Repeatedly, I am amused, bemused, and just plain gob-smacked at lawyer and judge antics. I am never bored reading them because I never grow tired of asking “what were they thinking?”
Let’s take some recent examples, courtesy of the Legal Professions blog:
Unlike what this judge thought, the courtroom is not a “bully pulpit,” and if you don’t get the phrase, read up on your Teddy Roosevelt. This Arkansas judge found himself in hot water with that state’s judicial disciplinary body, accepting censure and suspension without pay for a period because he was a bully.
The judge’s mistreatment of a public defender while she was examining a witness included the judge’s leaving the bench during that examination. Wait, what? He would not allow her to make a record, and his behavior “alarmed other attorneys and members of the gallery.” In another criminal matter, he left the impression that he was trying to coerce a resolution from the defense. In yet another matter, the judge mistakenly thought that the public defender had filed a complaint against him, and thus asked her if she was going to file another complaint if she did not agree with a plea negotiation. Retaliation perhaps? But there was nothing to retaliate against since no complaint had been filed against him. Whoops.
His words, tone, and demeanor were “intimidating and improper.” In addition to the censure and suspension without pay, the judge also must hire a coach to help him learn how to treat professionals in his courtroom respectfully. What a good idea not just for him but for other judicial officers (and lawyers) who seem to lack emotional intelligence. The cost of the coach will be on the judge’s dime, not the court’s. And that’s how it should be.
Perhaps this attorney should hire an anger management coach. A suspended Orlando, Florida, attorney will most likely be disbarred after her latest antics in which she rammed her car into a rental car parked in her ex-husband’s driveway, shattering his girlfriend’s car windows, and then … wait for it … spat upon a police officer. Really?
This was not her first rodeo. She pleaded nolo to three counts of battery on a law enforcement officer in a 2018 case. In her more recent case, she pleaded nolo to an array of criminal charges including aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, criminal mischief, domestic violence battery, violation of a domestic violence injunction on several different theories, and assault on a law enforcement officer. Florida lawyer foibles writ large here.
Remember the expression “when you are digging yourself into a hole, stop digging?” How many times have we used that phrase in working with clients or witnesses? Here’s a perfect example of how this attorney just kept digging and digging, and his hole grew larger and deeper.
In this Iowa disciplinary proceeding, the lawyer was suspended for 90 days due to his misconduct in his own divorce proceeding. The judge made rulings that the lawyer did not like. (Surprise, surprise). The pissed-off lawyer then engaged in verbal attacks on the trial judge over succeeding months and even on appeal. The attorney questioned the judge’s integrity, accusing her of violating ethical rules, claiming that she committed libel per se, and finally, implied she had “brain cancer” that affected the quality of her work. Even after the record was set straight by both the judge and the chief judge, the lawyer continued to dig his hole deeper and deeper. What did he not hear?
The Iowa Supreme Court essentially told the lawyer to STFU. (My words, not the court’s.) The lawyer offered as mitigating factors the stress of the divorce and the death of his father, expressed remorse and proffered as another mitigating factor that he practiced in a remote underserved part of the state. Serving an underserved population excuses bad behavior?
The court reminded, yet again, that only a fool has himself for a lawyer. The court said, “This case is a textbook example of why in difficult emotionally challenging circumstances the assistance of a qualified and objective lawyer is desirable in light of the risk that a pro se lawyer with clouded judgment will cross the Rubicon of our ethical rules and then double down on resulting misconduct.” Would some emotional intelligence help here?
We all know how expensive litigation is, especially when a divorce is contentious and reminiscent of the movie “The War of the Roses.” For those lawyers who haven’t seen it, do so. It’s an angry satire about how divorces can, and do, spin out of control and a broader commentary about litigation in general. It’s not a pleasant movie to watch, in fact, I found it painful when I first saw it three decades ago, but litigation never is pleasant. Even if you win, you lose.
Why do I share these stories? One, I think Legal Professions blog and similar sites are like Dilbert comic strips for our profession, full of examples of lawyers and judges who are stone stupid in their words and actions. (ATL also calls out jerks among us. Here’s just two of its most recent stories.
Two, because they are cautionary tales for all lawyers and judges. We all have tendencies to let our egos run amok (since we are not known for being ego-less). How can purportedly educated lawyers and judges be so stupid and emotionally obtuse? And does that speak to their judgment in general? Society has all kinds of coaches, in sports, acting, writing, executive management, to name just a few. Why not coaches for lawyers and judges? It couldn’t hurt.
Jill Switzer has been an active member of the State Bar of California for over 40 years. She remembers practicing law in a kinder, gentler time. She’s had a diverse legal career, including stints as a deputy district attorney, a solo practice, and several senior in-house gigs. She now mediates full-time, which gives her the opportunity to see dinosaurs, millennials, and those in-between interact — it’s not always civil. You can reach her by email at [email protected].