Thursday, January 8, 2009
The Florida Supreme Court suspended a lawyer for 91 days (requiring him to demonstrate rehabilitation) and published an opinion to "articulate our reasoning so that other members of The Florida Bar can avoid [his] misconduct."
The lawyer defended a client charged with felony driving on a revoked license and in an unregistered vehicle. The judge was 16 minutes late for the time set for trial. The jury was already seated when the judge took the bench. The lawyer sought a sidebar conference to entertain motions. The judge denied him permission to approach the bench and told him that motions would be heard after vior dire. The lawyer continued to interrupt the proceedings and was discouteous and disrespectful, and continued to attack the judge in voir dire of the prospective jurors. The client fired the lawyer as a result and the case was continued. The judge sent the matter to the Florida Bar in lieu of a contempt proceeding. The court here rejected a referee's recommendation of a public reprimand with supervised probation:
[his] 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, [he] 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.
The lawyer had been "publicly reprimanded twice before for serious misconduct." A dissent would impose the discipline recommended by the referee on the view that lawyer and judge had "both fueled the fire." (Mike Frisch)