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