Legal Ethics

Disbarment was too harsh for lawyer who caused courthouse disturbance, Utah Supreme Court says

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A Utah lawyer who yelled obscenities as bailiffs escorted him from the courthouse and complained about a “sham” ethics hearing should not have been disbarred, the Utah Supreme Court has ruled.

The court ruled last Thursday that a “lengthy suspension” was the appropriate punishment for the lawyer, John Ciardi, and reinstated his law license, the Salt Lake Tribune reports. Ciardi has been unable to practice law since a district court disbarred him in 2014, and “that is an adequate response to the behavior charged,” the opinion (PDF) said.

The Utah Supreme Court said Ciardi could only be sanctioned for charged behavior—his courthouse conduct in 2011 and his “disparaging remarks” during a hearing before an ethics screening panel. The district court that disbarred Ciardi should not have considered as aggravating factors Ciardi’s derogatory remarks about judges and the Utah court system in district court pleadings, the state supreme court said.

Ciardi’s ethics troubles began when he was escorted from the Fifth District Court in 2011. Ciardi was angry because a judge had dismissed his case due to Ciardi’s absence when the case was called. When Ciardi arrived in the courtroom, he interrupted the judge’s calendar and asked him to recall the case. The judge ordered Ciardi not to interrupt and to sit down, but Ciardi continued to argue.

As a bailiff escorted Ciardi out of the courtroom, Ciardi “caused a disturbance,” the Utah Supreme Court said. Outside the courtroom, Ciardi continued to yell and to make disparaging remarks about the judge. Then Ciardi went to the clerk’s office and “became belligerent with the clerk,” according to the opinion. When he finally left, he yelled obscenities at two bailiffs who accompanied him.

Ciardi later entered an Alford plea to a charge of disorderly conduct and the prosecutor reduced it to an infraction.

During a hearing by an ethics screening panel, Ciardi “continued to behave badly” as he participated by phone. He made disparaging remarks about the Fifth District judge and said the ethics hearing was a “complete sham” and a “joke proceeding.” He also interrupted witnesses and referred to them as liars and idiots. The panel directed the Office of Professional Conduct to file a formal complaint with the district court. The complaint cited both the courthouse conduct and Ciardi’s behavior during the screening panel hearing.

Though the judge was wrong to consider Ciardi’s court pleadings before the district court as aggravating factors, the court documents could be the subject of a new ethics investigation, the state supreme court said.

“We do not take the view that there should be no consequences for Mr. Ciardi’s reckless and offensive allegations of bias, discrimination, and incompetence of Utah judges and Utah courts contained in his pleadings before the district court and this court,” the Utah Supreme Court said.

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