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.
Today’s version of a lawyer channeling Costanza comes to us from the Northern District of Illinois. As reported by the ABA Journal, the lawyer’s disrespectful & unprofessional conduct resulted in the court’s Executive Committee suspending her from the court’s general bar for 90 days and from its trial bar for 1 year. The order is here.
Someday I hope to launch a YouTube channel tied to this blog. When I do, here’s how I imagine scripting today’s entry when I adapt Was That Wrong to the screen.
- Executive Committee: It has come to our attention that you were continuously disruptive during a two-week trial, and that you often reacted to unfavorable testimony by rolling your eyes, shaking your head, and commenting on it in the presence of the jury. We also understand that, after the court overruled an objection that you made, you rolled your eyes and said, ‘Fucking bullshit.’ ” Is that correct?
- Lawyer: Who said that?
- Executive Committee: The judge. And it’s in the transcript.
- Lawyer: 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 appearing in federal court that that sort of thing was frowned upon, you know, cause I’ve had a lot of cases and I tell you . . . umm. . . .
- Executive Committee: Suspended!
- Lawyer: Well, you didn’t have to say it like that.
As an aside, a nugget buried in the order made me spit out my coffee and I wasn’t even drinking any when I read it. On page 2, the Executive Committee noted that:
- “In mitigation, [the lawyer] has apologized and set forth a detailed plan to prevent a recurrence of the violation.”
What, exactly, is a “detailed plan” not to swear at the judge when your objections are overruled?
Honestly, I think that even Bart Simpson knows the plan:
Here are the prior entries in Was That Wrong?
- Conspiring with police to have your paralegal set up opposing counsel for a DUI mid-trial
- Bringing a gun to your disbarment hearing
- Sexting a Client
- Defrauding Investors, with Client Funds as Collateral
- Outrageous Falsehoods on a Resume
- Judge Orders Attorney Handcuffed to Jury Box