Category Archives: Lawyer derogatory remarks

Ohio lawyer suspended for 1 year for engaging in “extreme, obnoxious, and humiliating attacks” on paralegal for over 2 years is reinstated to practice

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert which will discuss the recent Ohio Supreme Court reinstating a lawyer who was suspended for 1 year for “extreme, obnoxious, and humiliating attacks” on a paralegal lasting over 2 years. The case is Disciplinary Counsel v. Skolnick, No. 2018-OHIO-2990. The 8/1/18 suspension opinion is here: http://www.supremecourt.ohio.gov/rod/docs/pdf/0/2018/2018-Ohio-2990.pdf and the 3/11/19 reinstatement Order is here: https://supremecourt.ohio.gov/rod/docs/pdf/0/2019/2019-ohio-821.pdf

The August 1, 2018 Ohio Supreme Court opinion suspending the lawyer described the lawyer’s conduct as follows: “(d)uring (the paralegal’s) two-and a-half year tenure, Skolnick berated her for her physical appearance, dress, education, and parenting skills. He called her a bitch, a ‘hoe’, a dirtbag, and a piece of shit, and he told her that he hoped she would die. And because (the paralegal) recorded her interactions with Skolnick on more than 30 occasions, we have had the opportunity to hear Skolnick’s outbursts for ourselves.”

“In addition, the lawyer ‘called (the paralegal) stupid, dumb, fat, ‘whorey,’ and bitch.’ Further, he remarked that she should give him ‘road head’ during a drive and falsely told an African American client that the paralegal “did not like black people.”

“The only explanation that Skolnick offered for his extreme, obnoxious, and humiliating attacks on L.D. was that he had learned the lingo from rappers and hip-hop artists while practicing entertainment law and that he believed he was using the phrases in more of a humorous than a harmful way.” In addition, “(a)lthough (the lawyer) presented some evidence that he had been diagnosed with and was being treated for cyclothymic disorder and exhibited traits of obsessive-compulsive personality disorder, the board declined to afford mitigating effect to those conditions because Skolnick did not present any evidence that they were causally related to his misconduct.”

The opinion found that the lawyer violated Ohio Rule of Professional Conduct 8.4(h), prohibiting a lawyer from “engaging in conduct that adversely reflects on the lawyer’s fitness to practice law” and suspended the lawyer for one (1) year with the final 6 months deferred; however, on March 11, 2019, the Ohio Supreme Court reinstated the lawyer. “On application for reinstatement by respondent, Howard Evan Skolnick, Attorney Registration No. 0061905, last known business address in Cleveland, Ohio. Application granted. Howard Evan Skolnick reinstated to the practice of law in Ohio.”

Bottom line: this lawyer engaged in extreme, obnoxious, and humiliating attacks” on his paralegal and tried to minimize and justify his conduct by claiming that he learned the “lingo” from “rappers and hip-hop artists” and was being treated for psychiatric disorders. The court imposed a 1 year suspension with the final 6 months deferred on August 1, 2018 and he was reinstated on March 11, 2019, approximately 7 months later.

Be careful out there.

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
http://www.jac-law.com

Joseph Corsmeier
about.me/corsmeierethicsblogs

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New Jersey lawyer censured for stating to nonpaying client that he would not prepare for trial and to “HAVE FUN IN PRISON”

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert which will discuss the recent New Jersey Supreme Court Order imposing a a censure on a lawyer who told a client who was behind on payment of fees that he would not prepare for his criminal trial and to “have fun in prison”.  The case style is: In the Matter of Logan M. Terry, No. DRB 17-417 (November 1, 2018).  the Order and New Jersey Disciplinary Review Board’s Decision are here:  http://drblookupportal.judiciary.state.nj.us/DocumentHandler.ashx?document_id=1105750  and here: http://drblookupportal.judiciary.state.nj.us/DocumentHandler.ashx?document_id=1098836.

According to the Disciplinary Review Board’s decision, the attorney represented a client facing criminal charges of sexual assault on four minors and:

In the days immediately prior to a jury trial scheduled for June 7, 2016, respondent communicated with his client in an attempt to collect outstanding fees, informing AM that respondent could not “provide an adequate defense” unless AM ……… paid respondent’s legal fees. Furthermore, in a text message, respondent warned AM that he would not prepare for the trial during the weekend immediately preceding it, unless he was first paid. He then wrote, “HAVE FUN IN PRISON.” The maximum sentence that AM could have received exceeded 200 years.

The lawyer had previously asked the judge to allow him to withdraw twice and the judge refused to allow the withdrawal.  At the beginning of the June 7, 2016 trial (after the jury had been picked), the client told the trial judge about the lawyer’s communications, showed the judge copies of the communications, and stated that he wanted to terminate the lawyer’s legal services.  The lawyer was then removed and the trial was continued.

The New Jersey disciplinary agency opened an investigation on the lawyer and, in a letter to the agency, the lawyer admitted that his actions had been unethical and stated that the client had not cooperated in preparing a defense to the charges and had refused a plea offer that the lawyer considered to be favorable.

