Thursday, November 9, 2006

Nomination For The Most Obvious Case for Attorney Discipline, Part 3

Posted by Alan Childress

I stand by my earlier nomination of the most self-explanatory and predictable case for attorney discipline (a state Supreme Court's declining to reinstate the disbarred lawyer who had threatened to "summarily execute" all seven justices of that Supreme Court). And I appreciate Mike Frisch's effort at naming one as Part 2. Still, I must give an Honorable Mention to a case involving this finding of fact:

Respondent is guilty of serious misconduct. He, along with [his client], broke into the home of [client's ex-wife], intending to take materials having evidentiary value in pending litigation. Once inside, they rummaged through the house, taking items of personal property, spilling alcohol, and somehow clogging the toilet. The respondent placed the [family] cat in the microwave oven and activated the oven, killing the cat. This is outrageous behavior, a world apart from what this Court, the  profession, and the public is entitled to expect from members of the bar.

Attorney Grievance Comm'n of Maryland v. Protokowicz, 329 Md. 252, 619 A.2d 100 (Ct. Apl. 1993).  The Court considered as well the Rule 3.3 "candor" implications of Respondent's repeatedly swearing "that he accidentally turned the microwave oven on when the cat was in it."  Nonetheless, the sanction imposed (in a decision sure to make our own Mike fume) was. . .suspension with the right to seek reinstatement after a year.

There are times when you read the facts of a judicial opinion (in torts, con law, etc.) and have in your mind the picture that it wondrously paints.  And then find the jarring conclusion to be like the end of an M. Night Shyamalan movie or a date with an Up With People castmember.  I am reminded of a recent Fourth Circuit opinion finding no hostile work environment where ethnic slurs were repeatedly hurled at the plaintiff but, you know, in jest.  Here, I will only observe that the punishment imposed above was at the end of an opinion that earlier contained these words:

On Friday, October 18, [the opposing client] used her microwave oven for the first time since the death of Max. She was defrosting a bagel and smelled the distinct odor of cat. Upon examining the interior of the microwave, she observed cat hair. It was then she realized how Max had died.

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I've used this case as one of a set of cases where I have students rate whether they would admit or deny admission to an applicant who engaged in the described behavior. One of the other examples involves an applicant who was convicted of manslaughter. Invariably, the students are less inclined to admit the cat slayer than the slayer of humans. I must confess that I too find the maliciousness of the actions described by the Maryland court to be extreme, but I still find it interesting that students, and I suppose myself, find the killing of the cat to be more reprehensible than the killing of a fellow human being.

Posted by: jim fischer | Nov 9, 2006 8:56:37 PM

Perhaps because the cat is more defenseless. I assume we would have little hesitation disbarring a lawyer who microwaved another human being.

Posted by: Mike Frisch | Nov 10, 2006 7:13:58 AM

1. ONE YEAR? For microwaving the opposing party's CAT?
2. I presume prison time is involved too?

Posted by: Paul Gowder | Nov 17, 2006 7:28:21 PM

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