Thursday, June 14, 2012

Supreme Misconduct

Half of law school is spent listening to professors and administrators tell you how your legal reputation starts the minute you walk through the proverbial law school doors. Students are continuously reminded to be courteous and respectful, and that the legal profession should be just that--professional. The minute you start practicing law, however, you realize that the advice you were given seems to be wholly disregarded, as if your professors dealt more with aspirations than actuality. Consider the recent Utah Supreme Court case, Barrientos v. Jones, 2012 UT 33. I should admit that I don't usually read opinions on civil cases that are issued by the appellate courts. I have little interest in reading about the rights of lien holders or the nuances of corporate formation. Instead of poring over the civil decisions, I usually skim the decisions for anything of interest, perhaps a juicy quote I can use for some other criminal justice-related purpose. Though it dealt with a wrongful death suit, the decision in Barrientos is a must read for criminal and civil practitioners alike. The case in Barrientos centered around a traffic accident involving an Ogden City police officer who, in the course of a high-speed chase, struck a car that was in an intersection. The mother of the plaintiff was tragically killed in the accident, and the case went to trial on issues of negligence. As if the facts of the case weren't bad enough, the lawyer for Ogden City decided to make a mockery of the case, attempting to introduce inflammatory information about the victims of the accident despite pretrial orders prohibiting such tactics. To make it short, let's just say that no lawyer wants his or her first appearance in a Supreme Court opinion to read like the passage about Ogden City's attorney. The Supreme Court's observations tell all that needs to be told:
The conduct of Ogden City's counsel, Ms. White, was indefensible. Her questioning of Theresa reveals that Ms. White surrendered, without resistance, to the impulse to win her case by bludgeoning the character of the dead. She pursued this course of action undeterred by court orders that unequivocally forbade her chosen course of action. We condemn Ms. White's conduct.
Needless to say, perhaps Ms. White should have paid a little closer attention to the constant reminders in law school. It's one thing for a trial court to admonish counsel; it's something of an entirely different magnitude to be personally called out by the Utah Supreme Court. I only hope that bar discipline will ensue so that all Utah lawyers, regardless of practice area, will see yet another stark reminder that professionalism and civility do in fact have a place in court.

1 comment:

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