Okay, so this may not exactly shock anyone, but I think it’s worthy of note: The Florida Supreme Court has suspended an attorney for two years in response to his repeatedly confrontational, disrespectful, and bullying conduct toward another lawyer in a litigation matter.
Deborah Cassens Weiss reported for the ABA Journal:
The Florida Supreme court has suspended a lawyer for two years for rude conduct and recommended that the case be studied “as a glaring example of unprofessional behavior.”
The court rejected a referee’s recommended sanction for Jeffrey Alan Norkin as too lenient, saying a two-year suspension is appropriate given Norkin’s “appalling and unprofessional behavior.”
The main object of Norkin’s ire was a 71-year-old attorney named Gary Brooks, who was suffering from Parkinson’s Disease and kidney cancer at the time and has since passed away. The Court noted that Brooks had a “lengthy and unblemished” legal career.
This portion of the Court’s lengthy opinion, quoted here by Weiss, gives you some idea of how bad Norkin’s behavior was toward Brooks and others:
“Competent, zealous representation is required when working on a case for a client. There are proper types of behavior and methods to utilize when aggressively representing a client. Screaming at judges and opposing counsel, and personally attacking opposing counsel by disparaging him and attempting to humiliate him, are not among the types of acceptable conduct but are entirely unacceptable. One can be professional and aggressive without being obnoxious. Attorneys should focus on the substance of their cases, treating judges and opposing counsel with civility, rather than trying to prevail by being insolent toward judges and purposefully offensive toward opposing counsel.”
In my judgment, Norkin’s behavior went way beyond “rude,” the term used by Weiss to describe it. For a copy of the full Florida opinion, go here.
Concerns about bullying and incivility exhibited by lawyers have been raised repeatedly in bar association journals. Anecdotally, at least, the legal profession ranks high in the frequency of reports and complaints about bullying, both within law firms and between opposing counsel.
Not included in Weiss’s article was another piece of the Court’s opinion: It approved the referee’s recommendation that Norkin “undergo a mental health evaluation and participate in any recommended counseling.” I don’t know anything about Norkin beyond what I’ve read in the article and opinion, but this makes sense. Perhaps counseling will lead him to address the sources of his behavior and allow him to someday return to practice in a better state of mind, to the benefit of all concerned.