Proper Procedures for Disagreeing with a Judge: Don't Do This!

"Proper procedures for challenging rulings that an attorney believes are wrong do not include filing an inappropriate response to a show cause order and then compounding that problem by contacting the judge ex parte."

So said the 11th Circuit in a case reviewing a Florida attorney's First Amendment challenge to a sanctions order that imposed a 60 day suspension from practice for using inappropriate and unprofessional language in his briefs, and then sending the judge a bottle of wine with a note requesting that they privately resolve their dispute.

Here's a little taste of the tone of the filing, as recounted by the court in footnote 1 of its unpublished decision:

"The tone of Gleason's response to the bankruptcy court's show cause order is illustrated by its opening and closing paragraphs:

In your fourth published example of "Ready-Fire-Aim" against this attorney, it is obvious that you have not reviewed the record in this case which does not support the purported findings of fact. It is further quite obvious that you do not believe that the same respect mandated to be shown to you should also be shown to me. Your conclusion that [my client's] attempt to exempt his commissions as the head of a household is not supported by law is belied by the language of the actual statute. Your conduct in this case [h]as been without citation to any authority for the propositions that: your jurisdiction is never ending and without geographic bounds; your unconditional releases are meaningless; and pronouncements of the United States Supreme Court are mere suggestions.

It is sad when a man of your intellectual ability cannot get it right when your own record does not support your half-baked findings."

The 11th Circuit upheld the 60 day suspension stating: "When an attorney files inappropriate and unprofessional documents, a court may impose sanctions based on its "inherent power to oversee attorneys practicing before it." [citing Thomas v. Tenneco Packaging Co., 293 F.3d 1306, 1308 (11th Cir. 2002) (upholding a district court's decision to sanction an attorney who submitted documents containing personal attacks on opposing counsel)].

The court also rejected Mr. Gleason's argument that the suspension violated his 5th Amendment right to due process. The court not only has power under the procedural rules of the court to discipline an attorney before it, but also had inherent power to impose sanctions, provided that the attorney is given notice and the opportunity to respond, which Mr. Gleason received.

The takeaway (hopefully you didn't need an opinion to tell you this): Attorneys have a professional responsibility to conduct themselves in a manner that upholds the integrity of the institution.

Besides being poor etiquette as a human being, insulting a judge is sanctionable misconduct. Should a dispute arise between an attorney and a judge, there are many other courses of action besides resorting to rude language and improper ex parte conduct. You can appeal the ruling and in extreme circumstances, and only if absolutely necessary, (though caution should be taken here) you can file a complaint with the appropriate entity, i.e. the commission governing judicial performance or bar association.

And people wonder where all lawyer jokes come from.