gavelJACPA Ethics Alert

New York lawyer suspended for 3 months for, inter alia, making racial, ethnic, homophobic, sexist, insulting judge, and being disrupting

 

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert which will discuss the recent New York Appellate Court disciplinary opinion suspending a lawyer who, inter alia, was found to have made “patently offensive racial, ethnic, homophobic, sexist, and other derogatory remarks to attorneys”, insulting an administrative law judge, and being disruptive in a hearing room.  The disciplinary opinion is Matter of Teague 2015 NY Slip Op 06301, Appellate Division, First Department (July 28, 2015) and the opinion is online atjustia.com here: https://law.justia.com/cases/new-york/appellate-division-first-department/2015/m-1137.html

According to the opinion, the lawyer was admitted in New York in 1993.  In 2012 and 2013, the New York Disciplinary Committee brought 13 charges against the lawyer.  After a hearing, the assigned referee recommended that the lawyer be found guilty of 6 of the charges, which were related to his “demeanor and actions”. The six charges were confirmed by the New York Hearing Panel in a report dated January 13, 2015 and other the seven charges were dismissed.

 

The lawyer was charged with having made “patently offensive racial, ethnic, homophobic, sexist, and other derogatory remarks to attorneys”, insulting an administrative law judge in a public forum, and being disruptive inside of and/or in the vicinity of hearing rooms; and “improperly importuning court clerks to recalendar cases even when told it could not be done”.

 

The evidence included testimony of three Administrative Law Judges: one judge received complaints of “disruptive or explosive conduct” by the lawyer and personally witnessed the behavior on several occasions; a second judge was called “a disgrace” by the lawyer in an open hearing room during or after a contentious hearing.  A third judge had admonished the lawyer for talking in the courtroom, and the lawyer responded by becoming “irate, rude, loud, and combative”.  Three attorneys who practiced traffic law in the same place as the lawyer (traffic court) testified that the lawyer had cursed and made “obscene, racist comments, and uttered profanities about ethnicity and homosexuality” “for years” in the public areas of the court.  The had also threatened one of the attorneys on more than one occasion.

 

The referee report recommended that the lawyer be “publicly sanctioned” and directed to attend an anger management program, based on the “vituperative and unseemly remarks” made to two Administrative Law Judges and the inappropriate language used with other attorneys. The referee also noted the unpleasant work atmosphere and that inappropriate language between the attorneys “appeared to be commonplace.”  The referee attributed respondent’s misbehavior to “poor impulse control” and a “hair trigger response.”  

 

The report further found that the lawyer admitted that he used inappropriate language, he intended to seek counseling, and he had never been convicted of any offense involving violence.  The lawyer is active in his church, does pro bono work related to traffic cases, and “seeks to be successful on behalf of his clients”.  The Hearing Panel rejected the referee’s recommendation of a “public sanction” and recommended a one month suspension.

 

After citing to relevant case law, the opinion states: 

 

“Even assuming, as the Referee found, that it is true that inappropriate language by attorneys is commonplace at the (court), we fail to see how this constitutes mitigation or otherwise excuses respondent’s ongoing and public inappropriate behavior. Respondent has shown inexcusable disrespect in open court to two Administrative Law Judges. He has spewed racist, sexist, homophobic and offensive epithets against other attorneys that any reasonable person, let alone a reasonable attorney, would know are simply unacceptable in public discourse…Respondent’s conduct should not and will not be tolerated.  Furthermore, we find it of concern that he attempted to undermine the functioning of the (court) by his repeated requests of the clerks to recalendar cases, even after being informed by more than one clerk that what he was asking would violate (court) policy.

 

The opinion rejected the one month suspension and suspended the lawyer for three months and also required the lawyer to continue anger management treatment for one year.

 

Bottom line:  The practice of law is extremely stressful and lawyers strive to keep the stress (and any improper impulses) under control.  This lawyer clearly failed to do this and made “patently offensive racial, ethnic, homophobic, sexist, and other derogatory remarks to attorneys”, insulted an administrative law judge in a public forum, was disruptive inside of and/or in the vicinity of hearing rooms; and “improperly importune(ed) court clerks to recalendar cases even when told it could not be done”.  Notwithstanding that there was an “unpleasant work atmosphere and that inappropriate language between the attorneys “appeared to be commonplace’ at the court, the opinion suspended the lawyer for 3 months” and cited his poor impulse control” and a “hair trigger response.”  This lawyer should be happy that the sanction was only a three (3) month suspension.

 

Be careful out there. 

 

           As always, if you have any questions about this Ethics Alert or need assistance, analysis, and guidance regarding these or any other ethics, risk management, or other issues, please do not hesitate to contact me.             

My law firm focuses on review, analysis, and interpretation of the Rules Regulating The Florida Bar, advice and representation of lawyers in Bar disciplinary matters, defense of applicants for admission to The Florida Bar before the Board of Bar Examiners, defense of all Florida licensed professionals in discipline and admission matters before all state agencies and boards, expert ethics opinions, and practice management for lawyers and law firms.  If there is a lawyer or other Florida professional license involved, I can defend the complaint or help obtain the license. 

If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to call me at (727) 799-1688 or e-mail me at jcorsmeier@jac-law.com.  You can find my law firm on the web at www.jac-law.com. In addition to handling individual cases, matters, problems and issues for my clients, I also am on retainer to provide ethics advice to numerous lawyers and law firms throughout the state of Florida.  I also provide legal assistance and advice to numerous individuals and non-legal entities to help insure compliance with the law and rules related to UPL and other issues.

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Joseph A. Corsmeier, Esquire

Law Office of Joseph A. Corsmeier, P.A.

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