It’s hardly news anymore for one of those oft-described “no-nonsense” judges to body slam a hapless lawyer appearing in their courtroom. Just the other day, I blogged about the Discovery-warring lawyers ordered to “Kindergarten Party” by one of those no-fool-suffering judges. And in May, I noted “A judicial body slam to savor as judge scolds counsel for boilerplate.”
And, of course, who can forget Judge Judith Eiler, the Seattle, Washington jurist that TIME Magazine called “tart-tongued” but who finally ran into trouble for her “tough, no-nonsense” ways – - – but only after years of verbally ball peening lawyers, litigants and staff in her King County courtroom. See “A Real-Life Judge Judy Gets Smacked Down” and “Of vegetables, incivility and looking for “Judge Judy” in the courtroom.”
“. . . surprised to find it done at all.”
But non-lawyers should realize that judicial verbal body slams are hardly sporting since they’re overwhelmingly one-sided contests. Only the most rash and reckless lawyer dares risk the inexorable repercussions of sassing and back-talking the bench.
A while back, for example, legal aid lawyer Arnold Levine was found in contempt of court for “rude remarks” made to Judge Donna Recant in Manhattan Criminal Court. Fortunately, for Levine, he was saved from serving 10 days in jail when a “State Supreme Court Justice Overturns Lawyer’s Sentence For Insulting Judge.”
And last year in Utah, lawyer Charles Schultz was cited for unprofessional conduct for critical remarks he made in a published article in Salt Lake’s “City Weekly,” “Box Elder County’s Broken Court.” The matter was taken so seriously by state bar disciplinarians that after disciplining the lawyer, a rules amendment to the state’s rules of professional conduct was proposed.
In a follow-up story by Eric Peterson,“Censored by the Bar,” the unrepentant Schultz emailed the newspaper to comment on the proposed ethical rule change to RPC 08.02 that “Prohibits knowingly making a false statement about the judicial system. Encourages lawyers to defend the judicial system.”
Schultz’s email said, “What is next? Will lawyers be required to kneel before entering court buildings? Will lawyers be required to call judges, ‘Your Worship, Your Holiness, Your Majesty,’ or some other reverent term?”
This is why the news about what Idaho criminal defense lawyer Eric J. Scott did last month in filing his angry “Motion to Withdraw” is so cringe-worthy. Also see “Idaho Lawyer Lashes Out at Court In Motion To Withdraw” « Above the Law.
Free speech rights for lawyers?
Sure there’s gutsy BYU Law School Professor Margaret Tarkington who advocates for more expansive free speech rights for lawyers in the courtroom. Last year, the good professor wrote the persuasively argued, “Can fairness to a litigant invest a free speech right in lawyers?”
But given the incendiary nature of Scott’s critique summed up in his “Conclusion,” regardless of qualified immunity or arguable free speech rights, it’ll be astounding if Scott doesn’t suffer professional wounds – - – much less outrageous fortune’s ‘slings and arrows’ courtesy of the Idaho Bar’s disciplinary armory. Here’s part of what Scott wrote in his intemperate Conclusion:
“The Court’s errors in this case were so inexplicable and so great in number that Counsel has formed the belief that this Court is
(d) prejudiced; or
(e) all or some of the above.
“For the reasons set forth above, Counsel has no faith in this Court’s ability to competently and objectively interpret the law in this case. The Court’s stunningly nonsensical statement of the “test” for determining custody speaks for itself. . . .
“Due to Counsel’s inability to maintain the requisite level of respect for this Court, Counsel feels that it would be in his client’s best interests to withdraw from this matter. . . .”
Photo Credits: Wrestling photos by Tabercil via Flickr and Creative Commons-licensed content requiring attribution and share alike distribution; “Stand up” by Sugar Pond via Flickr and Creative Commons-licensed content requiring attribution and share alike distribution; “Silly face” by Rachel Coleman Finch via Flickr and Creative Commons-licensed content requiring attribution and share alike distribution; “Kowtowing in court” – the act of deep respect shown by kneeling and bowing so low as to touch the head to the ground via Wikimedia Commons and via a United States public domain tag.