A Lawyer’s Mouth can be Trouble: What Goes Out and What Comes In

Brizzi

“We find that Respondent, Carl J. Brizzi, engaged in attorney misconduct by making public statements as a prosecutor that had a substantial likelihood of materially prejudicing adjudicative proceedings and a substantial likelihood of heightening public condemnation of the criminal defendants. For this misconduct, we find that Respondent should receive a public reprimand.”

Most Indiana lawyers know the situation. Brizzi, an experienced prosecutor in Marion County (Indianapolis) saw over 100 murder cases during his time in office. On two occasions it was charged that Brizzi went too far in “informing the public” about the nature of the criminal acts that led to criminal charges.

The hearing officer found that the commission failed to meet its burden to show Rules violations as alleged. He found that no “actual prejudice occurred.”  The Supreme Court overruled the hearing officer and said that the standard is not whether actual prejudice occurred, but the standard set by the rule is that a substantial likelihood of prejudice occurs when making the statement. Since the line was not clearly drawn before this case, they gave him the benefit of the doubt on a couple of issues, but found that Brizzi stepped over the bounds on a couple of his comments. As such, a public reprimand was issued. But the next violator, in criminal or civil court, will be held to a higher standard. So let it be written. So let it be done.  Next time the lawyers need to watch what we say.  We have been warned.

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Texas Discipline Case is Different:

Two Texas lawyers were charged following a bizarre series of events. Leeds and Caballero first represented Judge Arditti in a public bribery case, where the judge was acquitted. But both lawyers were convicted of contempt for their actions in the way they tried the case, Leeds was convicted on five counts, and Caballero on nine.  The acts of contempt included disruptive behavior and calling court workers “liars.” Also, they called the judge a “racist” for starting court earlier in the morning than usual. The trial court then ordered the hearing transcripts sealed for further actions.

Following the contempt findings, the Disciplinary Commission filed charges for violations of the Rules of Professional Conduct. Among those charges was tampering with evidence for attempting to have the transcript destroyed. Stuart Leed came to an agreement with the Disciplinary Commission on resolving the charges, but the hearing judge threw out the agreement, as he found that the punishment was not severe enough.

The judge said: “The court has carefully considered its discretion to decline to approve the agreed judgment, including reviewing the Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct, which are designed not only to regulate attorneys and the interests of the Bar, but also to preserve the citizens’ rights to participate in the justice system by a carefully constructed framework of regulations which permit civilized trials.”

Preserving the citizens’ rights to participate in the justice system… a good idea. Indiana has a consitutional provision on that, Article One,  Section 12. “All courts shall be open; and every person, for injury done to him in his person, property, or reputation, shall have remedy by due course of law. Justice shall be administered freely, and without purchase; completely, and without denial; speedily, and without delay.” That is a good way to run a court system.  H/T Rev. Chuck Blaisdell.

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Alcohol Can Cause Trouble

We all know folks who have an issue with the bottle (or other intoxicants).  For lawyers with drinking issues there are several problems:  Alcohol’s effect on the brain is that it impairs judgment, which ultimately affects a lawyer’s ability to assist clients; Driving while intoxicated is a crime, and the commission of crimes is evidence of unfitness to practice the law;  Alcoholism reflects poorly on the whole profession, and is also a reflection of the problems suffered by lawyers, due to the nature of the profession.

In Re: Mark Thornburg is a recent reminder of this.  He had thirteen years between his two OVWI arrests, the first just after passing the bar exam, the second just recently. Mark has been a good lawyer and strong member of the Bar Association. When his recent arrest occurred he did the right thing, promptly contacting the JLAP program to get back on top of the problem. JLAP is the Indiana Judges and Lawyers Assistance Program, designed to assist members of the Bar with problems that impair their ability to practice.

Thornburg also had been a good lawyer, the Court found “no disciplinary history” and that he cooperated during the investigation.  Those are qualities that the Court appreciates.  As a result, his punishment was a 90 suspension from practice, which was withheld, and he was placed on probation for 24 months with terms.  A failure to successfully comply with the probation will result in imposition of the 90 day suspension, but without automatic reinstatement to the practice at the end of the suspension.  The loss of automatic reinstatement is a serious add-on to the suspension.

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Watch what comes out of, and goes into, that lawyer’s mouth!

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