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Know When to Shut Up in Discipline Cases

Oral Advocacy Rule No. 1: "If you are winning an argument, it's time to stop talking."

That's one of those unwritten laws that lawyers often forget, so there it is. It applies in hearings in general, but in ethics proceedings in particular.

David Evan Schorr apparently didn't get that memo. Disciplinary authorities were going to censure him privately, but then he opened his mouth.

Private Reprimand

Schorr, a New York City attorney, refused to accept a private reprimand for secretly recording a court hearing. Instead, he decided to sue the attorney grievance committee.

As a result, the New York Law Journal reported, Schorr got himself censured publicly. And this time, he agreed to the discipline.

In a stipulated decision, Schorr admitted that he surreptitiously recorded a divorce proceeding in violation of local rules. The grievance committee had admonished him privately for the misdeed.

But then he sued the committee, which turned his private censure into a public one. It revealed a pattern of misconduct in the underlying divorce case -- his own.

Public Censure

In that case, Schoor made another common mistake: he represented himself. Aggravating factors included:

  • Accusing the judge, her secretary and a court officer or perjury
  • Bringing a lawsuit that lacked merit against a psychologist appointed by the court
  • Setting up websites that disparaged opposing counsel by accusing him of lying under oath

In mitigation, Schorr had no prior record of discipline and had limited court experience at the time. The discipline committee concurred that public censure would deter future misconduct yet permit him to "continuing serving clients in a responsible and constructive fashion."

That would include knowing when to shut up.

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