Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert blog which will update Supreme Court of Florida disciplinary opinion which increased a referee’s recommended 90 day suspension to 2 years for “appalling and unprofessional behavior” including, inter alia, “screaming at judges and opposing counsel, and personally attacking opposing counsel by disparaging him and attempting to humiliate him.” The opinion is The Florida Bar v. Norkin, No. SC11-1356 (October 31, 2013) and is online here: http://www.floridasupremecourt.org/decisions/2013/sc11-1356.pdf.
The Florida Bar filed a formal Complaint against the lawyer alleging that on numerous occasions, he behaved “in an unprofessional and antagonistic manner during the course of litigating a civil case.” The lawyer was representing the defendants in a lawsuit filed in Miami-Dade County which originated from a dispute between business partners. According to the opinion, the lawyer was “initially” cordial in his interactions with opposing counsel; “(h)owever, one month later, in August 2008, (the lawyer’s) demeanor changed and he became combative. Based upon (the lawyer’s) unprofessional behavior towards the presiding judges, a senior judge was appointed to serve as a court appointed provisional director of the corporation, and opposing counsel…”
The initial senior presiding judge was later replaced by a second senior judge. As one of multiple examples of the lawyer’s disruptive behavior, the opinion quoted an exchange between the lawyer and the second presiding judge: “During a hearing on April 17, 2009, (the judge) commented, ‘I am finding these hearings with you extremely difficult. You talk very loud. I am telling you at every hearing. You are very angry, you make me angry. I don’t like angry lawyers. There is no point in it.’
Later in the same hearing, (the judge) commented, ‘I have told you three times already. I’m telling you, I am different than the last judge and so you are going to modify your behavior when you come in here. I am a low volume, low key guy until I get pissed off. You know what pisses me off? People coming in here and raising their voices at me.”
In another example from the opinion: “At a hearing on December 22, 2009, (the judge) remarked, ‘You come in like a bull in a china shop. You do it every time. I don’t know if you are trying to piss me off or what but you do it.’ In the same hearing, (the judge) commented, ‘I remember you coming in here and screaming the way you are doing consistently….You’re the one that raised your voice.’
The lawyer “argued (to the referee) that his voice is naturally loud, he speaks loudly when he feels he is not being heard, and he is working with a behavioral therapist to correct his behavior. The referee rejected the lawyer’s explanation about the volume of his voice as “patently unbelievable” and found that his behavior was “calculated” and that when the lawyer “felt he was not winning during a particular hearing, he would raise his voice and behave in an angry, disrespectful manner.” The referee recommended that the lawyer be suspended for 90 days.
The opinion affirmed the referee’s factual findings and that the lawyer “engaged in numerous acts of misconduct by behaving in an unprofessional and antagonistic manner during the course of a civil case”; however, it rejected the referee’s recommended 90 day suspension, stating that “(t)here are proper types of behavior and methods to use when aggressively representing a client. Screaming at judges and opposing counsel, and personally attacking opposing counsel by disparaging him and attempting to humiliate him, are not among the types of acceptable conduct but are entirely unacceptable. One can be professional without being obnoxious.” The opinion imposed a 2 year suspension on the lawyer and ordered him to personally appear before the Court for a public reprimand.
Bottom line: As I stated on my November 4, 2014 blog, which is here: https://jcorsmeier.wordpress.com/2013/11/04/florida-supreme-court-suspends-lawyer-for-2-years-for-appalling-and-unprofessional-behavior-including-screaming-at-judges-and-opposing-counsel/, this disciplinary case is another example of the Florida Supreme Court increasing the recommended discipline of a referee. A footnote to the opinion states that: “Members of The Florida Bar, law professors, and law students should study the instant case as a glaring example of unprofessional behavior.”
As an update, the lawyer appeared before the Florida Supreme Court on February 6, 2014 for the reprimand, which was read by then Chief Justice Ricky Polston and is online here: http://www.wfsu.org/gavel2gavel/viewcase.php?eid=2129. The lawyer appears to smile during the reprimand and to shake his head from side to side when Justice Polston describes the misconduct. You can watch the video and decide for yourself whether the reprimand and 2 year suspension had the effect on the lawyer that the Court desired.
Let’s be careful out there.
Disclaimer: this blog is not an advertisement and does not contain any legal advice and the comments herein should not be relied upon by anyone who reads it.
Joseph A. Corsmeier, Esquire
Law Office of Joseph A. Corsmeier, P.A.
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