Category Archives: Lawyer derogatory remarks

Georgia Supreme Court rejects lawyer’s agreement for reprimand for threatening and improper e-mails in his divorce case

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert which will discuss the recent opinion of the Georgia Supreme Court rejecting an agreement between a lawyer and the Georgia Bar for a reprimand as a sanction for the lawyer’s “inappropriate threatening language, intimidation and personal attacks directed to opposing counsel” during his divorce case. The case is In the Matter of John Michael Spain, No. S17Y0010 (February 27, 2017) and the Court’s opinion is here:  http://www.gasupreme.us/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/s17y0010.pdf

The lawyer, who was admitted in Georgia in 1999, sent the e-mails over a period of two days while he was representing himself in his divorce matter.  He pled no contest to misdemeanor charges of stalking and harassing communications related to the e-mails and was sentenced to one year of probation on each count to be served consecutively.

In the agreement with the Georgia Bar, the lawyer admitted that the e-mails included “inappropriate threatening language, intimidation and personal attacks directed to opposing counsel, including inappropriate remarks about counsel and members of her family, and ad hominem statements about his wife.”

The lawyer cited as mitigating factors that he had no prior discipline and that he was suffering from his personal and emotional problems related to the marriage and stated that he has received professional help for his problems and he has retained a lawyer to represent him in the divorce.  He also stated that acted in good faith to rectify the consequences of his conduct by entering the pleas, that he has cooperated fully with the Bar, that his misconduct did not involve his practice or his clients, that he was deeply remorseful and recognized that his conduct was contrary to his professional obligations and longstanding personal values, and that he wished that he could reverse his actions.

The Georgia Bar agreed to the reprimand under the “unique set of circumstances’; however, after reviewing the record and relevant cases, and analyzing the facts, the opinion rejected the petition for voluntary discipline for a reprimand.

Bottom line:  This case involves some allegedly egregious conduct by a lawyer who was representing himself in his own divorce proceeding.  A lawyer is responsible for his or her actions, even if the conduct occurs outside of the representation of a client if they result in violations of the Bar Rules.  This also appears to clearly demonstrate the application of the old proverb, commonly attributed to Abraham Lincoln (although likely much older), that: “A man who acts as his own lawyer has a fool for a client”.

Disclaimer:  this e-mail is not an advertisement, does not contain any legal advice, and does not create an attorney/client relationship 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.

29605 U.S. Highway 19, N., Suite 150

Clearwater, Florida 33761

Office (727) 799-1688

Fax     (727) 799-1670

jcorsmeier@jac-law.com

www.jac-law.com

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Zealous representation or lawyer misconduct? Where does the Florida Supreme Court draw the line?

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert will discuss the lawyer’s duty to competently and zealously represent a client and the Florida Supreme Court decisions addressing when a lawyer’s conduct may cross the line and constitute misconduct and violate the Florida Bar Rules.  Lawyers understand that they should zealously represent clients and, while that understanding is correct, the Supreme Court of Florida has repeatedly stated that lawyers must act professionally and ethically during the course of the representation, both in and out of the courtroom.

The Florida Bar Rules do not use the word “zealous”; however, the Preamble to Chapter 4 of the Bar Rules states, in part, as follows:

As a representative of clients, a lawyer performs various functions.  As an adviser, a lawyer provides a client with an informed understanding of the client’s legal rights and obligations and explains their practical implications.  As an advocate, a lawyer zealously asserts the client’s position under the rules of the adversary system.  As a negotiator, a lawyer seeks a result advantageous to the client but consistent with requirements of honest dealing with others.  As an evaluator, a lawyer acts by examining a client’s legal affairs and reporting about them to the client or to others… A lawyer’s responsibilities as a representative of clients, an officer of the legal system, and a public citizen are usually harmonious.  Zealous advocacy is not inconsistent with justice (emphasis supplied).

