Legal Ethics

Judge's Holiday-Weekend Civility Class is Cancelled, But Attorney Manners Remain a Contentious Topic

A Delaware Superior Court judge’s plan to hold a holiday-weekend civility course on Sept. 4 for warring counsel in asbestos litigation was canceled by President Judge James T. Vaughn Jr., who reassigned the case to himself, according to the Wilmington News Journal.

However, the issue of appropriate attorney manners clearly continues to be a contentious one, in jurisdictions throughout North America:

An order similar to the Delaware judge’s had just been entered by a federal judge in Texas less than a week earlier, inviting squabbling attorneys to a “kindergarten party.” It apparently helped prompt the parties to settle the case.

And, after extensive review, a lengthy war of words between another federal judge in Texas and the attorneys and client who criticized him for allegedly criticizing them in a trade secrets case has ended in what amounts to a draw.

Meanwhile, in a controversial case in Canada, disciplinary authorities are pursing a legal ethics complaint against a well-known Toronto securities attorney, Joseph Groia, concerning his claimed lack of civility at a high-profile trial, as an article in the Globe and Mail details.

Although civility is, of course, a desirable quality, too much of a good thing can stand in the way of counsel doing his or her best to advocate for a client, critics of the Groia proceeding point out.

“The public has a real interest in knowing that when you hire a lawyer, that that lawyer is going to do everything possible he or she can for the client short of somehow being guilty of professional misconduct,” attorney Stanley Fisher of Heenan Blaikie said at a hearing in the Groia matter. The case is to continue in 2012, reports Legal Feeds

Groia got a high-level employee acquitted in a securities case, in part by pointing out what he characterized as a win-at-all costs attitude on the part of the prosecution, recounts the a Law Times editorial.

Now, however, he is facing an attorney ethics case before the Law Society of Upper Canada, because the prosecutors complained that he was uncivil during trial to the point of violating professional standards.

“These proceedings offend the basic principles of natural justice and the independence of the judiciary,” the Law Times writes. “A finding adverse to Groia will send a chilling message to Ontario lawyers that, before vigorously advancing an aggressive argument on behalf of their clients, they must first consider their own personal need to avoid offending third parties who are not even in the room.”

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