Lawyer’s Arrest Mid-Trial a Set-up by Opposing Counsel

10950859361151CDPFlorida radio “shock-jocks”, “Bubba the Love Sponge” Clem and Todd “MJ” Schnitt were engaged in an ugly defamation lawsuit, a case that spun out for five years, culminating in a tough-fought court battle that ended with Bubba declaring himself the victor. But the conflict between the two radio DJ’s took a back seat to the drama that unfolded when MJ’s lawyer, C. Phillip Campbell Jr., was busted for drunk driving in the middle of the trial.

Lawyer Campbell apparently got under the skin of Bubba’s lawyers at Adams & Diaco, so much so they repeatedly brought motions before the trial judge to have him removed as MJ’s counsel, with zero success. But according to Mr. Campbell’s DUI lawyer and the prosecuting attorney, Adams & Diaco found another way to get back at their courtroom adversary.

After court Mr. Campbell walked from his office/apartment to Tampa’s Malio’s Prime Steakhouse two blocks away. An attractive paralegal in the employ of Adams & Diaco was in the restaurant and saw Campbell. She quickly contacted her bosses and asked if she “there was anything she should do?” Following instructions Melissa Personious began a flirtation with Mr. Campbell, lying about who she worked for, and buying him drinks. Campbell wasn’t driving and enjoyed a few drinks.

Shortly after Campbell and Personious connected, lawyer Adam Filthaut from Adams & Diaco called a police officer friend who sat outside the restaurant for three hours waiting for Campbell to leave. Unfortunately, Campbell ended up driving Ms. Personious home in her vehicle, but was stopped and charged with DUI within the first five blocks. He refused to take a breathalyzer.

Notably, at the time Adams & Diaco contacted the police Campbell was stone-cold sober and upon his arrest there was no evidence he was over the limit for alcohol consumption.

During the investigation it became apparent that Ms. Personious was in constant contact with her employers, sending and receiving over 200 text messages and phone calls.

Eventually the charges against Mr. Campbell were dropped, the prosecutors comments included words like “collaboration” and “organized effort”. They said the intense communication between the paralegal and Adams & Diaco was “jaw-dropping”.

Campbell’s lawyer, John Fitzgibbons said:

“It is now absolutely clear that Mr. Campbell was the victim of a devious setup, And all honest and ethical police officers and lawyers should be deeply troubled over what happened.”

Meanwhile, Bubba tweeted:

“This setup nonsense has nothing to do with me or the fact that a jury of my peers found in my favor vs Todd Schnitt. This was just another weak attempt from the losers to justify why they got their a– kicked in court by me/jay diaco.”

Thankfully Adams & Diaco’s “dirty tricks” were the subject of discipline proceedings. Last month Stephen Diaco was disbarred with a stipulation that he could not apply for re-entry into the Florida bar for five years, and would have to retake the bar exam.

Robert Adams and Adam Filthaut entered conditional consent guilty pleas that would impose upon each lawyer a 91-day suspension and requirement to attend ethics school.

The Florida Bar’s Creed of Professionalism includes the following:

“I will strictly adhere to the spirit as well as the letter of my profession’s code of ethics, to the extent that the law permits and will at all times be guided by a fundamental sense of honor, integrity, and fair play.”

Lawyers like these need to be ferreted out of the profession.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

Love and Legal Fees Incompatible

BarristerIn 1990 Park Avenue family practice doctor, G.Peta Carrera, hired his girlfriend, Manhattan lawyer, Christine Anderson to represent him in a civil suit where he was accused of sexually molesting a patient.

Because they had been together for ten years, Ms. Anderson did not insist on a cash retainer from Dr. Carrera but instead took the doctor’s Park Avenue apartment and his Mercedes Benz as security for her legal fees. Anderson and Carrera agreed that he would sell his apartment after the trial to pay his legal fees.

Ultimately, Dr. Carrera lost his civil suit with the jury awarding $1.4 million dollars to his former patient.

Dr. Carrera was in no hurry to pay off his former patient and also took his sweet time to sell his apartment. It wasn’t until 2011 that the apartment sold for $2 million dollars and he persuaded Ms. Anderson to falsely claim that her lien had been satisfied.