The Supreme Court of Florida has addressed zealous advocacy/ethical misconduct in multiple opinions through the years and has addressed when zealous conduct is a violation the Florida Bar Rules.  The following cases are a sample of those opinions and the evolution of the Court’s position on the issue.

In The Florida Bar v. Martocci, 791 So.2d 1074 (Fla. 2001), the Court reprimanded and imposed a two year probation on a lawyer who engaged in unprofessional and abusive conduct and for unethical comments and behavior toward opposing counsel, the opposing party, and the opposing party’s family during depositions, in court, and outside the courtroom during breaks in the proceedings.  The attorney was representing the husband in a bitter divorce, child custody, and child dependency matter.  As a condition of the probation, the attorney was required to be evaluated by Florida Lawyers Assistance, Inc. for possible anger management skills training or mental health assistance or both.

In The Florida Bar v. Morgan, 938 So.2d 496 (Fla.2006), the Court suspended an attorney for ninety-one days for courtroom misconduct. The attorney had been publicly reprimanded and suspended for ten days on two prior occasions. The attorney refused to acknowledge the wrongful nature of his conduct but the referee found (and the Supreme Court adopted) the mitigating factor of good character and reputation, including the provision of pro bono legal services, serving as a role model for an assistant state attorney, and being held in high esteem as an excellent and passionate advocate by two judges and an attorney.

In The Florida Bar v. Abramson, 3 So.3d 964 (Fla. 2009), the attorney was found to have been repeatedly disrespectful and rude to the trial judge at a hearing and was suspended for ninety-one days.  The Supreme Court opinion stated that:

“Abramson’s misconduct was egregious. He was disrespectful and confrontational with the presiding judge in an ongoing courtroom proceeding in the presence of the pool of prospective jurors in a criminal case. Regardless of any perceived provocation by the judge, Abramson responded inappropriately by engaging in a protracted challenge to the court’s authority. His ethical alternative, if he believed the trial court had erred, was by writ or appeal. He has also been publicly reprimanded twice before for serious misconduct.  See also The Florida Bar v. Wasserman, 675 So.2d 103 (Fla. 1996) (two six-month consecutive suspensions on an attorney in his fifth discipline case before the Court where the attorney had an angry outburst in court after an unfavorable ruling and expressed contempt for the court, stated in the hallway outside the courtroom that he would counsel his client to disobey the court’s ruling, and used profane language over the telephone to a judge’s judicial assistant);  The Florida Bar v. Price, 632 So.2d 69 (Fla.1994) (ninety-one day suspension for appearing in court under the influence of alcohol and behaving in a hostile, abrasive, and belligerent; reinstatement conditioned on ability to show that satisfactorily completion of an evaluation and course of treatment for substance abuse approved by the Bar.”

In The Florida Bar v. Norkin, 132 So.3d 77 (Fla. 2013), the lawyer was suspended for two (2) years and required to appear before the Florida Supreme Court for a public reprimand.  The Court’s opinion detailed numerous instances of misconduct by the lawyer, including engaging in “tirades and antagonistic behavior” in exchanges with judges and other attorneys.  The opinion noted that it is “profoundly concerned with the lack of civility and professionalism demonstrated by some Bar members. The Court has repeatedly ruled that unprofessional behavior is unacceptable.  (citations omitted).”  The lawyer appeared before the Court for the reprimand in February 2014, which was read by then Chief Justice Ricky Polston, and smirked during the proceeding.  The opinion is here:  Florida SC Norkin 2013

In The Florida Bar v. Norkin, 183 So. 3d 1018 (Fla. 2015), The Florida Bar filed a petition for contempt and a complaint alleging that Norkin had failed to comply with the Court’s (and Bar Rule’s) requirement that he notify clients of his suspension and provide an affidavit confirming same and that the lawyer “had engaged in the practice of law after the effective date of the suspension by sending an e-mail to opposing counsel in a case pending in the circuit court questioning a hearing date and discussing the results of the hearing and the legal sufficiency of the motion addressed, and by preparing a pleading for his former client, which the client filed in the circuit court case.”  He also sent disparaging e-mails to Bar Counsel and admitted during the underlying Bar proceedings that he had smirked during the public reprimand before the Court.

