Ethics Lesson: Watch Your Mouth

Today’s ethics lesson comes from San Diego, where a judge reported an attorney to the State Bar Disciplinary Committee for a “serious covert insult” directed towards opposing counsel.

The statement at issue was made during a trial, where the disciplined attorney (a man) made the following statement on the record to opposing counsel (both women): “I’ll see you next Tuesday.  See you next Tuesday.”  For those, like the judge, who missed the subtle jab – “see you next Tuesday” is also a euphemism for the spelling of the “c-word.”

As mentioned above, the judge missed the insult at first, but fortunately opposing counsel brought it to his attention during an in-chambers meeting.  The court promptly issued a minute order making it known that the court does not tolerate such language, and alerting all attorneys that the judge would be filing a Discipline Referral.

In the meeting, the attorney tried to explain that his use of the phrase was as part of an “inside joke” with another member of his firm, that he didn’t expect anyone to notice.  The court did not find this argument convincing, noting in its minute order, “it is not a joke to this Court that [attorney] made this egregious and offensive insult intentionally to two female attorneys via coded message.”

The court further noted that “An attorney is an ‘officer of the court’ who, by virtue of his or her professional position, undertakes certain ‘special duties . . . to avoid conduct that undermines the integrity of the adjudicative process.’”  Needless to say, the court did not find the “joke” remotely humorous.

As lawyers, we need to keep in mind that our system is “adversarial.”  However, it is a “profession.”  There is no place for rude, and unprofessional jabs at your opposing counsel, the court, or the court’s staff.  Keep it professional or find a different vocation.