Professionalism Panel

Published June 2014

Per Administrative Order No. 2.105/6-13, In Re: Fifteenth Circuit Professionalism Panel, when an attorney appears before the Panel because of conduct inconsistent with the PBCBA’s Standards of Professional Courtesy or the Ideals and Goals of Professionalism, a summary of that meeting is to be published in the Bar Bulletin with the name(s) redacted.

 

Re: Fifteenth Judicial Circuit Professionalism Panel

 

Dear Attorney:

 

This letter serves as a follow up to your meeting on Wednesday, October 23, 2013 with the Fifteenth Judicial Circuit Professionalism Panel (“Panel”). You were asked to appear before the Panel to address what appeared to be unprofessional conduct in sending correspondence containing legal arguments relating to a pending lawsuit to the presiding judge at the judge’s home address. Your correspondence also contained unflattering commentary about the judge’s ruling, as well as your unflattering opinions about the clerk’s office. Further, the judge’s judicial assistant reported that you were rude and upset when you called her, prior to sending your letter, to complain about the judge’s ruling and the clerk’s office.

 

This letter sets forth the Panel’s findings. It is intended to point out to you the unprofessional nature of your communications and to remind you of the importance, and the requirement, of civility and professional conduct in your dealings with the Court. As the Panel discussed with you, your communications with the Court, and its personnel, were inappropriate for the following reasons:

 

First, you sent a letter to the judge presiding over a matter in which you appeared as counsel.  In the letter you made substantive legal arguments about an order that judge entered, and you then mailed that letter to the judge’s home address as well as to the Court. You told the Panel that the reason you sent your letter to the presiding judge’s home address, in addition to sending it to the Court, was because you “wanted to get his attention,” and because you didn’t trust the Clerk to deliver the letter if you followed the proper procedures for delivery. You also stated that in upstate New York, where you previously practiced law, it was common practice for attorneys to send correspondence to the presiding judges at their homes. The Panel explained to you that sending mail to judges’ home addresses regarding pending cases is not an acceptable practice in our county, for a variety of reasons that include, among other things, the judges’ safety, the appearance of an ex-parte type communication, and respect for the judges’ privacy. Sending correspondence about pending cases to a judge’s home address is not professional conduct.

 

Second, in the letter you sent to the judge at his home address, you were critical of the Court’s ruling, and you were also critical of the clerk’s office. Examples include:

  • You said that you were “disturbed” by a statement in the Court’s Order.

 

  • You suggested that “the Court consider holding the Clerk in contempt for making material false statements,” specifically, an apparent error regarding whether or not a filing fee had been paid. You did not provide a copy of your letter to the Clerk.

 

  • You stated that, “[o]ne of my concerns on this appeal has been the Clerk’s failure to follow proper procedures. This miscommunication about payment of the filing fee is further evidence that the Clerk is not handling things properly. Since I cannot trust the Clerk to actually deliver this letter to your chambers, I am sending a copy to your home address.”

 

  • You disagreed with the judge’s ruling, and stated that your interpretation of the rule at issue (which was different from the judge’s interpretation) was “the only sensible conclusion.” Your letter contained 7 paragraphs on your interpretation of what the word “disposition” means, (which again was different from the judge’s interpretation of that word), and these paragraphs were written in an argumentative and disrespectful manner.

 

These statements are not consistent with The Ideals and Goals of Professionalism adopted by the Board of Governors of The Florida Bar, which provide that lawyers should act with “respect and courtesy for others with whom [they come] into contact . . . including members of the judiciary,” should take the “abrasions” out of their conduct with others, and should “respect[] the dignity of others.” Further, they are not consistent with The Palm Beach County Bar Association Standards of Professional Courtesy, which provide that “[a]ttorneys should refrain from criticizing or denigrating the court, opposing counsel, parties or witnesses, before their clients, the public, or the media, as it brings dishonor to our profession.”

 

Third, the letter you sent to the judge at his home address contained legal arguments. The Palm Beach County Bar Association Standards of Professional Courtesy are clear that “[l]egal arguments should be submitted to the court in a  memorandum of law and not in the form of a letter.” Standard IV.2. Sending a letter to a judge which contains substantive legal arguments is not consistent with this Standard.

 

Fourth, the judge’s judicial assistant reported that you were rude and upset when you called her prior to sending your letter. The judicial assistant provided you with instructions about how to deliver a letter to the judge, but you did not follow those instructions. Again, this conduct is not consistent with The Ideals and Goals of Professionalism, for the above-stated reasons. Further, it is not consistent with The Palm Beach County Bar Association Standards of Professional Courtesy, which provide that “[a]ttorneys should act and speak civilly to courtroom deputies/bailiffs, clerks, court reporters, judicial assistants, and law clerks with an awareness that they, too, are an integral part of the judicial system. Attorneys should be selective in inquiries posed to judicial assistants to avoid wasting their time. Attorneys should endeavor to be knowledgeable about the court administrative orders, local rules, and each judge’s published or posted practices and procedures.”  Standard III.5

 

A primary focus and design of the Panel is to educate attorneys who practice in the Fifteenth Judicial Circuit as to the requirements of professionalism and civility in the daily practice of law.  We thank you for your participation and appearance  before the Panel.  It is our hope that your experience with the Panel will have a positive impact and serve as a guide to your future conduct.  It is further recommended that you 1) familiarize yourself with the Administrative Orders on the Fifteenth Judicial Circuit’s website; 2) review the Palm Beach County Bar Association’s (PBCBA) Standards of Professional Courtesy at www.palmbeachbar.org. 3)  sign up for PBCBA’s mentoring program and request to be matched with a local mentor; 4) join PBCBA or another local voluntary bar association that will allow you to develop relationships with local practitioners and judges that may help guide you as to locally accepted practice and 5) attend the PBCBA Bench Bar Conference on March 7, 2014.  Registration will begin in early 2014 for the conference.

 

From accepting some of these recommended steps, the Panel is hopeful that you will gain an improved sense of the expected level of civility and professionalism in Palm Beach County.

 

/s/ Michael D. Mopsick

Co-Chair, Professionalism Committee

For the Fifteenth Judicial Circuit

Professionalism Panel