Tuesday, May 22, 2012
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURTFOR THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA
EMBASSY OF THE FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF NIGERIA, )
Plaintiff, vs. )
Civil Action No. 1:10-cv-01929 (HHK)
EPHRAIM EMEKA UGWUONYE, et al., )
PLAINTIFF’S RESPONSE TO DEFENDANT EPHRAIM UGWUONYE’S
SEPARATE STATUS REPORT AND AMENDED SEPARATE STATUS REPORT
SEPARATE STATUS REPORT AND AMENDED SEPARATE STATUS REPORT
Plaintiff Embassy of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (“Embassy”), through counsel, hereby responds to Defendant Ephraim Ugwuonye’s (“Ugwuonye”) Separate Status Report and his Amended Separate Status Report (collectively, the “Status Report”), both of which were filed by Ugwuonye on April 26, 2012. See Dkts. ##52, 53. Ugwuonye filed his Status Report following the expiration of the Court’s ordered deadline for the parties to submit a joint status report and made many excuses for his failure to comply with the Court’s Order. See Order, Dkt. #48. In his Status Report, Ugwuonye made numerous hostile and false accusations against the Embassy and Patton Boggs LLP, as well as numerous misrepresentations to the Court about his supposed inability to access the Court’s docket and respond to these proceedings. If Ugwuonye is unable to show a factual basis for his allegations, the Court should impose appropriate sanctions against him, including imposing restrictions on his future filings.
A. Ugwuonye’s Conduct Contradicts His Representations to This Court That He Was and Is Unable to Defend Himself In This Matter.
Ugwuonye’s assertion that his “ability to access the electronic record of this court has remained considerably limited” is categorically false. Dkt. #53, at 1. Nor is he being honest with the Court when he says it has been “practically impossible for him to respond to the proceedings of this Court.” Id. From the time that Donald Temple submitted his October 8, 2011 motion to withdraw from the case as Ugwuonye’s attorney (see Dkt. #45), Ugwuonye has actively participated in other judicial proceedings, used the internet almost daily, communicated extensively by e-mail, and conducted numerous interviews with reporters. There is no justifiable reason why Ugwuonye could not devote even a modicum of attention to this case.
Ugwuonye’s behavior is inconsistent with his allegation that he could not, and cannot, represent himself. When his former counsel, Donald Temple, moved to withdraw from this case, Ugwuonye consented to the motion. See Dkt. #45, at 1. Ugwuonye never asked the Court for time to seek replacement counsel, nor did he ever indicate that he was not able to represent himself or respond to the Court’s proceedings. He filed his Status Report and his subsequent amendment thereto when it suited him to do so rather than comply with the Court’s Order.
In fact, Ugwuonye has had access to, and has accessed, the Court’s “electronic record.” The Court has ensured that Ugwuonye received notice of all ECF activity. The Court docket reflects that Ugwuonye is an “attorney to be noticed.” The ECF system sent a notification to Ugwuonye’s two e-mail addresses alerting him to case activity every time a filing was made by any party. The very fact that Ugwuonye filed his Status Report (including the amendment) establishes that he has received Court notices and accessed the Court’s “electronic record.” Moreover, given his frequent e-mail communications from the same e-mail addresses, which are explained in detail below, Ugwuonye cannot claim in good faith that he was unaware of the record of this case.
During the same period in which Ugwuonye represented he was unable to access the Court’s electronic record or respond to the Court’s proceedings, Ugwuonye has been actively involved in his lawsuit Ugwuonye v. Rotimi, 8:09-cv-09-0658 (D. Md. 2010) (“Rotimi”), where he is representing himself before the United States District Court for the District of Maryland. Contradicting his misrepresentation that he is unable to defend himself before this Court, Ugwuonye himself deposed the defendant in Rotimi on February 27, 2012, in Washington, D.C. Exh. 1 (Rotimi, Dkt. #93, pg. 5). His presence in Washington, D.C., and his ability to take a deposition in another federal judicial proceeding speaks for itself.
