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Lawyers behaving badly (again)

I don’t know if it’s a function of the bad economy or something in the water, but there has been a definite uptick in the number of cases in which attorneys are behaving badly in court proceedings. Several recent cases have involved sanctions, which have historically been relatively rare in Minnesota. And these cases don’t involve being a little too aggressive in making a point in an oral argument or being careless about proofreading their legal briefs, they involve good old fashioned rudeness.

A case in point is Gacek v. Owens & Minor Distribution Inc., a case involving sanctions imposed by our state’s newest U.S. Magistrate Judge, Leo Brisbois. Anyone who knows Brisbois knows he’s a pretty reasonable and even-tempered guy who wouldn’t be prone to giving out sanctions lightly. (I can’t say I’ve ever heard the term “volcanic” used to describe the temperament of the former Minnesota State Bar Association president.)

In Gacek, Brisbois sanctioned a plaintiff for not showing up for a deposition and for not participating in a pre-arranged conference call by ordering the plaintiff to appear and by making the plaintiff pay court reporter costs. Seems reasonable, right?

But, from the sound of U.S. District Court Senior Judge Paul Magnuson’s ruling reviewing the decision, the order and sanctions caused plaintiff’s counsel to launch into a tirade.

“Plaintiff’s counsel apparently beliebves that hyperbole and ad hominem attacks on court staff area a substitute for legal arguments,” Magnuson writes. “Rather than taking responsibility for missing a conference call, he instead blames everyone else involved, Defendant’s counsel, Magistrate Judge Brisbois, and, worst of all, Magistrate Judge Brisbois’ staff. It is apparent that counsel misunderstood the instructions regarding the conference call. Had he simply acknowledged this and pled for understanding, it is possible that the result of this proceeding would have been different.”

Here’s a little tip for you: If a judge issues a sanction to you or your client, refrain from insulting the judge’s staff. If you think that’s going to help matters, I think the Mad Hatter has some tea for you because you just went down the rabbit hole.

Before going to court again, this lawyer needs to read a recent post on JDs Rising, the local new lawyers’ blog: “The case against being a jerk.” Here’s more from attorney/blogger Jason Brown’s post:

I received a call from a judge’s law clerk in Sherburne County. We were speaking about the procedural posture of a case I was handling, when she thanked me for being ‘so nice’ to her. I wasn’t sure what she meant; I was simply talking with her openly and with a little humor. She then proceeded to tell me how rude opposing counsel was when she called him earlier that day. This same lawyer had treated my legal assistants like trash on numerous occasions in the past, so I wasn’t surprised.

Hmmm. Wonder if that lawyer Jason’s had trouble with ever does any work in federal court Duluth …

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