Hassebrock v. Bernhoft, No. 14-2943 (7th Cir. 2016)Annotate this Case
Hassebrock hired the Bernhoft Law Firm in 2005 to help with legal problems, including a federal criminal tax investigation, a civil case for investment losses, and a claim against Hassebrock’s previous lawyers for fees withheld from a settlement. Hassebrock was ultimately found guilty, sentenced to 36 months in prison, and ordered to pay a fine and almost $1 million in restitution. In 2008, Hassebrock fired the Bernhoft firm. In a malpractice suit against the Bernhoft attorneys and accountants, Hassebrock waited until after discovery closed to file an expert-witness disclosure, then belatedly moved for an extension. The court denied the motion and disallowed the expert, resulting in summary judgment for the defendants. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, rejecting an argument that the judge should have applied the disclosure deadline specified in FRCP 26(a)(2)(D) rather than the discovery deadline set by court order. The disclosure deadline specified in Rule 26(a)(2)(D) is just a default deadline; the court’s scheduling order controls. It was well within the judge’s discretion to reject the excuses offered by Hassebrock to explain the tardy disclosure. Because expert testimony is necessary to prove professional malpractice, summary judgment was proper as to all defendants.