She said she agreed because “I trusted him and loved him; and I believed he would honor his word.” But Dr. Carrera was a dishonourable, irresponsible cad who continues to refuse to pay his bills, both to Ms. Anderson and his patient who was
awarded $1.4 million dollars in damages.

Last week Ms. Anderson filed a civil suit in Manhattan Supreme Court against her former lover where she wrote that she realized Carrera never intended to pay her. She is seeking $500,000 to cover her legal bill, $500,000 in a palimony claim and $2 million dollars in punitive damages.

Another case of love and legal fees being incompatible… a situation that arises more often than you may think. Many attorneys act for friends or family and suffer the same fate as Ms. Anderson, they get “stiffed” in circumstances where their friend, lover, or relative, who with effusive gratefulness accepts the legal services, refuses in the end to pay for them.

A word to the wise: If you really must act for a friend, lover, or relative, do it pro bono, or don’t do it at all.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

Notables Who Failed the Bar Exam

GEO_edited-1From time to time I meet with young men and women who dream of becoming a lawyer and seek encouragement or advice on their journey to the bar. I believe the legal profession, although often maligned, is a noble calling, and to those lawyers who much has been given, much is owed.

A recent conversation with the eighteen-year-old daughter of a client, caused me to reflect on the process. After the completion of an undergraduate degree and successfully passing the Law School Admission Test, three years of law school follows. With a law degree in hand the only impediment to calling yourself a lawyer is the passing of the bar exam.

It is at this point where many people run into a roadblock. Certain of the bar exams are notorious for their difficulty, including the tests required in New York and California.

The top spot for lawyers who have failed their bar exams goes to MAXCY DEAN FILER who obtained his law degree in 1966, but failed the California Bar Exam 47 times before finally passing the exam in 1991.

By the time he was permitted to practice law, both of his sons were lawyers. He worked with one of his sons for about five years before striking out on his own. His other son is now a judge in California.

But there are many more lawyers who struggled for the right to practice law, but were forced to retake the exam. Some of the notables include:

1. MICHELLE OBAMA- A graduate of Harvard Law School, Ms. Obama failed her first try at the Illinois Bar Exam, said to be one of the easier bar exam States;

2. HILARY CLINTON- Former Secretary of State, former Senator for New York State, candidate for President of the United States, First Lady during Bill Clinton’s presidency, attended Yale Law School, wrote her bar exam in Washington DC and failed. Around the same time she wrote and passed the Arkansas Bar Exam, practicing patent law and intellectual property law. Her pro bono interests were in the area of child and family advocacy;

3. THE MAYORS- RICHARD DALEY of Chicago, ANTONIO VILLARAIGOSA of Los Angeles and ED KOCH of New York;

4. THE GOVERNORS- JERRY BROWN of California, PETE WILSON of California, and DAVID PATERSON of New York;

5. PAT ROBERTSON, founder and host of the 700 Club and leader of the Christian Coalition, graduated from Yale Law School but failed the bar exam. He then abandoned law and obtained a Doctor of Divinity degree. Leader of the christian right, he is a successful businessman and entrepreneur, who founded Regent University which includes a Judeo-Christian law school.

6. KATHLEEN SULLIVAN, former Dean of Stanford Law School, Marshall scholar at Oxford, graduated from Harvard Law School in 1981, constitutional and appellate law expert, often mentioned as a candidate for the United States Supreme Court, failed the California Bar Exam, but rewrote it in 2006 and passed. Many years earlier she had been admitted to both the Massachussats and the New York bar.

It is clear that perserverance is the cornerstone of success. To all my friends, young and old, who have a dream, remember these words:

“Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence.
Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful
people with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is
almost a proverb… Persistence and determination alone are
omnipotent.”
Calvin Coolidge

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

Judge Sentences Family Lawyer to Jail and Hefty Fine for Alleged Sarcasm

DSC00507 (2)I guess he woke up on the wrong side of the bed….what else could explain the short-tempered reaction of Chief Judge A.J. “Buddy” Welch Jr. of Henry County Juvenile Court in Georgia to family law lawyer Ella A.S. Hughes?

In the midst of his decision to remove Ms. Hughes’ client’s children from their home and into the custody of the child protection authorities, the following exchange took place:

“Judge Welch (to Hughes): “That expression, ma’am, just cost you $100. You are removed from the court approved list.”