The referee granted summary judgment in favor of the Bar and recommended disbarment.  In an unanimous opinion dated October 8, 2015 (which is here Florida SC Norkin 10/8/15, the Court permanently disbarred the lawyer and stated:

“As found by the referee in his report, Norkin’s e-mails to bar counsel referred to bar counsel as “evil” and “despicable”; called the proceedings against him “the most unjust act in judicial history”; stated that bar counsel had no conscience; and stated, “I’m preparing the lawsuit against you. Keep an eye out.”  At the hearing on the motion for sanctions, the referee questioned Norkin about the e-mails and his behavior during the public reprimand administered by this Court. In response, Norkin asserted his “right to speak freely and to express his beliefs in the manner of his choosing,” and freely admitted that during the public reprimand, he intentionally smirked and stared down each Justice one by one. We have disciplined attorneys for similar conduct as a violation of rule 4-8.4(d), including Norkin himself. See Norkin, 132 So. 3d at 86; Fla. Bar v. Martocci, 791 So. 2d 1074, 1075, 1078 (Fla. 2001) (finding that making insulting facial gestures at opposing counsel, making sexist comments, and disparaging opposing counsel violated rule 4-8.4(d)); Fla. Bar v. Buckle, 771 So. 2d 1131, 1132 (Fla. 2000) (finding that humiliating and intimidating letter, sent by attorney to alleged victim of his client, violated rule 4-8.4(d)). Accordingly, we approve the referee’s recommendation.

Here, disbarment is amply supported. As noted by the Bar, the Court has not hesitated to disbar attorneys who continue to practice law after being suspended. See Fla. Bar v. Lobasz, 64 So. 3d 1167, 1173 (Fla. 2011) (disbarring attorney for practicing law while suspended, even where attorney suffered from posttraumatic stress disorder, anxiety, and depression); Fla. Bar v. D’Ambrosio, 25 So. 3d 1209, 1220 (Fla. 2009) (disbarring suspended attorney who held himself out as eligible to practice law by sending letters on firm letterhead subsequent to suspension); Fla. Bar v. Forrester, 916 So. 2d 647, 654-55 (Fla. 2005) (disbarring attorney for practicing law while suspended); Fla. Bar v. Heptner, 887 So. 2d 1036, 1045 (Fla. 2004) (disbarring attorney for multitude of violations, but noting that disbarment would be appropriate solely on basis of continuing to practice law after being suspended); Fla. Bar v. Rood, 678 So. 2d 1277, 1278 (Fla. 1996) (disbarring attorney for practicing while suspended); Fla. Bar v. Greene, 589 So. 2d 281 (Fla. 1991). Moreover, given Norkin’s continuation of his egregious behavior following his suspension and during the administration of the public reprimand, we conclude that he will not change his pattern of misconduct. Indeed, his filings in the instant case continue to demonstrate his disregard for this Court, his unrepentant attitude, and his intent to continue his defiant and contemptuous conduct that is demeaning to this Court, the Court’s processes, and the profession of attorneys as a whole. Such misconduct cannot and will not be tolerated as it sullies the dignity of judicial proceedings and debases the constitutional republic we serve. We conclude that Norkin is not amenable to rehabilitation, and as argued by the Bar, is deserving of permanent disbarment. See Fla. Bar v. Behm, 41 So. 3d 136, 139-40 (Fla. 2010) (stating that persistent course of unrepentant misconduct warrants permanent disbarment); Fla. Bar v. Carlson, 183 So. 2d 541 (Fla. 1966) (stating that permanent disbarment is warranted where conduct of respondent indicates he is beyond redemption).”