The deadline for the parties’ joint status report was April 18, 2012 (see Dkt. #48), but Ugwuonye failed to either respond to the Embassy’s counsel’s attempt to confer about the content of the joint status report or move for an extension of time before filing his belated Status Report. His failure is inconsistent with his behavior in the Rotimi case during the same time period. For example, on April 15, 2012, Ugwuonye filed a motion for extension of time in the Rotimi case. See Exh. 2 (Rotimi, Dkt. #101). Ugwuonye’s exhibited ability to move for an extension of time in Rotimi at the same time he should have filed any motion for an extension of time in this case establishes that his contention that he cannot respond to these proceedings is patently false.
Ugwuonye has frequently availed himself of computers and the internet during the relevant time period. For example, in Rotimi, Ugwuonye regularly used electronic media to communicate with parties in that case. Ugwuonye’s deposition, which was to be taken by the defendant’s counsel, was originally scheduled for February 24, 2012. See Exh. 1 (Rotimi, Dkt. # 93). However, consistent with Ugwuonye’s dishonest and irresponsible behavior, he sent opposing counsel an e-mail at 1:41 a.m. on February 24, 2012 informing her that he would not appear at his deposition scheduled for the same day. Exh. 1 (Rotimi, Dkt. #93.)1 Ugwuonye also e-mailed a third party in the Rotimi case who had agreed to be deposed by opposing counsel. The third-party was so intimidated by Ugwuonye’s e-mail that he canceled his deposition after the deposition was scheduled to begin. Exh. 1 (Exh. H of Rotimi Dkt. #93). Ugwuonye’s consistent use of e-mail in other judicial proceedings counters his claim that he could not access the electronic record of this Court and is yet another manipulative misrepresentation.
In addition to being actively involved with the Rotimi case during the time that Ugwuonye alleges that his “ability to access the electronic record of this court has remained considerably limited,” Ugwuonye also wrote and published an almost-daily blog at www.elombah.com. Between October 26, 2011 and December 23, 2011, Ugwuonye alleges that he was “placed in solitary confinement and denied access to lawyers, family, and the outside world.”See Exh. 1 (Rotimi, Dkt. #93). Nonetheless, Ugwuonye managed to post a daily blog during that time. See generally, www.elombah.com. In an effort to position himself as an international political dissident, Ugwuonye often blogged about Nigerian politics and his personal experiences in the Nigerian prison system. For example,2 on November 10, 2011, Ugwuonye posted a detailed opinion piece on Nigeria’s Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (“E.F.C.C.”) and its alleged obstruction of liberty in Nigeria. See, Ephraim Ugwuonye, E.F.C.C. – The Gathering Dangers for Liberty in Nigeria, Elomah (Nov. 10, 2011), http://elombah.com/index.php/
articles/ephraim-emeka- ugwuonye/8769- efcc-the-gathering-dangers- for-liberty-in-nigeria-v15- 8769. Exh. 4. Ugwuonye must have had
1 Contrary to Ugwuonye’s allegations, opposing counsel in Rotimi gave Ugwuonye notice of the deposition on January 25, 2012 – more than 30 days prior to the actual deposition. Id. Nonetheless, Ugwuonye said that he never received that notice to serve his personal goals of buying time and preventing any discovery that would not support his case.
2 The listed articles represent a very small sample of the almost daily articles that were posted by Ugwuonye during the period that he claims he had no access to electronic communication with the outside world.
access to a computer and to the internet to post these blogs. His claim, therefore, that he could not access the electronic record of this Court is a pretense.
On April 19, 2012, the day after the parties’ joint status report was due in this case, Ugwuonye posted an article entitled Another Nigerian Tragedy: A Plea for the Life of Farida Waziri (http://elombah.com/index.php/
articles/ephraim-emeka- ugwuonye/10649-another- nigerian-tragedy-a-plea-for-the-life- of-farida-waziri). Exh. 6. Clearly, Ugwuonye had access to the internet and, therefore, to the electronic record of this Court during the time he claims that he could not communicate with the outside world.
