In reviewing materials from discovery, it is clear that Jeff “Sugarland” Chiow and Dysfunctional Bob have spent a lot of time looking for a way to file a defamation claim. As part of their efforts, they have been in contact multiple times with the attorneys at Holland and Knight. That raises an interesting question: Why has no one talked some sense into Jeff “Sugarland” Chiow?
On the ethical front, false and inflammatory pleadings are never helpful, and only serve to discredit the party that deploys such tactics, as well as their client. Indeed, such strategies are invariably a red flag that the underlying case is weak.
Moreover, if you consider who Jeff’s client is (an amorphous proposition at best, as he claims to be counsel of record for Bob Malm, for Leslie Malm, and for Grace Church, not all of whom appear to be free from adverse interests), you’d think there’d be some concern for reputational damage. But instead, like attorneys for the Catholic Church who for many years followed a scorched-earth policy in their defense of sex abuse claims, Jeff has pursued a strategy guaranteed to cause long-term damage to the client’s reputation. Even in this day and age, when churches enjoy relatively little respect within society, there is still the belief that churches should take the high road. But having taken the low road time after time, Jeff “Sugarland” Chiow has made sure that folks will distrust his client(s) for years to come, and has managed to solidify what previously was a somewhat inchoate dispute into one that is now focused and enduring.
It also belabors the obvious to state that it’s not a great idea to lie to the court. There’s never a good outcome, and disparaging my service as a police officer without apparently even so much as Googling me underscores both Jeff “Sugarland” Chiow’s feckless ethics and the marginal quality of the legal representation provided by Rogers, Joseph O’Donnell (RJO). Same goes for checking out my attorney registration—it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that I was licensed to practice law in Pennsylvania. And it’s doubly appalling given Jeff’s claims to have spent lots of money researching my allegedly bogus claims—my guess is that Jeff used the same knucklehead who came up with the fictitious town of Sugarland Texas. Even worse is Jeff’s false claim that I violated the protective order—an assertion that is facially untrue, and for which there is no non-frivolous argument in support of Jeff’s contention.
Then there’s the whole concept of entering Pennsylvania, a state that doesn’t permit discovery in restraining order cases, and trying to drag a dying woman into court. Can we say, “Multiple layers of stupidity?”
As things stand, it not only looks like a cruel and remarkably un-Christian thing to do, but it very much looks like Jeff was trying to pull a fast one on the Venango County Court of Common Pleas. Of course, if he wasn’t, we then skid into the space of professional incompetence. But the latter seems unlikely, given the number of law firm associates Jeff “Sugarland” Chiow pulled into the case. Surely between the bunch of them the attorneys at RJO can read the PA rules of civil procedure and figure out that discovery isn’t permitted. Or read the local rules to learn that your proposed final order must be attached to each and every motion. Not just some. Not just the ones you think are important. Not just the ones that are substantive. All of them, RJO rocket scientists; courts hate when you ask them to do your work for them. Practice hint for foreign attorneys: Pennsylvania courts get really irritable when you don’t bother to read the rules, or you read them and ignore them. Big surprise there.
On the practical level, it would further seem that exploring the possibility of a defamation claim would take relatively little time. Virginia has expanded its rather limited anti-SLAPP (strategic litigation against public participation) statute to make it very difficult to sue those who write about matters of public interest—like whether a church or its clergy act in an ethically appropriate manner. In such cases, the burden of proof is quite high, and the downside to litigation is that, like here, all the behind-the-scenes ugliness, like the multiple disparaging and sneaky emails between Episcopal clergy regarding this conflict, comes to the fore. Or you wind up exploring topics like the years and years of dysfunction in church offices, and Bob Malm’s reasons for ignoring that dysfunction. Not to mention the speculation, which I have heard more than once from prominent parishioners, that previous church staff “had something” on Bob Malm, thus leading to his reluctance to address this situation. Having parishioners on the witness stand is not a pretty thing, and it’s a sure-fire way to see your church get much smaller in a hurry. Professional hint for clergy: Churchgoers really hate conflict. Put them on the stand and watch them head for the door.
At its most basic, you’d think that between Holland and Knight, the bishops of the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia, the illustrious attorneys at RJO, and Bob Malm’s more than 40 years as a priest, one of the bunch would have figured out a long time ago that the church’s handling of this matter has been a debacle, beginning to end. Or would have urged Jeff “Sugarland” Chiow to show a little common sense. Or follow the rules of civil procedure—it’s not just for pro se litigants, any more.
If the DC Bar suspends Jeff “Sugarland” Chiow’s license to practice law, which is one possible outcome when an attorney files untruthful pleadings, it will be interesting to see if Jeff actually takes a deep breath, slows down, and does some introspection about his personal and professional ethics, as well as his judgment in taking a case for which he is neither qualified, nor appropriately dispassionate. Not to mention if I were a fellow RJO shareholder, I’d have some serious reservations about Jeff’s use of firm resources and the case’s implications for the law firm’s reputation and goodwill.
Somehow, I doubt we will see Jeff display any introspection. Arrogance and stupidity appear hardwired into the equation, and seem, in Jeff’s case, to quickly trump any sense of Christian ethics.