D. CORSO

Providence County Superior Court

For Plaintiff: Mark P. Welch, Esq., Christopher M. Mulhearn, Esq.

For Defendant: Anthony M. Traini, Esq., Michael J. Lepizzera, Jr., Esq.

DECISION

PROCACCINI, J.

This matter comes before the Court to set the appropriate amount of sanctions to be imposed upon Attorney Mark Welch (Attorney Welch) who, in representing former Secretary of State A. Ralph Mollis (Secretary Mollis), filed a petition before this Court that was found to be improper and legally deficient.[1] In that Decision, the Court imposed monetary sanctions in the amount of the reasonable attorney's fees and costs incurred by Mr. Michael D. Corso related to the petition. Jurisdiction is pursuant to G.L. 1956 § 9-29-21 and Super. R. Civ. P. 11 (Rule 11).[2]

I

Facts and Travel

The petition that led to the current action was filed in this Court on July 25, 2014, after the Secretary of State's office had commenced a hearing against Michael D. Corso (Mr. Corso or Respondent) on the issue of whether Mr. Corso had engaged in unauthorized lobbying. (Ex. 3- Notice of Hr'g.)

In the petition, Secretary Mollis, pursuant to Super. R. Civ. P. 27(a) (Rule 27(a)) and § 9-18-12, sought an order from the Court authorizing him to take the deposition of the "person(s) most knowledgeable at The Providence Journal . . . for the purpose of perpetuating" their testimony. (Pet. ¶ 15.) Secretary Mollis and Attorney Welch (collectively, Petitioners) contended that they came before this Court in order to conduct depositions they deemed "necessary and indispensable" to the administrative hearing regarding the possible unauthorized lobbying of Mr. Corso. Id. at ¶ 13.

On August 13, 2014, Mr. Corso filed Respondent's Opposition to Miscellaneous Petition for Perpetuation of Testimony & Preservation of Documents and/or Items (the Initial Opposition), in which he argued that the petition was without merit and not in conformity with Rule 27(a); consequently, he sought its dismissal with prejudice, and attorney's fees and costs. It was at this time that the Petitioners became aware that there was some possibility of sanctions being sought in the case.[3] On August 25, 2014, the Petitioners voluntarily dismissed the suit pursuant to Super. R. Civ. P. 41(a)(1). The Respondent opposed the voluntary dismissal and contended that the petition was filed deliberately, in bad faith and for an improper purpose, and, therefore, was a violation of Rule 11.

On September 19, 2014, after the voluntary dismissal of this action, the parties entered into a Stipulation addressing Mr. Corso's argument for Rule 11 sanctions; the Court endorsed that Stipulation on the record on December 2, 2014. On December 17, 2014, the Court issued a Decision finding that Attorney Welch violated Rule 11 when he filed an improper and legally deficient petition that attempted to involve the Court in Mr. Corso's administrative hearing before the Secretary of State's Office. Mollis v. Corso, 2014 WL 7247142 (R.I. Super. Dec. 17, 2014). The Court strongly rebuked Secretary Mollis but found no evidence to support that Secretary Mollis, who has no legal training, knew the petition was flawed from a legal standpoint. Id. However, the Court sanctioned Attorney Welch to pay Mr. Corso's reasonable attorney's fees and costs in an effort to deter future improper filings and to remedy the financial harm that his conduct caused Mr. Corso. Id.

II

Standard of Review

The issue in the instant case is what sanctions should be imposed pursuant to Rule 11. Rule 11 provides, ...


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