Bottom line:  While Norkin may be an extreme case, lawyers must be on notice that the Supreme Court of Florida has become far less tolerant of rude, belligerent, and disrespectful behavior, regardless of whether it is couched in terms of “zealous advocacy” on behalf of a client.

Be careful out there!

As always, if you have any questions about this Ethics Alert or need assistance, analysis, and guidance regarding these or any other ethics, risk management, or other issues, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Disclaimer:  this Ethics Alert 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.

29605 U.S. Highway 19 N., Suite 150,

Clearwater, Florida 33761

Office (727) 799-1688

Fax     (727) 799-1670

jcorsmeier@jac-law.com

www.jac-law.com

 

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Indiana lawyer who criticized judge’s “stubbornly injudicious attitude” and threatened Bar complaint against opposing counsel given 60 day suspension

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert which will discuss the recent Indiana Supreme Court opinion suspending a lawyer for 60 days without automatic reinstatement who accused a judge of having a “stubbornly injudicious attitude” and threatened Bar complaint against opposing counsel. The disciplinary case is In the Matter of Michael E. Halpin, Case No. 45S00-1408-DI-559 (11/10/15), and the disciplinary opinion is here:  http://www.in.gov/judiciary/files/order-discipline-2015-45S00-1408-DI-559.pdf

The lawyer represented the mother in a paternity and custody case in 2012 and 2013.  According to the opinion, “(i)n several written communications between August 7, 2012 and April 12, 2013, Respondent accused Father’s counsel of having arranged venue in Tippecanoe County by fraud, deceit, and trickery; of intentionally violating Mother’s rights as a disabled person in refusing to transfer venue to Lake County; and in engaging in other unprofessional and unethical conduct.  Respondent also wrote to Father’s counsel, ‘[y]our possibly homophobic, racist, sexist clients should not be using the Courts to further that agenda.’”

“In some of these communications, Respondent threatened to file a disciplinary complaint against Father’s counsel unless counsel would accede to Respondent’s demands that venue be transferred to Lake County. Respondent also accused Father of having stolen money from his client and proposed that Respondent and Mother would not press criminal charges if opposing counsel would agree that the paternity case should be transferred to Lake County.”

In a motion filed in April 2013 challenging the denial of a change of venue, the lawyer said the judge who denied the change of venue had a “stubbornly injudicious attitude” toward the court proceeding, and that the judge was “taking off on detours and frolics that ignore the fact that there are laws in Indiana that the court is supposed to follow and uphold.”

According to the opinion, the lawyer’s conduct was prejudicial to the administration of justice and he had acted in an offensive manner.  The hearing officer found the lawyer’s lack of remorse as aggravation, and his lack of prior discipline as mitigation, which the opinion adopted.  The lawyer was suspended for 60 days beginning on December 21, 2015, without automatic reinstatement.

Bottom line: This appears to be another example of a lawyer going too far in “zealously” representing a client and, in this case, the lawyer’s conduct resulted in a 60 day suspension for the lawyer, who had no prior discipline (and also apparently had no remorse).

Be careful out there.

Disclaimer:  this e-mail is not an advertisement, does not contain any legal advice, and does not create an attorney/client relationship 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.

2454 McMullen Booth Road, Suite 431

Clearwater, Florida 33759

Office (727) 799-1688

Fax     (727) 799-1670

jcorsmeier@jac-law.com

www.jac-law.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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North Carolina Bar complaint alleges, inter alia, that lawyer made disparaging statements about judges in court documents

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert which will discuss the recent disciplinary complaint against a North Carolina lawyer who is alleged to have made disparaging comments about lawyers and judges in court pleadings including, inter alia, accusing judges of “overwhelming incompetence and ignorance, as well as asinine and unprofessional behavior” and “acting like mentally challenged cheerleaders”.  The disciplinary case is North Carolina State Bar v. Michael J. Anderson, 15-DHA-47 and the disciplinary Complaint is here:  http://www.ncbar.com/discipline/DHC_File_DHC_file_filename_bv.asp?DHC_file_doc=889

The disciplinary complaint contains three counts/claims, including one count with allegations regarding the lawyer’s failure to respond to a grievance against him and making false statements, a second with allegations regarding his handling his trust account, and a third with allegations regarding his pleadings in a workers’ compensation case.

