Lawyer deserves reprimand for courtroom protest that led to 'Bart Simpson-esque' punishment, ethics board says
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An Ohio lawyer has agreed to a public reprimand for his reaction to a judge’s adverse ruling that led to a well-publicized and unusual punishment.
According to the board’s April 9 report and recommendation, Baker staged a protest when Judge Nancy Fuerst of Cuyahoga County, Ohio, refused to give jurors a self-defense instruction during a felonious assault trial of Baker’s client.
The protest consisted of repeated efforts to stop the trial from proceeding, the report said. Baker told Fuerst that he would sit at the back of the courtroom. Fuerst told Baker to sit down and be quiet. When Fuerst was instructing the jury, Baker left the defense table and stood behind a television stand. His intent, Baker said, was to show that he wasn’t participating.
Baker was found in contempt in February 2020. He was ordered to pay a $500 fine and to write, 25 times each:
• I will not engage in conduct that is prejudicial to the administration of justice or in any other conduct that adversely reflects on my fitness to practice law.
• I shall not engage in conduct intended to disrupt a tribunal or engage in undignified or discourteous conduct that is degrading to a tribunal.
Cleveland.com has characterized the order as a “Bart Simpson-esque dose of punishment.”
Baker complied with the order and admitted to the inappropriate nature of his conduct. The Cleveland Metropolitan Bar Association opened an investigation after reading newspaper accounts of the punishment.
A hearing panel noted several mitigating factors, including the “highly public nature” of the contempt proceedings against Baker, the lack of prior discipline against him, and his cooperative attitude in the ethics proceedings.
Baker told the ABA Journal that he was “discourteous,” and that “the judge was right in the discipline she gave.”
“As I’ve maintained throughout, what I did in the courtroom was not justified,” Baker says. “But I can’t back away from [thinking that] my client got an unfair trial” because jurors weren’t able to consider self-defense.”
Asked about the specifics of his wrongdoing, Baker says he didn’t engage in any kind of outbursts, and the judge noted that his protest did not create a circus atmosphere. Nor was there any kind of repeated conduct that he can remember, he says.
Baker’s client was convicted for the lesser offense of aggravated assault and domestic violence, according to Cleveland.com. The case is on appeal.