Category Archives: Lawyer disrupting tribunal

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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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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Filed under joe corsmeier, Joseph Corsmeier, Lawyer conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice, Lawyer derogatory remarks, Lawyer discipline, Lawyer disobeying order of tribunal, Lawyer disrupting tribunal, Lawyer disruptive conduct, Lawyer disruptive litigation conduct, Lawyer ethics, Lawyer Ethics and Professionalism, Lawyer false statements, Lawyer sanctions

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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Filed under Attorney discipline, Attorney Ethics, deceit, dishonesty, fraud, joe corsmeier, Joseph Corsmeier, Lawyer conduct adversely affecting fitness to practice, Lawyer conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice, Lawyer derogatory remarks, Lawyer discipline, Lawyer disrupting tribunal, Lawyer ethics, Lawyer sanctions

Florida Supreme Court issues in person public reprimand to lawyer suspended for 2 years for “appalling and unprofessional behavior”

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.
2454 McMullen Booth Road, Suite 431
Clearwater, Florida 33759
Office (727) 799-1688
Fax (727) 799-1670
jcorsmeier@jac-law.com
http://www.jac-law.com

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Filed under Attorney discipline, Attorney Ethics, joe corsmeier, Joseph Corsmeier, Lawyer discipline, Lawyer disrupting tribunal, Lawyer disruptive conduct, Lawyer disruptive litigation conduct, Lawyer ethics, Lawyer Ethics and Professionalism

Illinois discipline board recommends 90 day suspension for revealing confidential information in court, failing to communicate plea offers, and disrupting the tribunal

Hello and welcome to this Ethics Alert blog which will update my 7/30/13 Ethics Alert blog and will discuss the January 24, 2014 Report and Recommendation by the Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission upholding a Hearing Board recommendation that a lawyer receive a 90 day suspension for failing to communicate plea offers, disrupting the tribunal, and revealing confidential information on multiple occasions in public court hearings.  The case is In re Theresa Cesar Garza, Commission No. 2012PR00035 (1/24/14).  The Report and Recommendation is attached and is here http://www.iardc.org/HB_RB_Disp_Html.asp?id=11250.

According to the Report and Recommendation, the lawyer was an assistant public defender with the Cook County Public Defender’s Office.  She failed to communicate plea offers to 3 clients and she revealed inculpatory client confidential information in open court on 3 separate occasions without the clients’ permission, including admissions of her client’s guilt and presence at the crime scene, all of which had been made to her in private conferences and meetings with clients.

In separate incident, the lawyer was appointed on May 18, 2011 to represent a client (Boyd) who had been charged with theft whose trial was scheduled for that day.  The client client’s previous (private) lawyer said that he had not received photo lineups and stated that a video the prosecutor provided did not play. The judge told the client that he would give her a short continuance to obtain another attorney and told her to talk to the lawyer.  The lawyer met with the client and later appeared before the judge.  After a discussion regarding when the prosecutor could produce the requested video, the lawyer said, “If the court wishes for me to go (to trial) today, show me the video, and then I would go today.”  The judge stated that he would pass the case for trial to allow her to view the video.

The client apparently told the lawyer that she needed to leave to pick up a child from school that day and she would then return to the courtroom.  When case was later called for trial, the client was not there.  The lawyer said that the prosecutor was just then showing her the video and that the client had  left to pick up her child. The judge said that the case was set for trial and that he would issue a warrant for the client’s arrest.  The lawyer then said “Oh shit” and, when the judge asked her what she said, she stated “Oh shoot” and said it was her fault that the client was not present. The judge then issued the arrest warrant.

In another incident before the same judge, the lawyer was representing a client (Poole) and the judge set bond at $1,000.00.  The lawyer asked the judge to reconsider the bond amount and the judge denied the request.  The lawyer then offered to post the client’s bond although the Illinois Code of Criminal Procedure prohibits lawyers from paying for bail.  The judge advised the lawyer that he thought it would be unethical for her to post the bond and continued the case for a hearing on May 25, 2011.  The lawyer then requested that the client be brought back to court the following day and, after the judge denied her request, she replied, “Oh, that’s lovely.

In yet another incident before the same judge, the lawyer appeared on behalf of another client (Rivera), who she was appointed to represent on June 2, 2011.  She requested a reduction of the bond and, after her request was denied, she raised her voice.  When the judge told her that he had not lost his hearing, the lawyer continued to argue with a raised voice.  The judge then stated, “Let me just indicate again, you are yelling on the record. This happens all the time when you don’t get your way.  Because you lose something doesn’t mean you have to  start yelling at me.”  Following this incident, the lawyer was removed from her assignment and put on office duty.  In late July 2011, the Cook County Public Defender’s Office terminated the lawyer’s employment.

According to the Report, the lawyer represented herself in the discipline proceedings and testified in a rambling narrative.  She did not testify about her current practice, but did mention that she had some personal difficulties at the  time of her misconduct.  She said that her mother had recently passed away and she was still reeling from her death. She also said that her birthday was May 10, which was the day before her initial misconduct and that her birthday reminded her of her mother. She also tried to explain her conduct by saying that she was working  in a “hostile environment.”  The lawyer also offered the  testimony of Steven Shobat and he Hesaid that he met the lawyer when they were both at the  U.S. Attorney’s Office and the lawyer was a mentor to him.  He testified that she had a reputation as an ethical and honest attorney, they went into private practice together in 1994 and the partnership lasted about eighteen months, and the lawyer is “passionate” about her clients.

Bottom line:  This appears to be another example of an assistant public defender who was overwhelmed by her workload and/or her personal life and acted overly “passionate” on behalf of her clients.  If it is upheld, the 90 day suspension recommendation also appears to be relatively light for the cited misconduct…

Let’s be careful out there!

Disclaimer:  this e-mail 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.

2454 McMullen Booth Road, Suite 431

Clearwater, Florida 33759

Office (727) 799-1688

Fax     (727) 799-1670

jcorsmeier@jac-law.com

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Filed under Attorney discipline, Attorney Ethics, Attorney/client confidentiality, Attorney/client privilege and confidentiality, Confidentiality and privilege, joe corsmeier, Joseph Corsmeier, Lawyer conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice, Lawyer discipline, Lawyer disrupting tribunal, Lawyer disruptive conduct, Lawyer disruptive litigation conduct, Lawyer ethics, Lawyer Ethics and Professionalism, Lawyer sanctions