Poor Advocacy Choices: “I am the [*******] lawyer”

Scene: Essex (“of course”, said every Baltimore area practitioner to her/himself), afternoon docket. I am there with my client, about whom I will make no comment.

The Court heard a “not guilty agreed statement of facts” (tantamount in general to a guilty plea) for a woman (not my client) who was accused of drunk driving and hit-and-run violations, in colloquial terms. The narrative was that she tied one on at a eastern Baltimore County bar (“of course”), tapped/scraped one or more cars on the way out and went home without doing a proper job of inspecting/notifying the owners.  Officer “responded to the scene” (“of course”), investigated the scene replete with witness statements and paint scraped, determined a suspect’s identity and home address and drove to that suspect’s home.  On the officer’s arrival, the suspect regaled the officer with a lot of helpful information, such as “I don’t have to f****** talk to you” (true) and “I am going to get off on this, I work for a f****** lawyer” (proven false in this case.) The officer ultimately arrested the defendant.  The Court found the defendant guilty of the lesser of Maryland’s alcohol charge, essentially by plea, and the attorney proceeded to mitigation.

The first words out of the attorney’s mouth were, in substance, “Your Honor, the defendant works for me; I am the f****** lawyer”, without euphemism. The Court was visibly taken aback and ultimately deferred sentence to near the end of the docket, citing her discomfort with the nature of the language used in court.

Why is this bad? Well, here’s why….

1) If you are the “f****** lawyer” to whom the defendant makes reference in her drunken tirade, and your employee/prospective client asserts you as the reason why she will not face consequences, don’t take the case.  Refer it out.  At a minimum, it has the spirit of a conflict if not a black-letter rule conflict, in that your own interest in keeping your good name as a working may conflict remotely with the client’s liberty interest. Refer it out.

2) If you do take the case, against advice, do not refer to yourself as the “f****** lawyer.” Why? Because it tells the Court that you find what happened funny when you shouldn’t. Because it’s a terrible thing to say in open court. Because you want the Court to FORGET that your client said that, and being that lawyer and reminding the Court of her words is directly counter-productive. Because your own dignity as an attorney mandates that you define yourself in professional terms, not the terms of your drunk client. Because your lack of dignity tells the Court that you don’t care enough about your client’s case to do even a minimally sensible job, and therefore perhaps your client deserves some severity. Because it proves that you are stupid when your stupidity doesn’t advance the interest of your client.

Don’t know what the Court ultimately did to the client or the attorney – had to step out with my client – but it was embarrassing.

Posted by Bruce Godfrey

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