Nothing interests a group of attorneys and judges more than anecdotes of lawyers and judges behaving badly. At the Robert G. McGrath Inns of Court meeting on March 8, 2012 at the Lafayette Park Hotel, Judge Weil’s group (consisting of Sean McTigue, Nicholas Jay, Samantha Sepehr, Robin Pearson, Kenneth Strongman, Laureen Bethards, Jay Chafetz, David W. Ginn, and David Pastor) presented an hour-long program entitled “Lawyers Behaving Badly”. They identified unethical and inappropriate activities by attorneys and judges. Judge Weil’s group took the Inns membership down the yellow brick road of litigation to the Emerald City of just plain bad lawyering.
Using a variety of vignettes, they illustrated instances when lawyers (and even judges) didn’t exactly meet the standards of our fine profession. Their first vignette dealt with an attorney navigating the choppy waters of a joint representation. Even under the best circumstances, a joint representation can create potential conflicts of interest. In the example shared by the group, an actual conflict did arise, but the attorney tried to stay on to represent one of the clients, which is generally disallowed. If an actual conflict does arise in the dual representation, the attorney generally must withdraw from representing both of the clients. The Inns group discussed what the attorney could have done to protect his clients and his representation.
In another vignette, Judge Weil’s group told the story of the “Stinky Bentleys.” Here, the Bentley car company had sold cars with obnoxious odors, and despite receiving complaints, did not take appropriate steps to remedy this problem. Instead of following the tried and true method advocated on Seinfeld of dealing with smelly cars (i.e. abandoning them on the streets of NYC), the owners sued Bentley. Bentley, in return, followed poor legal advice and abandoned any responsibility to perform discovery. They failed to turn over documents, lied under oath, destroyed evidence despite court order, and generally stymied attempts at discovery. The Court considered this “lawyers behaving badly.” The Inns meeting had a lively discussion regarding whether terminating sanctions for Bentley’s defense were appropriate.
The next Inns of Court meeting is May 10, 2012 at the Lafayette Park Hotel. To learn more about the Inns Of Court and get involved, contact President David Pearson at (925) 287-0051 or email@example.com.
There was another vignette that related to Seinfeld as it had an element near and dear to George Constanza’s heart: manure. “It’s like Ma and Newer!” (George, 3. episode: The Cadillac – Part 2). In this case, the defendant was avoiding following any discovery rules at all. He was a rebel who played by nobody’s rules! When it came time for a document request at a deposition, he showed up to the deposition with those documents … covered in manure. Unfortunately for the people at the deposition, the ‘manure’ episode of Seinfeld wouldn’t air for another 13 years and so there was little mirth to be had in this production of documents. The Inns meeting again discussed whether terminating sanctions were appropriate.
But it was not just the lawyers who had their naughty moments. Judge Weil’s group discussed judges behaving badly, too. Yes, as it turns out, not every Judge is a perfect luminescent being of light. Just all the ones in Contra Costa County!
In one discussion, the judge in question conducted the trial like a game show! In another, the judge waited until the trial was in full swing before disclosing that his wife worked for the defendant. Then, he
refused to withdraw from the case. The Inns membership discussed what attorneys could do to protect themselves and their clients from situations in which it appeared judicial officers were not complying with their duties.
Finally, Judge Weil’s group looked at contempt proceedings. The group discussed what constituted a weapon in court. Further, the membership discussed what might constitute sufficiently boisterous court room behavior rising to the level of contempt.
All in all, it was an interesting discussion regarding the unethical steps a few amongst us are willing to take. This small group of unethical lawyers, by their obstreperous and unprofessional acts, gives the large majority of professional, skilled and ethical attorneys a bad name, and sometimes sleepless nights. While most attorneys are just trying to do their best to zealously represent their clients, there are some attorneys out there sadly making the published decisions or even the news; they shirk all responsibility to their clients, other attorneys, and society as a whole. May none of us ever find ourselves the subject of a similar Inns discussion!
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