The Blog Formerly Known As Practical Paralegalism
In a case that embodies one of the most outrageous abuses of the civil justice system I’ve seen in a long time, The Washington Post is reporting that Ohio resident Peter J. Brandel, Sr., a retired insurance salesman and part-time paralegal, has entered a guilty plea to conspiring with convicted child molester, David Copeland-Jackson, to enmesh one of his victims in a bizarre and fraudulent federal lawsuit. The lawsuit resulted in a defamation judgment which was almost immediately vacated by the court. Copeland-Jackson has entered not-guilty pleas to charges of perjury and obstruction of justice.
In 2000, Copeland-Jackson pled no contest to two counts of “sexual imposition” against two teenage boys, including Joseph Cutlip, who was an eighth grader at a school where Copeland-Jackson was a teacher. (Cutlip authorized The Washington Post to use his name in connection with the story.) Copeland-Jackson was sentenced to 36 months in prison. During his incarceration, he became friends with Brandel, who took an interest in his case and believed he’d been wrongly accused.
After his release, Copeland-Jackson contacted Brandel in 2006, and plotted to file a federal defamation suit to get Cutlip to recant his allegations. First, to obtain Cutlip’s signature for forgery purposes, Brandel filed a separate frivolous small claims suit against him. Unaware of his connection to Copeland-Jackson, Brandel convinced Cutlip to sign documents, in front of a notary, to have the small claims case dismissed.
In June 2006, Copeland-Jackson filed a $3 million defamation of character lawsuit against Cutlip in federal court. Assisted by Brandel, he then filed subsequent documents with Cutlip’s forged signature, including statements that he’d been served with the lawsuit, that his allegations were false, that he was sorry and that he didn’t want to contest the lawsuit.
“I did not have any kind of sexual contact with David Copeland-Jackson,” Cutlip supposedly wrote in one document. “I willfully lied.”
U.S. District Court Judge Ellen S. Huvelle was ultimately duped by the machinations of Copeland-Jackson and Brandel (read the Post’s full article and the full indictment against Copeland-Jackson) into granting a $3 million dollar judgment against Cutlip in August 2007. Cutlip, unaware of the litigation until that point, received a court notice that he had lost the case – and alerted prosecutors. Cutlip also wrote Judge Huvelle asking for copies of the case pleadings, resulting in her immediate – and embarrassing – vacation of the judgment.
Peter Brandel, at 71 years of age, is now facing up to 2 ½ years in prison. That he used his experience and specialized knowledge of the legal system to inflict further torment on a young man whose life is already damaged by the experience of sexual molestation is deeply disturbing. No matter how strongly he believed in his friend’s innocence, Brandel has no justification for unlawfully depriving another individual of his rights to due process, or for falsifying multiple pleadings presented to the very court he was trained to respect and serve.