Was That Wrong is a semi-regular column on Ethical Grounds. The column features stories of the absurd & outrageous from the world of legal ethics and attorney discipline. My aim is to highlight misconduct that I hope you’ll instinctively avoid without needing me to convene a CLE that cautions you to do so.
The column is inspired by the “Red Dot” episode of Seinfeld. In the episode, George Costanza has sex in his office with a character known only as “the cleaning woman.” His boss finds out. Here’s their ensuing exchange :
(Scene) In the boss’ office.
- Boss: I’m going to get right to the point. It has come to my attention that you and the cleaning woman have engaged in sexual intercourse on the desk in your office. Is that correct?
- George: Who said that?
- Boss: She did.
- George: Was that wrong? Should I have not done that? I tell you I gotta plead ignorance on this thing because if anyone had said anything to me at all when I first started here that that sort of thing was frowned upon, you know, cause I’ve worked in a lot of offices and I tell you people do that all the time.
- Boss: You’re fired.
- George: Well you didn’t have to say it like that.
The latest installment comes from the Ohio Supreme Court’s decision in Cleveland Metroplitan Bar Association v. Donchatz. I don’t know how to categorize the misconduct as anything other than “you can’t make this stuff up.”
Here’s how I imagine I might script it if I ever write my own legal ethics knockoff of Seinfeld’s “Red Dot” episode. By way of background, and since it’s not in the Ohio Supreme Court’s decision, the recommendation from a panel of the Ohio Board of Professional Conduct noted that the respondent used to be a disciplinary prosecutor and, when in private practice, billed himself as “The Ethics Monster.” Recommendation, paras. 8 & 71.
- Court: We’ll get right to the point. It has come to our attention that a tree company sued you for an unpaid bill. A default judgment issued against you. Even though you did not pay the judgment, you filed a notice of satisfaction of judgment. Then, you did not withdraw the notice when asked to do so.
- Lawyer: Who said that?
- Court: Sorry, there’s more. It’s also come to our attention that you sued a former client for unpaid legal fees. A mediation session did not resolve the dispute. Nonetheless, you filed a “stipulated entry & consent judgment.” The court approved it and entered judgment in your favor. Counsel for your former client reminded you that no agreement had been reached and asked you to withdraw the stipulated entry of judgment. You did not, and informed counsel that it would constitute (1) defamation for counsel to file an ethics complaint against you, and (2) a fraud upon the court for counsel to ask the court to vacate the judgment.
- Lawyer: Again, who said that?
- Court: The person who holds a job just like one that you used to have.
- Lawyer: Was that wrong? I tell you, I gotta plead ignorance on this thing because if anyone had said anything to me at all when I was first licensed . . .
- Court: Suspended indefinitely.
- Lawyer: Well, you didn’t have to say it like that.
I think this gives new meaning to the term “Ethics Monster.”