With regard to the workers’ compensation matter, the lawyer filed a civil complaint on behalf of a client, responded to a motion to dismiss and handled an appeal to the state court of appeals.  He is alleged to have made a number of disparaging statements in his pleadings, including accusing the court of “overwhelming incompetence and ignorance… I felt just as I imagine I would have over a century ago arguing to said court that slavery was bad labor relations policy… [the court showed] a stubborn arrogance and ignorance…[a judge] literally threw a temper tantrum…As I felt like I was attempting to teach physics to a class of unruly third graders.”

In another pleading, the lawyer allegedly stated: “the lack of intellectual functioning and overt partiality of this panel…being readily apparent but, acting like mentally challenged cheerleaders, knowing they wanted to motivate their team to victory, but not sure how to accomplish the goal… [the judge] was assuming the role of ‘house negro’ for purposes of this matter…Sounding more like ‘Beaver Cleaver’ than any person has a right to…”

In another pleading: the lawyer allegedly stated “the instant panel will glad [sic] play thee [sic] blind mice and [Judge] will serve the historical role played by Monica Lewinsky for President Clinton for the current governor of North Carolina… if these judges are intent upon making the [court] a literal ‘whippin boy’ for special interests, they are welcome to kiss my red white and blue American male ass.”

Bottom line: If the allegations are true, this case involves a lawyer who had great difficulty with objectivity and civility in the language of his pleadings, to say the least.  We all know that lawyers are under constant stress and we may be unhappy with judges’ decisions and this is a classic example of how not to handle it.  There is no place for such language and disparaging statements in court documents, or otherwise.

Be careful out there.

Disclaimer:  this e-mail is not an advertisement, does not contain any legal advice, and does not create an attorney/client relationship 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.

2454 McMullen Booth Road, Suite 431

Clearwater, Florida 33759

Office (727) 799-1688

Fax     (727) 799-1670

jcorsmeier@jac-law.com

www.jac-law.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Washington lawyer suspended for 1 year for courtroom behavior, including making a loud noise like an animal being killed

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.

Disclaimer:  this e-mail is not an advertisement, does not contain any legal advice, and does not create an attorney/client relationship 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.

2454 McMullen Booth Road, Suite 431

Clearwater, Florida 33759

Office (727) 799-1688

Fax     (727) 799-1670

jcorsmeier@jac-law.com

www.jac-law.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Colorado lawyer suspended for 18 months for disclosing confidential information in response to client internet criticism

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert which will discuss the recent disciplinary opinion suspending a Colorado lawyer for 18 months for disclosing confidential client information in response to their internet criticism.  The disciplinary opinion is People v. James C. Underhill Jr. Case No. 15PDJ040 (consolidated with 15PDJ044 and 15PDJ059) (August 12, 2015) and is here: http://www.coloradosupremecourt.us/PDJ/ConditionalAdmissions/Underhill,%20Conditional%20Admission%20of%20Misconduct,%2015PDJ040,%2015PDJ044,%2015PDJ059,%208-12-15.pdf.

The opinion approved the conditional admission of misconduct and suspended the lawyer from the practice of law for eighteen (18) months which will begin after his current suspension ends.  The lawyer admitted that he disclosed client confidential information in response to clients’ internet complaints about his fees or services in two client matters.

In the first matter, a married couple retained the lawyer to assist with the husband’s ongoing post-dissolution dispute with his former spouse. The clients could not pay all the fees up and the lawyer verbally agreed to monthly payments, with an initial $1,000.00 deposit; however, “he did not explain that he reserved the right to demand full payment at his sole discretion.  He collected an additional $200.00 for a ‘filing fee,’ though he took no action that required such a fee.”