Ugwuonye also has conducted multiple interviews with the press since his initial detainment in Nigeria. As recently as April 28, 2012, Ugwuonye participated in a two-part interview entitled Emeka Ugwuonye: A Personal Account of Conflicts and Hard Choices. Ephraim Ugwuonye, EmekaUgwuonye: A Personal Account of Conflicts and Hard Choices
and-hard-choices). Exh. 17. On April 25, 2012 Elombah.com interviewed Ugwuonye about his ongoing criminal prosecutions in Nigeria. See Exh. 7. After returning to Nigeria from the United States in January, Ugwuonye participated in an interview entitled How Yinka Odumkin, Sowore, and Aluko Ganged Up Against Me. Ephraim Ugwuonye, How Yinka Odumkin, Sowore, and Aluko Ganged Up Against Me, Elombah (March 15, 2012), http://elombah.com/index.php/ special-reports/10268-how- yinka-odumakin-sowore-and- aluko-
ugwuonye-v15-10268 (Exh. 5). Ugwuonye also participated in press interviews on June 10, 2011 (Exh. 8), and June 8, 2011 (Exh. 9). The subject of these interviews was Ugwuonye’s treatment in Nigeria and the status of the Nigerian trials. See Exhs. 5, 7-9. That Ugwuonye had the time to represent himself in other court proceedings, post extensive blogs and
repeatedly meet with reporters is further evidence that Ugwuonye misrepresented to the Court that he could not access the record of this Court or respond to Court proceedings.
B. Ugwuonye Cannot Provide Any Evidence Supporting His False Allegations that the Embassy and Patton Boggs Engaged in a Conspiracy Against Him.
Ugwuonye has provided no evidentiary support – nor can he – for his extreme allegations that the Embassy and Patton Boggs conspired to “abduct,” “unlawfully imprison,” and “torture” him. Dkt. #53 at 2-3. This Court should not condone Ugwuonye’s baseless accusations against a foreign sovereign and its counsel.
Ugwuonye distorts his treatment in Nigerian prison. He concedes that the Nigerian Government granted him bail, an act that is antithetical to his claim that he was abducted, illegally imprisoned, and tortured. Moreover, Ugwuonye’s multiple trips back to the United States and his own decision to return to Nigeria repeatedly to stand trial does not comport with the decision-making of a man who had been abused and tortured. A person who elects to return to Nigeria to face trial and the prospect of additional prison time can hardly be considered sane if, in fact, that person was actually being tortured in prison. Additionally, Ugwuonye’s three trips back to the United States while he was being “detained” demonstrate his freedom of movement.
Ugwuonye’s claims are self-serving attempts to garner international attention for his outspoken and anti-Nigerian political views. Since he was arrested for embezzling money from the Nigerian government, almost all of Ugwuonye’s blogs and interviews reflect a theme of attacking and criticizing the Nigerian government.3 Ugwuonye’s quest to promote himself as a political dissident has no place in this Court. His politically-motivated accusations are all the more striking
3 See, e.g., Ephraim Ugwuonye, When Will This E.F.C.C. Deception and Manipulation Stop , Emeka Ugwuonye Raises a New Alarm, Elombah (April 28, 2012), http://elombah.com/index.php/
articles/ephraim-emeka- ugwuonye/10786-when-will-this- efcc-deception-and- manipulation-stop-emeka- ugwuonye-raises-a-new-alarm (Exh. 10); Ephraim Ugwuonye, Court Discharges Akingbola Emeka Ugwuonye Reacts, Elombah (April 2, 2012),http://elombah.com/index.php/ articles/ephraim-emeka- ugwuonye/10428-court- discharges-akingbola-emeka-
ugwuonye-reacts (Exh. 11).
given that he is an attorney who should understand the implications of making false allegations, and also previously represented the Nigerian government. The Court should prohibit Ugwuonye from using the U.S. courts as a political platform to make unfounded allegations against a foreign sovereign.
Ugwuonye alleges that Patton Boggs “conspired with officials of [the] Nigerian Government to abduct and unlawfully imprison [Ugwuonye] in Nigeria while Defendant was visiting Nigeria” and that “[Ugwuonye] was tortured by the Nigerian secret police at [t]he behest and understanding of Patton Boggs attorneys” based on Patton Boggs’ advice “on how to detain and frustrate [Ugwuonye] from returning to the United States” so as to “prevent Ugwuonye from being available to defend this suit.” See Dkt. #53, at 2-3. These allegations are unfounded and absurd, albeit consistent with his previous unethical behavior. Ugwuonye has not supported these ludicrous allegations with even a modicum of evidence, and he cannot do so because the allegations are not remotely connected to reality.
