Francis Pileggi Publishes Article for American Inns of Court on Recent Del. Decision Clarifying Court’s Authority to Regulate Attorney Conduct

Wilmington, Del. ( November 12, 2021) - Wilmington Managing Partner Francis G.X. Pileggi recently published an article for the September/October 2021 issue of The Bencher, a bi-monthly publication of the American Inns of Court. The article, titled “Delaware Supreme Court Limits Trial Court’s Power to Impose Sanctions for Unprofessional Conduct,” analyzes a recent Delaware Supreme Court decision in which the court reiterated that it retains exclusive authority to regulate the conduct of attorneys in Delaware, with certain exceptions.

Mr. Pileggi opens the article by highlighting the two key takeaways from the recent decision in Hunt v. Court of Chancery, namely, that (1) the Delaware Supreme Court, as opposed to the state’s trial courts, have authority to supervise the practice of law in Delaware and to enforce the Delaware Lawyers’ Rules of Professional Conduct, and (2) due process requires that before a court may impose sanctions, it is required to give the recipient an opportunity to respond both orally and in writing.

Next, Mr. Pileggi reviews the underlying facts in the Hunt matter, which involved an unprofessional e-mail exchange between counsel—which initially was not sent to the court. As the article describes, the recipient of the e-mail later submitted a copy of it to the trial court, along with a request for sanctions. Without providing the offending attorney an opportunity to present argument, the trial court determined that the e-mail violated Delaware Lawyers’ Rule of Professional Conduct 8.4(d). The trial court imposed as a sanction the fees incurred by opposing counsel in addressing the e-mail. The Delaware Supreme Court subsequently reversed this ruling.

As Mr. Pileggi describes, the Delaware Supreme Court clarified that although trial courts may address conduct that prejudices the fairness of judicial proceedings, only the highest state court has the authority and responsibility to enforce the Delaware Lawyers’ Rules of Professional Conduct. In addition, the Delaware Supreme Court advised that the lower court should have provided the recipient of the sanctions with notice and an opportunity to be heard on the subject. Finally, although the Delaware Supreme Court did not approve of the e-mail in question, it reasoned that the isolated message between counsel did not adversely impact the administration of justice.

Mr. Pileggi is a member of Lewis Brisbois’ Complex Business & Commercial Litigation Practice. He focuses primarily on high-stakes disputes of corporations, stockholders, members of boards of directors, members and managers of LLCs, and those with managerial or ownership interests in other forms of entities. Since 2004, Mr. Pileggi has also maintained the Delaware Corporate & Commercial Litigation Blog at, in which he analyzes key decisions from Delaware's Supreme Court and Court of Chancery, as well as legal ethics topics.

You can read the full article here.

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