Hughes tries to speak up, but Welch tells her to stop.

Judge Welch: “Your sarcastic looks and your sarcastic attitude is unacceptable to this court. You are removed from the appointed list. You can reapply at some other time. You can stay on the cases that you presently have but if I ever see that action from you again I can assure you that appropriate actions will be taken. Do you understand that, ma’am?”

Hughes: “Yes, sir.”

Judge Welch: “You may not like my rulings but you can surely appeal them.”

Hughes: “If I may, Your Honor, the only thing I did was bow my head to write down what you were saying.”

Welch: “No, ma’am. You did not. Now you have tested the court’s patience. I find you in willful contempt of this court. You are fined $1,000 and you are given 10 days in jail. Take her into custody. I want the record to reflect that the attorney I just had to hold in contempt was not just bowing her head but she was giving sarcastic, unprofessional looks, body action that showed her disgust for the court’s ruling and disrespect for the court in its entirety.”

And off she went to jail…for a few minutes…paid her fine and headed to the courtroom where her next client awaited her.

The Georgia Appellate Court overturned the contempt finding made against Ms. Hughes…Just another day in the life of a trial lawyer.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

Judge “Flabbergasted” By Lawyers Who Ignore Litigation Rules

BarristerIn a deservedly condescending judgment from the English High Court, Family Division, one can feel the frustration of Mr. Justice Holman as he describes the “titanic” litigation between Sandra Seagrove and Lawrence Sullivan, the unmarried parents of three children, ages 23, 20, and 10 years old, who looked to him to sort out the single issue of the division of the home they shared during their 20-year common-law relationship.

Noting that the couple spent only a few days to litigate parenting issues, Justice Holman pointedly observes that Ms. Seagrove has expended $800,000 and Mr. Sullivan over $500,000 in legal fees on a piece of property that is worth less than a $1 million dollars, amounting to a legal conundrum worth half of that.

But Judge Holman identifies another problem and that is counsels’ inability to follow the Rules of Court, rules enacted to control the needless expansion of family litigation, to ensure that cases are managed proportionately to their value to the litigants.

He quotes the Rule that provides that counsel may only submit 350 pages of documents, limited to one A4 size ring binder or one lever arch file, and the Rule that limits the number of case authorities to ten, unless the scale of the proceeding warrants it.

To his dismay, both sets of counsel, a senior and junior for each party, have paid no attention to the established practice directions or the recent decision of Mr. Justice Mostyn on document production, and the maximum number of cases to be relied on. Justice Holman says:

“Having referred to the completely disproportionate costs that have been incurred, I turn now to the documentation which underlines the scale and intensity of this dispute.

There were delivered to the court yesterday, or the day before, five large lever arch bundles of documents, which comprise over 2,000 pages, inclusive of the respective skeleton arguments, which are each just under 25 pages.

There were also delivered to the court two large bundles and one more slender bundle containing no less than 32 authorities. As if that were not bad enough (as I will later describe), I was, frankly, flabbergasted this morning when the solicitors arrived at the court at about 10.10 am with another large cardboard box containing an additional five large lever arch files of additional documents (these are the ones with lavender coloured card on their spines).

I have been told that those additional five bundles contain around a further 1,500 pages of documents. So, in aggregate, at the outset of this hearing, these parties are expecting consideration of all or part of 3,500 pages of documents as well as all or part of the 32 authorities. This needs to be considered within the framework that rule makers and the most senior judiciary have endeavoured to establish in order to ensure the proportionality of litigation.”

Mr. Justice Holman next entertains counsels’ submissions justifying their wholesale disregard of the Rules of Court, dismissing them in short shrift, and reminding counsel that courts cost money to run, and that if they wish to overindulge they are best to go the route of arbitration!

A slap in the face indeed, as it is well-known that one of the benefits of arbitration is reduced time, paper and costs!

The judge’s remedy? An adjournment to the next day and the following order:

“Except for the two skeleton arguments and the chronology, every single piece of paper that has so far been lodged will be taken away from this courtroom now. All the bundles of authorities will be taken away from this courtroom now.”

