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OH Prisoner's Attorney's Rule 11 Sanctions Nullified

Jeffrey Salkil was arrested for drunk driving and placed in the jail for Madison County, Ohio. Because he refused to submit to urinalysis testing, his driver's license was suspended. He completed an affidavit of indigency and asked to have a lawyer appointed but the court refused, finding that he wasn't indigent because he was employed. He told the court that he'd lost his job because of his arrest. The court directed him to file a new affidavit of indigency, but jailers ignored his requests for the forms so he couldn't complete them and he didn't have enough money to post bail. He was finally given the indigency forms and appointed a lawyer who got him released from jail on his own cognizance after 53 days.

The prosecuting attorney offered to drop all charges if Salkil agreed to release the jail from liability for keeping him in jail without a lawyer for so long. He didn't agree but was still released and the charges were dropped. But as a result of Salkil's refusal to release the jail from liability, he never had his driver's license reinstated.

Salkil later filed suit in federal district court against the city and a number of other defendants. He claimed numerous statutory and constitutional violations under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. He was eventually appointed counsel and the claims narrowed, with the defendants reduced to the city and its police department. The district court eventually dismissed the suit, finding that the city's refusal to reinstate Salkil's freedom and license unless he released the city from liability for violating his rights didn't violate the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

The city then moved for sanctions against Salkil's lawyer under Fed.R.Civ.P. 11. The district court found that demanding the release from Salkil didn't violate the First Amendment, and that, in retrospect, Salkil didn't have standing to sue because there was no ongoing violation. The district court granted the city's motion for sanctions and Salkil's lawyer appealed.

On appeal, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit recognized that Rule 11 provided for sanctions against lawyers who act unreasonably under the circumstances. It then held that whether a release agreement violates the First Amendment must be determined on a case-by-case basis, and since Salkil's First Amendment claim was colorable, his lawyer wasn't unreasonable for making it. The appellate court next found that Salkil's lawyer reasonably believed he had standing to sue because the ongoing suspension of his license appeared to result from his refusal to sign the release agreement. The district court was thus reversed and the Rule 11 sanctions vacated. See: Salkil v. Mount Sterling Township Police Dept , 458 F.3d 520 (6th Cir. 2006).

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Related legal case

Salkil v. Mount Sterling Township Police Dept