The Disciplinary Review Board found that the lawyer’s actions constituted a conflict of interest because he “placed his own personal interest in receiving a legal fee above his client’s interest in receiving the best possible defense to the charges against him.”  The Board also found that the lawyer’s text was prejudicial to the administration of justice because the judge was required to release the jury and reschedule the trial.

The decision found as an aggravating factor that the trial had been previously rescheduled because the lawyer had failed to pay the annual fee to the New Jersey Lawyers’ Fund for Client Protection.  According to the decision:  “(t)o be sure, (the lawyer) was in a difficult position, having been required to continue representing an uncooperative, nonpaying client in a criminal matter. Nevertheless, (the lawyer’s) reaction to that predicament was one of defiance—to subvert the court’s directive by ‘poisoning’ the representation on the eve of trial.”

The New Jersey Supreme Court upheld the Board’s findings and imposed a censure and required the lawyer to pay the costs of the disciplinary proceeding.

Bottom line:  This lawyer clearly became frustrated with the client’s lack of cooperation and failure to pay his fee; however, the lawyer’s communications were obviously improper and he was fortunate to receive only a censure for his conduct.

Be careful out there, and don’t do this…

Disclaimer:  this Ethics Alert 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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Nevada lawyer suspended for 6 months and 1 day for displaying a gun at a deposition and other “appalling behavior”

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert which will discuss the recent 6 month and 1 day suspension of a Nevada lawyer for brandishing a gun at a deposition, using derogatory language and repeatedly making inappropriate statements, and other “appalling behavior”.  The case is In re: Discipline of James Pengilly, SC Case No. 74316.  The September 7, 2018 unpublished Nevada Supreme Court Order is here:  file:///C:/Users/jcorsmeier/Downloads/18-35030%20(1).pdf

The lawyer was representing himself as the defendant in a defamation lawsuit and the misconduct is related to the lawyer’s behavior during a deposition of the Plaintiff at his office in September 2016.  The lawyer used vulgarities while questioning the witness, called the deponent derogatory names (including “Dip Shit” and “Big Bird”), aggressively interrupted the witness and opposing counsel, answered questions for the witness, and repeatedly made inappropriate statements on the record.

At one point during the deposition, the lawyer put his hand near his hip and asked the witness if he was “ready for it”. The witness then briefly left the room and when he returned, the lawyer displayed a firearm he had in a holster on his hip to the witness and the opposing counsel.  The deposition was then terminated and the defamation litigation was put on hold.  The Plaintiff filed a Motion for Protective Order and Motion for Sanctions outlining the misconduct.  The Motion for Protective Order and Sanctions and exhibits are here: 9-29-16 Motion for Protective Order and Sanctions.  The lawyer was sanctioned for his misconduct in the litigation.

The unpublished Nevada Supreme Court Order states: “(h)aving reviewed the record on appeal, we conclude that there is substantial evidence to support the panel’s findings that Pengilly violated RPC 8.4(d) (prohibiting an attorney from engaging in conduct that is prejudicial to the administration of justice). Indeed, the deposition transcript, coupled with the testimony at the formal hearing, demonstrates that Pengilly displayed appalling behavior toward the deponent. Additionally, the record is clear, and Pengilly admits, that he displayed a firearm. Accordingly, we agree with the hearing panel that Pengilly committed the violation set forth above.”

“Pengilly argues that his conduct should be viewed under a negligence standard, but we agree with the panel that he acted knowingly as he was consciously aware of his conduct and knew his behavior was inappropriate. His conduct caused actual injury to the proceeding as the deposition concluded early and the discovery commissioner had to issue a protective order, causing the case to be delayed. Both the deponent and his attorney testified they were afraid Pengilly was going to shoot them, and their fears were documented: they immediately called the police, filed police reports the next day, filed for a TPO, and filed bar grievances. Further, there was the potential for serious injury to every one present—the deponent, his attorney, the court reporter, Pengilly’s office staff, and even Pengilly himself–because a deadly weapon was involved.”

Bottom line:  This case involves a lawyer who was clearly lacking in emotional control and anger management, to say the least.  In addition, he was representing himself, and we know how that can go.

Be careful out there.

Disclaimer:  this Ethics Alert 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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Ohio lawyer suspended for engaging in “extreme, obnoxious, and humiliating attacks” on firm paralegal for over 2 years

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert which will discuss the recent Ohio Supreme Court opinion suspending a lawyer for 1 year with the final 6 months deferred for “extreme, obnoxious, and humiliating attacks” on a paralegal for over 2 years. The case is Disciplinary Counsel v. Skolnick, No. 2018-OHIO-2990 (Aug 1, 2018).  The opinion is here: http://www.supremecourt.ohio.gov/rod/docs/pdf/0/2018/2018-Ohio-2990.pdf.

The opinion described the lawyer’s conduct as follows: “During (the paralegal’s) two-and a-half year tenure, Skolnick berated her for her physical appearance, dress, education, and parenting skills. He called her a bitch, a ‘hoe’, a dirtbag, and a piece of shit, and he told her that he hoped she would die. And because (the paralegal) recorded her interactions with Skolnick on more than 30 occasions, we have had the opportunity to hear Skolnick’s outbursts for ourselves.”