The lawyer also “failed to adequately communicate with the clients and did not inform them of opposing counsel’s objections to their discovery responses. Underhill later threatened to withdraw in two business days unless the clients made full payment of all fees. When the couple terminated the representation, (lawyer) declined to refund the $200.00 ‘filing fee.’”

The clients posted complaints about the lawyer on two different websites. The lawyer responded with “internet postings that publicly shamed the couple by disclosing highly sensitive and confidential information gleaned from attorney-client discussions.”  The lawyer then sued the couple for defamation and communicated directly with them, although “he knew that the couple had retained counsel, (lawyer) communicated with them ex parte on several occasions, even though their counsel repeatedly implored him not to do so.”  When that suit was dismissed, the lawyer filed a second defamation action in a different court, “alleging without adequate factual basis that the couple had made other defamatory internet postings.”

In a second matter, the lawyer represented a couple  to renegotiate a lease for their business. The couple eventually became dissatisfied with the lawyer’s services and terminated him. The clients posted a complaint about the lawyer on the Better Business Bureau’s website. The lawyer responded by providing an attorney-client communication and making “uncomplimentary observations about and accusations against the couple based on confidential information related to the representation.”

The lawyer’s 18 month suspension will begin after he serves a current suspension of 3 months and one day for communicating directly with his former clients who were represented by counsel while on disciplinary probation. That disciplinary order is here: http://www.coloradosupremecourt.us/PDJ/OpinionsAndSummaries/Underhill,%20Revocation%20of%20Probation,%2012PDJ071,%206-29-15.pdf.

The suspension takes effect on October 1, 2015.  After the suspension period, he must apply for reinstatement and prove by clear and convincing evidence that he has been rehabilitated, that he has complied with the disciplinary orders and rules, and that he is fit to practice law. 

The lawyer was also suspended for one year and one day for trust account violations in 2012.  That disciplinary order is here:  http://www.coloradosupremecourt.com/PDJ/ConditionalAdmissions/Underhill,%20Conditional%20Admission%20of%20Misconduct,%2012PDJ071,%2010-1-12.pdf

According to the Colorado Supreme Court’s website, the opinions of the Presiding Disciplinary Judge are final orders and may be appealed to the Supreme Court; however, since the opinion approved an agreed conditional admission of misconduct, it will not be appealed.

Bottom line: This is yet another cautionary tale for lawyers practicing in the digital age.  As all lawyers know, attorney/client confidences must be preserved unless the client authorizes disclosure (preferably be in writing) or there is an exception to the confidentiality rule, such as defending a Bar complaint or malpractice action.  A client’s criticism of the lawyer on internet websites is certainly not one of those exceptions and revealing confidential information in response to criticism on those platforms is a violation of the Bar rules.

Be careful out there.

Disclaimer:  this e-mail is not an advertisement, does not contain any legal advice, and does not create an attorney/client relationship 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.

2454 McMullen Booth Road, Suite 431

Clearwater, Florida 33759

Office (727) 799-1688

Fax     (727) 799-1670

jcorsmeier@jac-law.com

www.jac-law.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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New York lawyer suspended for 3 months for, inter alia, making racial, ethnic, homophobic, sexist, insulting judge, and being disrupting

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert which will discuss the recent New York Appellate Court disciplinary opinion suspending a lawyer who, inter alia, was found to have made “patently offensive racial, ethnic, homophobic, sexist, and other derogatory remarks to attorneys”, insulting an administrative law judge, and being disruptive in a hearing room.  The disciplinary opinion is Matter of Teague 2015 NY Slip Op 06301, Appellate Division, First Department (July 28, 2015) and the opinion is online at justia.com here: http://law.justia.com/cases/new-york/appellate-division-first-department/2015/m-1137.html

According to the opinion, the lawyer was admitted in New York in 1993.  In 2012 and 2013, the New York Disciplinary Committee brought 13 charges against the lawyer.  After a hearing, the assigned referee recommended that the lawyer be found guilty of 6 of the charges, which were related to his “demeanor and actions”. The six charges were confirmed by the New York Hearing Panel in a report dated January 13, 2015 and other the seven charges were dismissed.

