Madison - St. Clair Record

Saturday, April 4, 2020

Keefe apologizes for ‘inappropriate and regrettable’ comments in med mal discovery dispute

Federal Court

By The Madison County Record | Feb 11, 2020


EAST ST. LOUIS – Attorney Tom Keefe apologized for calling assistant U.S. attorney Suzanne Garrison “honey” and for referring to Chief U.S. District Judge Nancy Rosenstengel by her first name. 

“The court is due greater respect,” he wrote in a brief opposing a deposition of client Lisa Vandervelden on Feb. 7. 

He declared he didn’t intend to exclude or threaten Garrison when he told her, “You’re in my world.” 

He qualified the apology by describing Garrison’s conduct as unreasonably annoying, embarrassing, and oppressive. 

The clash occurred on Jan. 24, when Garrison tried to depose Vandervelden at Keefe’s office in Swansea. 

Keefe had advised Garrison that Vandervelden wouldn’t answer questions she answered last year in a parallel suit at St. Clair County court. 

The suits blame different providers for the loss of Vandervelden’s tongue. 

In the St. Clair County suit, Vandervelden’s daughter acted as interpreter. 

Garrison tried to schedule a deposition last October, and Keefe replied that Vandervelden wouldn’t do it over. 

“She has the burden of proof and is now seeking $52 million from the United States,” Garrison responded. 

“I have problems with plaintiff’s daughter independently supplying substantive answers to questions.” 

Keefe offered a deposition, “as long as you don’t ask questions already asked.” 

Garrison replied, “I do feel the need to revisit some of the topics that were in her prior deposition to explore them in greater detail.” 

She served notice that she would depose Vandervelden on Jan. 24.    

Vandervelden arrived on that date with daughter Mariah, who left when Garrison said she was a fact witness and could not stay. 

Garrison asked Keefe if it was his position that the state deposition would be admissible in federal court. 

Keefe said, “I don’t have to tell you any positions and I don’t have to answer any of your questions.” 

He said, “Honey, you’re in my world.” 

He said there were rules against harassing a witness, “particularly a lady who has been injured to this extent and particularly a lady who has emotionally been stunted as a result of this event.” 

He said, “I guess we’ll have to have Nancy rule on it.” 

Garrison asked if it was his position that she couldn’t ask about Jan. 23, 2017. 

Keefe said, “It’s very difficult for me to get this through to you but you see, I don’t have to answer your questions.” 

Garrison said she intended to frame questions that could be answered yes or no. 

“I believe that she can participate in a deposition verbally if everyone is patient. We were prepared to do that today,” Garrison said. 

On Feb. 3, Garrison moved to compel the deposition. 

She attached a transcript and called Keefe’s remarks demeaning and offensive. 

“Plaintiff chose to litigate the same transaction and occurrence in two different forums,” she wrote. “That was her attorney’s choice. 

“Given that the case will proceed to trial, how plaintiff will provide her testimony is an issue that will need to be explored.” 

Keefe argued in opposition that Vandervelden would have been subject to seven hours of painful, repetitive, frustrating and unnecessary interrogation.  

He moved for an order limiting Garrison to questions Vandervelden hasn’t answered, providing that her disability is reasonably accommodated. 

He wrote that the transcript captured comments that were reasonable in context and comments that were inappropriate and regrettable. 

“When plaintiff’s counsel told counsel for the United States ‘you’re in my world,’ the intention was to distinguish between the world of criminal federal prosecutions in which counsel for the United States practiced for many years and the world of civil medical malpractice casework in which counsel for plaintiff has practiced for many years,” Keefe wrote. 

“Plaintiff’s counsel is of the opinion that criminal prosecutors have at their disposal procedures and tactics that do not translate to the world of civil discovery practice.” 

He wrote that he felt Garrison abused that practice at his client’s expense. 

He wrote that he understood the belittling, sexist connotations implicit in “honey,” but that he had no intention of derogating her. 

He wrote that the attempt to dictate the bounds of the deposition and ambush Vandervelden was in bad faith. 

He attached a message he sent to Garrison on Feb. 4, stating, “I just read your motion, and I apologize for any offensive remarks.” 

The message showed his email address as “isuedocs.”

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U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Illinois