High School Basketball and an Order Imposing Sanctions for Incivility

My high school basketball coach expressed displeasure in various ways.  There was one method that we feared the most. He didn’t use it often, but when he did, it was often the last time he had to use it with the offending player.  Here’s how it worked.

Imagine that I did something egregious at practice.  “Egregious” in the behavioral sense, not because I missed yet another shot or made a typically errant pass.  Coach would make me sit on the stage while my teammates ran sprints because of my egregious behavior.  As they ran, Coach would bring me water and go overboard to make sure I was comfortable. 

Most players in my predicament desperately pled to be allowed to run in their teammates’ stead.  Or, at the very least, begged to join them in serving the punishment.  Nope.  Coach insisted on me resting while my teammates paid the price of my conduct.

Being made an example of worked. I don’t remember a single player having it happen more than once.

Yesterday I read an order issued by a New York trial court in response to a motion for sanctions.  It reminded me of Coach’s tactic. The order is here.[i] Here’s my summary.

Following a deposition in a civil suit, counsel for the defense moved for sanctions against plaintiff’s counsel and an attorney who represented the witness.  According to the court,

  • “The deposition transcript of 175 pages speaks for itself and need not be repeated. Suffice it to say that [Attorney 1], counsel to the witness, interjected 187 times with improper speaking objections and/or colloquy, while [Attorney 2], counsel for plaintiff, interjected 114 times with improper speaking objections and/or colloquy. Counsel instructed the witness not to answer 30 questions without any lawful basis.” (internal citation omitted).

The court noted:

  • “Improper deposition behavior not only thwarts the deposition but tarnishes the profession. Offensive and abusive language by attorneys in the guise of zealous advocacy is plainly improper, unprofessional, and unacceptable.”

In the end, the court sanctioned the lawyers. It ordered them to conduct themselves in a civil manner going forward, pay attorney’s fees associated with the deposition and the motion for sanctions, and make monetary payments to New York’s Client Security Fund. 

In addition, and most pertinent to this post, the court ordered the attorneys to attend a CLE on civility within 30 days and to attest to the court that they’d attended and read the “standards of civility.”  The court included this footnote:

  • “Counsel are referred to the NYS Bar Association which sponsors a regular CLE on civility taught by Vince Syracuse, Esq. The transcript in this matter, with appropriate redactions, will be shared with Mr. Syracuse for use in his seminar as an example of uncivil sanctionable behavior.”

Given the court’s language, it’s possible that the CLE at which the transcript of their deposition will be used “as an example of uncivil sanctionable behavior” is not the same CLE that they are required to attend. Still, on the chance that it might be the same CLE, it reminded me of Coach. 

In basketball, nobody wanted to be that player that Coach sent to the stage while the others ran.

Similarly, in law, nobody wants to be that lawyer who I’m using as an example at my next CLE. But who am I to disregard a court order?

As always, let’s be careful out there.

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[i] I can’t remember how or where I came across it. 

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