The lawyer was charged with having made “patently offensive racial, ethnic, homophobic, sexist, and other derogatory remarks to attorneys”, insulting an administrative law judge in a public forum, and being disruptive inside of and/or in the vicinity of hearing rooms; and “improperly importuning court clerks to recalendar cases even when told it could not be done”.

The evidence included testimony of three Administrative Law Judges: one judge received complaints of “disruptive or explosive conduct” by the lawyer and personally witnessed the behavior on several occasions; a second judge was called “a disgrace” by the lawyer in an open hearing room during or after a contentious hearing.  A third judge had admonished the lawyer for talking in the courtroom, and the lawyer responded by becoming “irate, rude, loud, and combative”.  Three attorneys who practiced traffic law in the same place as the lawyer (traffic court) testified that the lawyer had cursed and made “obscene, racist comments, and uttered profanities about ethnicity and homosexuality” “for years” in the public areas of the court.  The had also threatened one of the attorneys on more than one occasion.

The referee report recommended that the lawyer be “publicly sanctioned” and directed to attend an anger management program, based on the “vituperative and unseemly remarks” made to two Administrative Law Judges and the inappropriate language used with other attorneys. The referee also noted the unpleasant work atmosphere and that inappropriate language between the attorneys “appeared to be commonplace.”  The referee attributed respondent’s misbehavior to “poor impulse control” and a “hair trigger response.”

The report further found that the lawyer admitted that he used inappropriate language, he intended to seek counseling, and he had never been convicted of any offense involving violence.  The lawyer is active in his church, does pro bono work related to traffic cases, and “seeks to be successful on behalf of his clients”.  The Hearing Panel rejected the referee’s recommendation of a “public sanction” and recommended a one month suspension.

After citing to relevant case law, the opinion states:

“Even assuming, as the Referee found, that it is true that inappropriate language by attorneys is commonplace at the (court), we fail to see how this constitutes mitigation or otherwise excuses respondent’s ongoing and public inappropriate behavior. Respondent has shown inexcusable disrespect in open court to two Administrative Law Judges. He has spewed racist, sexist, homophobic and offensive epithets against other attorneys that any reasonable person, let alone a reasonable attorney, would know are simply unacceptable in public discourse…Respondent’s conduct should not and will not be tolerated.  Furthermore, we find it of concern that he attempted to undermine the functioning of the (court) by his repeated requests of the clerks to recalendar cases, even after being informed by more than one clerk that what he was asking would violate (court) policy.

The opinion rejected the one month suspension and suspended the lawyer for three months and also required the lawyer to continue offensive racial, ethnic, homophobic, anger management treatment for one year.

Bottom line:  The practice of law is extremely stressful and lawyers strive to keep the stress (and any improper impulses) under control.  This lawyer clearly failed to do this and made “patently offensive racial, ethnic, homophobic, sexist, and other derogatory remarks to attorneys”, insulted an administrative law judge in a public forum, was disruptive inside of and/or in the vicinity of hearing rooms; and “improperly importune(ed) court clerks to recalendar cases even when told it could not be done”.  Notwithstanding that there was an “unpleasant work atmosphere and that inappropriate language between the attorneys “appeared to be commonplace’ at the court, the opinion suspended the lawyer for 3 months” and cited his poor impulse control” and a “hair trigger response.”  This lawyer should be happy that the sanction was only a three (3) month suspension.

Be careful out there.

Disclaimer:  this e-mail is not an advertisement, does not contain any legal advice, and does not create an attorney/client relationship 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.

2454 McMullen Booth Road, Suite 431

Clearwater, Florida 33759

Office (727) 799-1688

Fax     (727) 799-1670

jcorsmeier@jac-law.com

www.jac-law.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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