Wednesday, May 20, 2009
The web page of the Tennessee Board of Professional Responsibility reports a public censure imposed on an attorney for disruptive courtroom behavior. The incident that led to discipline was the subject of a Tennessee Court of Appeals decision affirming a finding of criminal comtempt. The attorney had run for the position of juvenile court judge but lost the Democratic primary. The newly-elected judge removed the attorney from three pending cases but the attorney appeared in one case unaware that her appointment had been vacated in that matter.
The lawyer appeared and got into a tiff with the judge, who did not feel that recusal was appropriate because they had not been opponents in the general election (the judge defeated the candidate who had won the Democratic primary). The contempt was predicated on the lawyer's questioning the judge's authority and then "making personal comments about lunch and being a gracious winner and...once again questioned the court's authority." The court noted:
...while [the attorney's] intent at the beginning of her conversation with [the judge] was to help her client's position, at some point during the conversation she began asserting a vindication of her own position, especially when she questioned the judge's experience in Juvenile Court, inquired into the judge's motivation behind her refusal to go to lunch, and impugned the judge's character with comments about whether she was a "gracious winner." The exchange became so heated that a bystander litigant described [her] conduct as belligerent. The audio demonstrates that [she] repeatedly raised her voice to talk over the judge, not allowing the judge to explain or accepting the given explanation.