Attorney Reprimanded for Criticizing Out-of-State Judges

Attorneys are expected to show the utmost respect when appearing before the judiciary.  There is a line that differentiates zealous advocacy and disrespect. In a recent decision, a New Jersey attorney learned a valuable lesson about bad mouthing the court, even if that court sits in another jurisdiction.

The case arises from a New Jersey attorney who tried a case in Pennsylvania state court against a company that provided dispute resolution services.  When the state court trial and appellate court judges ruled against the attorney’s client, he alleged that the judges were biased because they hoped to obtain employment with the company after retirement from the bench. 

The attorney’s opinions eventually reached the district ethics committee, which recommended disciplinary action.  The ethics committee charged the attorney with violating Rule of Professional Conduct 8.2(a), which provides that “[a] lawyer shall not make a statement . . . with reckless disregard as to its truth or falsity concerning the qualifications of a judge . . . .”  The attorney did not deny making the statements, but instead contended that they did not violate Rule 8.2(a) because he believed that the corruption was real.  The Disciplinary Review Board, however, was not convinced.  It found the claims were factually baseless and undermined the integrity of the judges who considered the Pennsylvania litigation.  The Board then issued a reprimand, which was upheld by the Supreme Court of New Jersey.  

The Disciplinary Board’s reprimand serves as a reminder to attorneys to always conduct themselves in a professional manner, regardless of whether they are actively involved in a case.  While litigation can be contentious, allowing emotion to dictate one’s statements can lead to disciplinary action and potential liability.

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