“In addition, the lawyer ‘called (the paralegal)  stupid, dumb, fat, ‘whorey,’ and bitch.’ Further, he remarked that she should give him ‘road head’ during a drive and falsely told an African American client that the paralegal “did not like black people.”

“The only explanation that Skolnick offered for his extreme, obnoxious, and humiliating attacks on L.D. was that he had learned the lingo from rappers and hip-hop artists while practicing entertainment law and that he believed he was using the phrases in more of a humorous than a harmful way.”  In addition, “(a)lthough (the lawyer) presented some evidence that he had been diagnosed with and was being treated for cyclothymic disorder and exhibited traits of obsessive-compulsive personality disorder, the board declined to afford mitigating effect to those conditions because Skolnick did not present any evidence that they were causally related to his misconduct.”

The opinion found that the lawyer violated Ohio Rule of Professional Conduct 8.4(h), prohibiting a lawyer from “engaging in conduct that adversely reflects on the lawyer’s fitness to practice law” and suspended the lawyer for one (1) year with the final 6 months deferred.

Bottom line: this lawyer engaged in extreme, obnoxious, and humiliating attacks” on his paralegal.  The lawyer tried to minimize and justify his conduct by claiming that he learned the “lingo” from “rappers and hip-hop artists” and was being treated for psychiatric disorders.  The court imposed a 1 year suspension with the final 6 months deferred.

Be careful out there.

Disclaimer:  this Ethics Alert 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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Florida lawyer is disbarred for “egregious misconduct” and a pattern of disruptive and “obnoxious” behavior

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert which will discuss the recent disbarment of a lawyer in south Florida attorney for, inter alia, engaging in “escalating misconduct,” including loudly kicking a table and muttering “lie, lie, lie” during court proceedings.  The case is The Florida Bar v. Robert Joseph Ratiner, No. SC13-539 (Florida Supreme Court 2/22/18), and the opinion is here:  http://www.floridasupremecourt.org/decisions/2018/sc13-539.pdf

The lawyer was admitted in 1990 and was disciplined in 2007 after engaging in a rant against opposing counsel for DuPont during a deposition.  He represented some orchid growers who had alleged that DuPont’s fungicide called Benlate had killed their plants.  DuPont’s lawyer attempted to put an exhibit sticker on the lawyer’s laptop.  He then attempted to run around the table toward the other lawyer and yelled at him which, according to the referee’s report, caused the court reporter to state “I can’t work like this!”  That conduct resulted in a 60 day suspension and probation.

The lawyer was then involved in a document review session with DuPont in 2009 and, according to the referee’s report, he loudly called DuPont’s lawyer a “dominatrix,” with “no substantial purpose other than to embarrass” her. He later tried to forcibly take papers from another DuPont lawyer after she told him, “Don’t grab (me) ever again.” That conduct resulted in a three year suspension.

The most recent complaint against the lawyer was related to his conduct in Miami-Dade Circuit Court proceedings that began in late 2011.  The presiding judge stated that she heard the lawyer state “lie, lie, lie” while a DuPont lawyer was conducting a direct examination of his law partner; however, he denied making the comment.  The judge also terminated a hearing because the lawyer was kicking his table so loudly that it was disrupted the proceedings.

The assigned referee conducted hearings and The Florida Bar argued that the lawyer should be disbarred. The referee recommended a three year suspension to begin at the end of the lawyer’s current three year suspension.  In its opinion, the Florida Supreme Court found that the lawyer’s cumulative and egregious misconduct required disbarment.  According to the opinion:

“Disbarment is an extreme form of discipline and is reserved for the most egregious misconduct. See Fla. Bar v. Summers, 728 So. 2d 739, 742 (Fla. 1999); see also Fla. Bar v. Kassier, 711 So. 2d 515, 517 (Fla. 1998) (holding that disbarment is an extreme sanction that should be imposed only in those rare cases where rehabilitation is highly improbable).  Ratiner’s intentional and egregious misconduct continues to demonstrate an attitude that is wholly inconsistent with professional standards, and there is no indication that he is willing to follow the professional ethics of the legal profession. As we observed in (The Florida Bar v.) Norkin,

One can be professional and aggressive without being obnoxious.

Attorneys should focus on the substance of their cases, treating judges

and opposing counsel with civility, rather than trying to prevail by

being insolent toward judges and purposefully offensive toward

opposing counsel. This Court has been discussing professionalism

and civility for years. We do not tolerate unprofessional and

discourteous behavior. We do not take any pleasure in sanctioning

[Respondent], but if we are to have an honored and respected

profession, we are required to hold ourselves to a higher standard.

132 So. 3d at 92-93.

Thus, based upon the foregoing discussion, the Court is left with but one course of action, and that is to disbar Ratiner.”

Bottom line:  This lawyer clearly failed to get the message.  The Supreme Court also did not accept his claims of innocence.  As a result, he was disbarred.

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.

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

Joseph Corsmeier

about.me/corsmeierethicsblogs

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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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