Divorce Lawyer’s Nasty Letter Leads to His Suspension

DSC00507 (2)No one in their right mind could possibly welcome an unsolicited letter from a lawyer. The chances that such letters will bring good news are extremely remote. Clients who retain lawyers to write the dreaded “lawyer’s letter” usually have a situation that means trouble for the recipient.

But in the ordinary course of a lawyer’s business, there is no reason that these letters heralding bad news, should be rude or nasty.

I have always subscribed to the theory that each person deserves to be treated with respect and courtesy, even in the most difficult of circumstances. After all, dramatic entreaties outside of the courtroom are of little assistance in resolving disputes.

Unfortunately, not all lawyers have the discipline to exercise basic rules of common courtesy and common sense. Indiana divorce lawyer Joseph Barker falls into that category.

While acting for a father who had been denied access to his child, Mr. Barker wrote to mother’s counsel:

“[Father] told me this week that he has only seen his baby . . . one day all year. Your client doesn’t understand what laws and court orders mean I guess. Probably because she’s an illegal alien to begin with.

I want you to repeat to her in whatever language she understands that we’ll be demanding she be put in JAIL for contempt of court. I’m filing a copy of this letter with the Court to document the seriousness of this problem.”[emphasis in original letter]

The Indiana Supreme Court took exception to Mr. Barker’s letter invoking two sections of their Code of Professional Conduct:

4.4(a): Using means in representing a client that have no substantial purpose other than to embarrass, delay, or burden a third person.
8.4(g): Engaging in conduct, in a professional capacity, manifesting bias or prejudice based upon race, gender, religion, national origin, disability, sexual orientation, age, socioeconomic status, or similar factors, and this conduct was not legitimate advocacy.

Mr. Barker was suspended for 30 days for professional misconduct. The insulting letter served no legitimate purpose related to the matter of his client’s access. Perhaps Mr. Barker believed his offensive missive would intimidate opposing counsel or impress his client? Not likely…

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

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