Ever since I’ve started my site, I’ve blogged about situations where, in my view,
judges have gone way over the line in sanctioning attorneys for conduct, such as sending a lawyer to jail for refusing to apologize or showing up late for a hearing. But typically, these sanctions have issued against solo and small firm attorneys.
But outrageous judicial conduct isn’t any less outrageous when it’s directed against our biglaw colleagues. And that’s why the scenario described in this,
Lawyer’s ‘Super-Size’ Gaffe Costs Him Client and Possibly Right to Practice Before Fla. Court (law.com 5/31/07) really ticked me off. According to the article, William Smith, a partner at large, Chicago based law firm of McDermott, Will & Emery commented to Judge Laurel Myerson Isicoff during a hearing Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of Florida that “with all due respect, you’re a few french fries short of a Happy Meal.” The relevant portions of the transcript, available here at David Lat’s Above the Law show that the judge didn’t say anything other than “proceed counsel” at the hearing. But subsequently, issued a Show Cause order asking Smith to demonstrate why his pro hac vice status shouldn’t be revoked in light of his remarks. The judge also denied Smith’s motion, and Smith’s client has since replaced him with a local firm.
The judge’s decision is wrong on so many levels that I can’t even begin. First, if she was offended by the comment at the hearing, she should have said so right away and given the attorney a chance to apologize. To me, this smacks of a set up. Second, quite frankly, this is overkill. Requiring a lawyer to respond to a show cause order and convening a hearing uses time and resources. Why couldn’t the judge simply have slapped the lawyer with a monetary sanction right on the spot? At least, it would have ended the matter. Third, did the judge really need to copy every other judge on the bench with the show cause order? To me, that’s simply vindictive. After all, many judges may have taken the remark in stride or come back with a snappy quip from the bench in response.
I also question the judge’s motives. I wonder whether she’d have reacted the same way had a local attorney rather than one from an out of state, biglaw firm made the same remark. And as a result of her action, the client did channel its case to a local firm. As a solo, that should give me pleasure (since I often serve as local counsel), but it doesn’t. If I get business, I want to win it fair and square – not because local judges are mistreating out of state counsel.