Byte of Prevention Blog

by Jay Reeves |

The Risk of Cursing a Judge’s Ruling

Here’s some free risk management advice: if you’re going to make snarky comments about a judge’s ruling, don’t do it in the courtroom in front of a live microphone.

And while you’re at it, avoid profanities.

Otherwise you might find yourself brought before your professional disciplinary board, which is what happened to an Illinois criminal lawyer recently.

The lawyer was “accused of repeatedly muttering under her breath and visibly reacting after a federal judge overruled her objections during a January 2017 criminal trial in Chicago,” according to the ABA Journal. “[T]he judge had warned [her] to stop the unprofessional conduct on several occasions. [She] also took photos during the prosecutor’s closing argument, despite a sign banning photos.”

The lawyer said she did not think her comments, allegedly directed to her co-counsel and intern, could be picked up by the courtroom audio system. As for why she snapped the photos, she said she wanted to use some images from the prosecutor’s closing argument in her own closing argument.

The Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission recommended a 90-day suspension, stayed by a one-year period of probation, for the attorney.

Read the March 29 Illinois disciplinary report here.

Read more in the Legal Profession Blog here.

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NC Rule of Professional Conduct 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.

(b) All restrictions imposed by this rule also apply to communications with, or investigations of, family members of a juror or of a member of the jury venire.

(c) A lawyer shall reveal promptly to the court improper conduct by a juror or a member of the jury venire, and improper conduct by another person toward a juror, a member of the jury venire, or the family members of a juror or a member of the jury venire.

(d) For purposes of this rule:

(1) Ex parte communication means a communication on behalf of a party to a matter pending before a tribunal that occurs in the absence of an opposing party, without notice to that party, and outside the record.

(2) A matter is “pending” before a particular tribunal when that tribunal has been selected to determine the matter or when it is reasonably foreseeable that the tribunal will be so selected.

SOURCES: Rule 3.5 Impartiality and Decorum of the Tribunal | North Carolina State Bar ( and Lawyer on hot mic who used obscenities to describe decision faces possible discipline (


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About the Author

Jay Reeves

Jay Reeves practiced law in North Carolina and South Carolina. He was Legal Editor at Lawyers Weekly and Risk Manager at Lawyers Mutual. He is the author of The Most Powerful Attorney in the World, a collection of short stories from a law life well-lived, which as the seasons pass becomes less about law and liability and more about loss, love, longing, laughter and life's lasting luminescence.

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