Legal Ethics

Lawyer who alleged 'supercilious' opponent had a judge in his pocket fights recommended suspension

A New Jersey lawyer is fighting a recommended six-month suspension for his critical remarks about a judge during a deposition, saying the judge’s conduct justified his perception of judicial bias.

The Disciplinary Review Board found that Clifford Van Syoc made “unsubstantiated attacks” on the judge “without any apparent basis, other than his own opinion,” the New Jersey Law Journal reports.

According to the transcript of the November 2009 deposition, Van Syoc began making accusations when the opposing lawyer asked about a document apparently harmful to Van Syoc’s clients. The New Jersey Law Journal has a summary of the fireworks that followed.

Van Syoc said the opposing lawyer was “acting in a snide, supercilious, condescending manner typical of your conduct in the courtroom when you had the judge in your pocket.”

Van Syoc called his opponent a “bush league lawyer” and “stupid,” and claimed he had raised his voice, lied and withheld documents. As for the judge, Van Syoc said he was “the one that committed the fraud; the one who’s going to be in the complaint I’m filing next week.”

Van Syoc ordered the lawyer out of his office, told an associate to watch the lawyer “so he doesn’t try to steal anything” and told his receptionist to call police. The receptionist did not follow his order.

The judge had already recused himself from the case, apparently because Van Syoc had accused him of corruption in a different suit, the New Jersey Law Journal says.

Van Syoc maintains that the judge should have recused himself earlier because of his relationship to lawyers in the case. The situation, Van Syoc says, has “disturbing parallels” to a prior disciplinary case in which the judge was censured for failing to recuse because of a business relationship with one of the parties.

Van Syoc also says the deposition stenographer should not have destroyed her audiotape, which would have shown the opposing lawyer’s tone justified his decision to call off the deposition.

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