Wednesday, February 27, 2008

With Friends Like These

Louisiana seems to have more than its fair share of colorful bar discipline cases. A decision from the Supreme Court involves a former judge who had returned to private practice. He represented a client in a case involving contested stock ownership in a closely-held family corporation. The client's son ("Dooksie") brought the lawyer a document that "purported to evidence [another family member's] intent to divest herself of the stock at issue. It was later determined that this document was the work product of [her] counsel and had been taken from her file without her knowledge or permission." The attorney accepted without any questioning Dooksie's assertion that the document "had appeared in the an unmarked envelope with no return address." The attorney used the document as evidence.

When Dooksie brought him a second document signed with opposing counsel's first name that suggested an intent to destroy evidence, he did not investigate the "highly questionable circumstances" of Dooksie's possession or contact opposing counsel. Rather, he took it ex parte to the judge. As a result, the judge recused himself from the case. After the judge had ordered recusal and left the courtroom, the attorney was heard to remark: "[The judge] has no balls, he has no balls at all. That's his problem, he just has no balls."

In a second matter before the same judge, the lawyer became angry when the judge decided to recuse himself. A version of the "no balls" remark was made in open court, accompanied by the F-bomb.

The court found that "[t]he common theme which runs throughout this proceeding is respondent's lack of respect for the dignity, impartiality, and authority of the district court." The court ordered a six-month suspension, all but 45 days deferred, with Ethics School and five extra CLE hours in "the area of professionalism." While not a mitigating factor, the court noted that there was a "longstanding friendship" with the (now deceased) judge that "may have caused respondent to believe he could take a more colloquial tone toward the judge." (Mike Frisch)

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