Wednesday, December 22, 2010

N-Word Results In Suspension

The Indiana Supreme Court has suspended an attorney for 30 days without automatic reinstatement for violating the rule prohibiting manifestation of bias or prejudice based upon race.

The attorney was an officer of a title company and gave the company legal advice. He sent an e-mail response to a meeting request to the secretary of an agent who represented the seller in a title dispute:

I know you must do your bosses [sic] bidding at his direction, but I am here to tell you that I am neither you [sic] or his [n-word]. You do not tell me what to do do. You ask. If you ever act like that again, it will be the last time I give any additional thought to your existence and your boss will have to talk to me. Do we understand each other?

The hearing officer found that the use of the word was "a derogatory racist insult, that Respondent's use of the term was not simply a historical reference to slavery but rather manifested racial bias, that he was acting in a professional capacity when he sent the email, and that his use of the term was not connected to legitimate advocacy."

The court noted that the attorney denied committing misconduct, offered no apology or remorse, and had a record of prior discipline. One justice would impose a less severe sanction. (Mike Frisch)

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I could never imagine writing an email such as what this lawyer wrote. Nonetheless, I see two separate problems with the court’s conclusions.

Firstly, in this case the lawyer did not direct the word at anyone. He did not call someone a nigger. So while the word is certainly a derogatory word, and obviously racist, it was not used as an insult.

The second problem I have is with the finding that the lawyer was not engaged in legitimate advocacy. The lawyer was clearly engaged in advocacy. So did the use of the word transform this into illegitimate advocacy? If so, then the phrase legitimate advocacy loses any meaning. I especially have difficulty understanding how the court could have found that he was acting in his professional capacity yet not engaging in legitimate advocacy.

Finally, one of the reasons that the court suspended the lawyer was that he “vehemently denied committing any misconduct”. Consequently, the court suspended him with no automatic reinstatement. So does this mean that the lawyer will be forced to accept the court’s legal conclusions before he will be reinstated? If so, then I do not think this is appropriate.

The court failed to explain any of its findings. That’s unfortunate.


Posted by: FixedWing | Dec 22, 2010 9:50:56 PM

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