Ugwuonye’s attempt to implicate Patton Boggs in his alleged conspiracy comes on the heels of alleging an entirely different entity was the supposed conspirator. In the Rotimi case, Ugwuonye accused the defendant of conspiring with Nigerian officials to detain and torture him to prevent him from trying that case.4 Ugwuonye claimed that
Defendant Sowore has been conniving with certain individuals and officials in Nigeria who are believed to [be] behind Ugwuonye’s arrests and detention there to prevent discovery from occurring in this case and to influence the outcome of this case, certain officials in Nigeria arranged for Ugwuonye to be arrested and detained[.]
See Exh. 3 (Dkt. #95) at 2. Ugwuonye continues to allege that the prosecutor of the E.F.C.C., “who had been a friend and close associate of Sowore went to extraordinary lengths to keep Ugwuonye in detention beyond February 29, 2012 in an undisguised effort to use the sham criminal
4 Patton Boggs has no involvement in the Rotimi case.
prosecution in Nigeria to save Sowore from discovery in [the Rotimi] case, and hence kill the case.” Id. As in this case, Ugwuonye provided no evidence supporting his allegations that the defendant in Rotimi conspired against him to ensure that Ugwuonye remained detained in Nigeria. Ugwuonye’s propensity to accuse unrelated entities of the same conduct indicates that he will allege whatever he believes will further his personal interests in these separate lawsuits.
The allegations against Patton Boggs are a thinly veiled attempt by Ugwuonye to impede the Embassy’s ability to pursue its claims against him in this Court. The Court should not permit Ugwuonye to manufacture conspiracy theories in an attempt to derail these proceedings and should reject his allegations out of hand.
C. Ugwuonye’s Conduct is Consistent with His Previous Unprofessional Behavior.
Ugwuonye’s unfounded accusations are even more egregious because he is an attorney. However, they are consistent with his previous unethical behavior. The list of courts that have suspended him for unethical behavior is long. He failed to respect these courts’ determinations and has engaged in the unauthorized practice of law.
On July 24, 2008, the Maryland Court of Appeals suspended Ugwuonye from the practice of law for 90 days – from August 23, 2008 through November 21, 2008 – because he failed to act with diligence and competence in representing a client by failing to respond to a notice of contemplated dismissal for lack of service and, with regard to another client, he took a fee for a frivolous case and failed to return an unearned fee (which he had deposited in his operating account). The actions violated Maryland Rules of Professional Conduct (MRPC) 1.1, 1.3, 1.4, 1.5, 1.15, 1.16(d) and 8.4(d) and Md. Code Ann., Bus. Occ. & Prof. § 10-306. Exh. 12. Nonetheless, Ugwuonye practiced law during his 90-day suspension. For example, Ugwuonye continued to represent six defendants, including the Government of Nigeria, in the case titled Azikiwe, et al. v. Nigeria Airways, Ltd., et al., Case No. 1:03-cv-06387-FB-CLP (E.D.N.Y.) (“Azikiwe”). Exh. 13.
In 2008, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York imposed reciprocal discipline upon Ugwuonye as a result of his suspension from practicing law by the Maryland Court of Appeals. The court suspended Ugwuonye from practicing law until further order of the court. Exh. 14, Order, In re Ugwuonye, Case No. 1:08-mc-00441-BMC (E.D.N.Y.). Nevertheless, Ugwuonye continued to represent the defendants in the Azikiwe matter pending before the court.
The D.C. Court of Appeals also imposed reciprocal discipline upon Ugwuonye as a result of his suspension from practicing law by the Maryland Court of Appeals. The D.C. Court of Appeals suspended Ugwuonye from practicing law for 90 days. Exh. 15, Order, In re Ugwuonye, Case No. 08- BG-1097 (D.C.). The court further ordered that “for purposes of reinstatement respondent’s suspension will not begin to run until such time as he files an affidavit that fully complies with the requirements of D.C. Bar. R. XI, § 14(g).” Id. Ugwuonye did not inform the Embassy, who at the time was his client, that he had been suspended from the practice of law by the D.C. Court of Appeals. Ugwuonye continues to be suspended from practicing law in D.C.
