U.S. Eleventh Circuit - The FindLaw 11th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries Blog

'Half-Baked' Insult and Wine Lead to Attorney Sanctions

The First Amendment doesn't give lawyers license to criticize judges in court pleadings, according to Lawyerist.

Monday, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals concluded that there's no authority for the idea that the First Amendment shields a lawyer who files an inappropriate and unprofessional pleading from sanctions.

Kevin Gleason, an attorney who practices bankruptcy law in Florida, appealed a sanctions order that barred him from practicing before the bankruptcy court for 60 days. Gleason argued that the suspension violated his First Amendment right to free speech and his Fifth Amendment right to due process. More specifically, he claimed that his First Amendment rights supersede the rules regulating attorney conduct.

It sounds like Gleason already had a strained relationship with the bankruptcy court, but the situation spiraled out of control when he directed the following statement to the judge in a response to a show cause order: “It is sad when a man of your intellectual ability cannot get it right when your own record does not support your half-baked findings.”

Yikes.

Sure, everyone wants to tell off a judge at some point, but expressing your feelings as part of the court record is a bad idea.

The Eleventh Circuit noted that Gleason’s attempt to resolve the dispute man-to-man with a “nice bottle of wine” and ex parte communications was also a bad idea.

Proper procedures for challenging rulings that an attorney believes are wrong do not include filing an inappropriate response to a show cause order and then compounding that problem by contacting the judge ex parte. If Gleason believed that the rulings in the underlying bankruptcy case were based on errors of fact or law, his proper procedure was an appeal.

In case you’re a little rusty on the professional conduct rules, just remember to restrain yourself from filling your pleadings with zingers, and — if your find yourself facing sanctions — avoid alcohol-driven ex parte communications.

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