Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert which will discuss the recent disciplinary opinion suspending a Washington lawyer for one (1) year for, inter alia, making loud noise sounding like an animal being killed and falsely claiming that a deputy tripped her. The disciplinary opinion is In the Matter of the Disciplinary Proceeding Against Kathryn B. Abele, Case No. 201,352-0 (August 27, 2015) and is here: https://www.courts.wa.gov/opinions/pdf/2013520.pdf
According to the opinion, the lawyer represented the father in a three-way child custody battle. The trial lasted 13 days and, according to the testimony, it was” unusual, complex, and contentious”. “Throughout the trial, (the lawyer) was repeatedly admonished for interrupting the court and other counsel. She slammed objects on the table and made loud comments when (the judge) ruled against her.” When the judge told her to stop, she said “I did not say anything”.
In a post-trial hearing, the lawyer “made it clear that she wanted the case resolved that day because she intended to immediately appeal the court’s decision. The court told (the lawyer) that it would not be possible to conclude that day and that she would not sign (the lawyer’s) proposed findings. (the lawyer) became angry and said to (the judge), ‘You’ve got to leave now. We have to take a break now.’ (The judge), inferring from the statement that (the lawyer) was going to ‘blow up,’ called for a recess. After (the judge) left the bench, (the lawyer)made a loud screaming noise that could be heard in other rooms in the courthouse. Security was called, but (the lawyer) was not held in contempt for this outburst.”
In another post-trial hearing, “(the lawyer) repeatedly interrupted (the judge), even yelling to express her disagreement. When (the judge) directed staff to summon security, (the lawyer) announced, ‘I’m going to jail. I’m going to jail,’ placing her hands over her head, crossed at the wrists as if being handcuffed. (The lawyer) walked out of the courtroom while court was still in session, causing the proceedings to come to a halt. (The lawyer) reentered the courtroom and announced, ‘I’m leaving. I’m out of here …. I’m abstaining completely …. Good-bye.’”
The judge ordered court security to bring the lawyer back into the courtroom. The lawyer initially refused but ultimately returned to the courtroom. After she returned, the judge stated on the record that the lawyer had made “loud noises that to me sounded like an animal being killed and “I have been in these courts for 30 years, 18 as a judge. I have never heard anything- I have never heard any lawyer make any kind of noise or do anything like that before.” The lawyer “again yelled at the judge, attributing her previous scream to a hip injury and claiming that her yelling was the result of a hearing disability.”
The judge then held the lawyer in contempt. She responded by stating: “Your Honor, I appreciate your lecture. Could you just tell me how much I have to pay in a fine so I can get rid of it and take care of it and resolve this issue with you?” After leaving the courtroom, the lawyer yelled, “That bitch”. The judge had told the lawyer that she could purge herself of contempt if she contacted the Lawyer’s Assistance Program and she complied the next day.
According to the opinion, the lawyer also made a complaint about being tripped after she confronted a security officer who was called earlier in the day to respond to her alleged disruptive behavior in a courthouse hallway. The lawyer forced her way between the officer and another security marshal, brushing against the second marshal’s knee. “(The lawyer) immediately spun around, pointed and yelled,” accusing the marshal of tripping her. She called 911 and made the same accusation. “The responding officer reviewed the security video and decided it did not support (the lawyer’s) version of events.” The opinion found that the lawyer knowingly making a false and misleading statement to a law enforcement officer.
The lawyer argued that the stress of the litigation should be considered as a mitigating factor; however, the opinion rejected that argument. The opinion imposed a one (1) year suspension and ordered that the lawyer complete an evaluation to determine her fitness to practice before being reinstated and pay all of the costs and expenses.
Bottom line: As Vin Scully might say, “Oh my.” This lawyer engaged in some very bizarre conduct and it would certainly appear that it might be attributable to the extreme stress of the “contentious” 13 day trial and/or some serious underlying psychological issues.
Be careful out there.
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Joseph A. Corsmeier, Esquire
Law Office of Joseph A. Corsmeier, P.A.
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