The postscript to the reported judgment of Seagrove v. Sullivan 2014 EWHC 4110 is:

“[NOTE: On the following morning the parties announced that they had reached a comprehensive settlement; and the judge was invited to make, and did make, a “Tomlin order” in which their detailed agreement is contained in a confidential schedule.]”

Why does a judge need to embarrass and humiliate counsel, including two Queen’s Counsel, to ensure that time and money is not frivolously wasted, and how unhappy were the parties when they received the judge’s indictment of their high-priced counsel?

Tough Talk With Judges: Dore v. Barreau du Quebec

The Canadian courtroom is not a venue for the faint of heart. It is “ground zero” for our adversarial system of justice, pitting the state against a criminal accused; corporate titans battling competitors; spouses jousting to establish a fair division of the spoils of their marriage; and average citizens seeking redress for motor vehicle accidents, human rights complaints, estate disputes and so many other legal matters that are part of everyday life.

“See you in court” is a threat that is feared by most people, with the exception of trial lawyers, who have studied, practiced and for the most part, crave the adrenalin pumping through their veins, like gladiators entering the arena.

In hard-fought cases, clients expect their lawyers to champion their cause aggressively with a “take-no-prisoners” zeal. Many trial lawyers are proud to be called “a bulldog, a bruiser, a basher, a pit-bull” and other normally unflattering nicknames.

Within this milieu it is inevitable that advocates will lock horns with opposing counsel, and judges and lawyers will occasionally spar with one other. However, there is a fine line between passionate argument and unchecked invective when the heat in a courtroom accelerates.

In a 2012 decision from the Supreme Court of Canada, Dore v. Barreau du Quebec, lawyers and judges alike have been provided with guidance on courtroom etiquette that balances an advocate’s duty to aggressively defend a client, with their obligation to maintain professional decorum.

Quebec lawyer Gilles Dore was representing an accused in a criminal matter involving a Hells Angels prosecution before Quebec Superior Court Justice Jean-Guy Boilard. During Mr. Dore’s submissions, Judge Boilard chastised Mr. Dore, saying “an insolent lawyer is rarely of use to his client”, and later criticized Mr. Dore for his “bombastic rhetoric and hyperbole” and dismissed his “ridiculous” application.

After the hearing Mr. Dore delivered a scathing letter to Judge Boilard, calling him a “coward…pedantic…aggressive…petty… arrogant… unjust…that he was of dubious legal acumen” and made “shamefully ugly, vulgar and mean personal attacks on the unsuspecting”.

Mr. Dore also wrote the Chief Justice of the Quebec Court and the Canadian Judicial Council about Judge Boilard’s behavior.

Canada’s Judicial Council determined that Judge Boilard’s remarks were “insulting and unjustifiably derogatory…displaying a flagrant lack of respect for an officer of the court”. The Council also reviewed Judge Boilard’s track record and noted he had “a penchant for leveling personal, denigrating attacks against lawyers”.

Judge Boilard responded by removing himself as trial judge on the Hells Angel’s trial, while Mr. Dore was defending himself against a complaint made to the Barreau du Quebec, who ultimately found that his letter to Judge Boilard was “likely to offend and was rude and insulting”. Mr. Dore had his license to practice law suspended for 21 days. His suspension was upheld by the Quebec trial and appeal courts.

Canada’s highest court in a 7-0 decision, agreed with the lower courts, but held that judges are not fragile flowers unable to withstand withering critiques from lawyers who argue before them.

Madam Justice Rosalie Abella said “Lawyers should not be expected to behave like verbal eunuchs. They not only have a right to speak their minds freely, they arguably have a duty to do so. But they are constrained by their profession to do so with dignified restraint.”

Judge Abella also recognized the conundrum lawyers face when provoked by opposing counsel or members of the bench noting, “…it is precisely when a lawyer’s equilibrium is unduly tested that he or she is particularly called upon to behave with transcendent civility.”

This case is important, not only for addressing the difficult topic of conflict between counsel and the Court, but also in providing a framework for lawyers and other players in the justice system to understand the boundaries when speaking out about flaws in the system they work in.

While lawyers enjoy freedom of expression, their words must still be chosen wisely in order to balance their obligations to their clients, with the professionalism required of them by their governing bodies and the public.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang