Ethics Lesson: Don’t Call Opposing Counsel the C-Word

Today’s Ethics Lesson comes from New York, where we are reminded that you should not call opposing counsel the C-word.

Paul Senzer was a private attorney, and for 26 years he also served as a part-time Justice of the Northport Village Court in Suffolk County. However, that judicial appointment came to an end on June 23, 2020, when the New York Court of Appeals affirmed the decision of the New York Commission on Judicial Conduct (“Commission”) to have Senzer removed because of his “racist, sexist, profane and otherwise degrading language in communications.”

According to the Commission, Senzer was served with a Formal Written Complaint in 2017 alleging that over a four-month period Senzer sent several emails to his clients in in which he:

  1. Called the opposing party’s lawyer a “c*** on wheels” (but fear not, he made it better by requesting that the clients “don’t quote [him]”);
  2. Called the opposing party, who was also his clients’ daughter, a “b****” several times;
  3. Called the daughter’s lawyer “eyelashes”;
  4. Told his clients to “let your daughter act like the asshole she is”;
  5. Wrote an email with the subject line, “THE TWO SCUMBAGS WERE SERVED” (referring to the daughter and her former husband); and
  6. Called the Family Court referee an asshole.

In its determination, the Commission noted that “[a]t a minimum, gender-based slurs, which denigrate a woman’s worth and abilities and convey an appearance of gender bias, should have no place in a judge’s vocabulary.” As the Commission aptly pointed out – these were all contained in emails and as such, were not “thoughtless slips.”

Needless to say, in order to keep the “law biz” professional, at a bare minimum you should try to be respectful to everyone, including opposing counsel. And for goodness sake, you may “feel” like calling someone a nasty word, but try writing it down in a journal, or screaming it into a pillow. As the old saying goes, “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say it at all” and definitely don’t send it in an email.