Byte of Prevention Blog

by Jay Reeves |

Lawyer Reprimanded for Threatening Fisticuffs in Court

Here’s some Ethics 101 advice: it’s never a good idea to threaten to punch opposing counsel in open court.

This is so even if you do it because your adversary called you a liar.

Just ask the New Orleans attorney who was reprimanded by the Louisiana Supreme Court after an acknowledged “verbal dustup” during a criminal bail proceeding.

“The incident occurred in open court, in front of lawyers, court personnel, and ordinary citizens of Orleans Parish, and it was covered in the local newspaper,” according to the Louisiana Supreme Court disciplinary order. “Such conduct undermines public confidence in and respect for the legal profession, and it cannot be condoned by this court.”

Read about the case in the ABA Journal and NOLA.com.

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Rule 8.4 Misconduct

It is professional misconduct for a lawyer to:

(a) violate or attempt to violate the Rules of Professional Conduct, knowingly assist or induce another to do so, or do so through the acts of another;

(b) commit a criminal act that reflects adversely on the lawyer's honesty, trustworthiness or fitness as a lawyer in other respects;

(c) engage in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation that reflects adversely on the lawyer’s fitness as a lawyer;

(d) engage in conduct that is prejudicial to the administration of justice;

(e) state or imply an ability to influence improperly a government agency or official;

(f) knowingly assist a judge or judicial officer in conduct that is a violation of applicable rules of judicial conduct or other law; or

(g) intentionally prejudice or damage his or her client during the course of the professional relationship, except as may be required by Rule 3.3.

Rule 8.4, Comment [4] A showing of actual prejudice to the administration of justice is not required to establish a violation of paragraph (d). Rather, it must only be shown that the act had a reasonable likelihood of prejudicing the administration of justice.

Rule 8.4, Comment [5] Threats, bullying, harassment, and other conduct serving no substantial purpose other than to intimidate, humiliate, or embarrass anyone associated with the judicial process including judges, opposing counsel, litigants, witnesses, or court personnel violate the prohibition on conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice. When directed to opposing counsel, such conduct tends to impede opposing counsel’s ability to represent his or her client effectively. Comments “by one lawyer tending to disparage the personality or performance of another...tend to reduce public trust and confidence in our courts and, in more extreme cases, directly interfere with the truth-finding function by distracting judges and juries from the serious business at hand.”

Rule 3.5 Impartiality and Decorum of the Tribunal

(a) A lawyer representing a party in a matter pending before a tribunal shall not:

(1) seek to influence a judge, juror, member of the jury venire, or other official by means prohibited by law;

(2) communicate ex parte with a juror or member of the jury venire except as permitted by law;

(3) unless authorized to do so by law or court order, communicate ex parte with the judge or other official regarding a matter pending before the judge or official;

(4) engage in conduct intended to disrupt a tribunal, including:

(A) failing to comply with known local customs of courtesy or practice of the bar or a particular tribunal without giving opposing counsel timely notice of the intent not to comply;

(B) engaging in undignified or discourteous conduct that is degrading to a tribunal; or

(C) intentionally or habitually violating any established rule of procedure or evidence; or

(5) communicate with a juror or prospective juror after discharge of the jury if:

(A) the communication is prohibited by law or court order;

(B) the juror has made known to the lawyer a desire not to communicate; or

(C) the communication involves misrepresentation, coercion, duress or harassment.

Rule 3.5, Comment [10] As professionals, lawyers are expected to avoid disruptive, undignified, discourteous, and abusive behavior. Therefore, the prohibition against conduct intended to disrupt a tribunal applies to conduct that does not serve a legitimate goal of advocacy or a requirement of a procedural rule and includes angry outbursts, insults, slurs, personal attacks, and unfounded personal accusations as well as to threats, bullying, and other attempts to intimidate or humiliate judges, opposing counsel, litigants, witnesses, or court personnel. Zealous advocacy does not rely upon such tactics and is never a justification for such conduct. This conduct is prohibited both in open court and in ancillary proceedings conducted pursuant to the authority of the tribunal (e.g., depositions).

About the Author

Jay Reeves

jay.reeves@ymail.com | 919-619-2441

Jay Reeves practiced law in North Carolina and South Carolina. Over the course of his 35-year career he was a solo practitioner, corporate lawyer, legal editor, Legal Aid staff attorney and insurance risk manager. Today he helps lawyers and firms put more mojo in their practice through marketing, work-life balance and reclaiming passion for what they do. He is available for consultations, retreats and presentations.

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