Finally, the New York Supreme Court, Appellate Division, Third Judicial Department, imposed reciprocal discipline upon Ugwuonye as a result of his suspension from practicing law by the Maryland Court of Appeals. Exh. 16, In re Ugwuonye, 868 N.Y.S.2d 562, 562 (3d Dept. 2008). The New York Supreme Court ordered that Ugwuonye be “suspended from the practice of law for a period of 90 days, effective immediately, and until further order of this Court.” Id. The court also determined that Ugwuonye was “forbidden to appear as an attorney or counselor-at-law before any court, judge, justice, board, commission or other public authority . . . .” Id. The court has not yet issued an order reinstating Ugwuonye to practice law.5 Despite the fact that the New York Supreme Court suspended Ugwuonye from practicing law and specifically forbade him from appearing as an
5 Attorneys suspended or disbarred from practicing law in New York are not automatically reinstated at the completion of their disciplinary term but, rather, must apply for reinstatement. See 22 NYCRR §§ 691.11, 102.28.
attorney before any court, Ugwuonye continued to represent the Government of Nigeria and other defendants in the Azikiwe litigation, thereby engaging in the unauthorized practice of law. Ugwuonye continues to be suspended from practicing law in New York state courts.
Ugwuonye is currently suspended by the Maryland State Bar for failing to pay his dues. As a result, Ugwuonye holds no license to practice law.6
The many and varied examples of Ugwuonye’s unethical behavior are consistent with his baseless allegations here. Ugwuonye has shown – and continues to show – that he is willing to do and say whatever furthers his personal goals, with no regard for his professional responsibilities or the ethical implications of his actions.
D. Ugwuonye’s Conduct is Sanctionable.
Ugwuonye’s behavior in his previous suspensions from the bars of many courts, his attempts to thwart deadlines, prevent discovery, and make baseless accusations in Rotimi, and his casual attempts to buy time in this case show a disturbing pattern of unethical conduct. Ugwuonye conveniently uses his alleged maltreatment in Nigeria as a front for failing to abide by the rules of this Court. The Embassy abided by the Court’s rules and acted properly, whereas Ugwuonye made baseless allegations in an attempt to thwart court-imposed deadlines and requirements. To allow Ugwuonye to continue his pattern of unprofessional conduct would disrespect this Honorable Court.
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 11, which is “aimed at curbing abuses of the judicial system,” is instructive. Cooter & Gell v. Hartmarx Corp., 496 U.S. 384, 397 (1990). Under Rule 11, any factual contentions in a court filing must have evidentiary support.See Fed. R. Civ. P. 11. If a
6 The Maryland State Bar website does not list Ugwuonye as an attorney in Maryland. A representative from the Maryland State Bar informed the Embassy’s counsel in a telephone conversation at approximately 1:30 P.M. EST on May 14, 2012 that Ugwuonye is suspended from practicing law in Maryland for failing to pay his dues to the Maryland bar.
court filing is not well grounded in fact or is filed for any improper purpose, a court is obligated to impose Rule 11 sanctions on the filing party. Rafferty v. NYNEX Corp., 60 F.3d 844, 852 (D.C. Cir. 1995). Where a party makes “sensational” allegations against another party without any factual basis, that party’s failure to ensure that the court filing was well grounded in fact is a clear violation of Rule 11. Carswell v. Air Line Pilots Ass’n, Int’l, 248 F.R.D. 325, 330 (D.D.C. 2008). In McCreary v. Heath, 2005 WL 975736, at *2 (D.D.C. April 22, 2005), this Court imposed filing restrictions on a pro se plaintiff for making “outlandish” accusations of perjury, fraud before the court, and murder against the other party’s counsel. See also Whitehead v. Paramount Pictures Corp., 145 F.Supp.2d 3, 5 (D.D.C. 2001) (imposing full filing restrictions).
Ugwuonye’s conspiracy claims against the Embassy and Patton Boggs warrant a similar response by this Court. The Court should make clear to Ugwuonye that he must be able to immediately produce evidence of any allegations he makes against the Embassy and its counsel or, failing that, he will be subjected to sanctions.
/s/ T. Michael Guiffré
T. Michael Guiffré, Esquire
T. Michael Guiffré (D.C. Bar No. 465745)
PATTON BOGGS LLP
2550 M Street, NW
Washington, DC 20037
(202) 457-6000 - Telephone
(202) 457-6315 - Fax
Counsel for Plaintiff Embassy of the Federal Republic of Nigeria
Date: May 14, 2012