Lawyer is suspended after claiming he feared 'untimely death' if he appeared at police officers’ deposition
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A Florida lawyer has been suspended for two years for unfounded accusations of racial bias, including his assertion that appearing at a deposition with police officers could lead to bodily injury or his “untimely death.”
The court’s order said the unfounded bias accusations against courts, the opposing counsel and parties were “particularly egregious” because they can damage the public’s confidence in the judicial system.
Patterson’s misconduct happened between 2011 and 2018 during his representation of the mother of a youth who died after a struggle with police. The Florida Bar investigated Patterson after a referral by U.S. District Judge Carlos Mendoza in an excessive force lawsuit that Patterson filed.
Mendoza had found that Patterson failed to comply with court orders; improperly deviated from the issues in the case; and suggested without basis that the defendants, their lawyer and judges presiding in the case were motivated by racial or other bias.
The Florida Supreme Court cited some examples in which Patterson alleged bias. During a deposition, a defense lawyer asked Patterson to ask his client to stop making faces and grunting noises. Patterson denied that his client was acting that way and asserted that “white American attorneys and white police officers always love to accuse Africans and Blacks of always being hostile, of always being argumentative and always being nasty.”
In another instance, Patterson said neither he nor his client would appear for a deposition because they were being treated unfairly because of their race. In correspondence with the opposing lawyer, Patterson wrote: “These are the circumstances when Blacks are often portrayed in a negative regard to justify some accidental or strange death. That is not the way I am leaving this planet. … Instead of you speaking directly to my point of view, trying to place yourself in the shoes of a man whose race and ancestry shows unfairness, bias and wrongdoing against Blacks as part of our American history … you claim that I instead am behaving unprofessional.
“I would rather avoid a scenario that somehow leads to some accusation that I attempted to strike, hit or confront anyone that strangely results in my untimely death.”
Patterson then filed an emergency motion for a protective order that said he and his client are African American, and he felt unsafe around the defendant officers and the defense counsel. The motion said appearing at the deposition could result in criminal arrest or bodily injury to himself or his client.
The Florida Supreme Court also said Patterson:
• Received a fax from a defendant police officer with a cover sheet showing that it was intended for the opposing counsel. Patterson kept the fax, didn’t notify the opposing lawyer, and used information in the fax to support a motion and an amended complaint.
• Unnecessarily delayed the litigation by missing meetings with the counsel, failing to comply with court deadlines and failing to be prepared.
A referee in the case had recommended a lesser 90-day suspension because Patterson had already been punished for misconduct that included allegations of bias in a second case that happened between 2012 and 2015. Patterson received a one-year suspension in that ethics case.
The Florida Supreme Court said it thought that the referee “got this case exactly backward. The referee discounted the recommended sanction based on his clearly erroneous conclusion that we had already disciplined Patterson for the misconduct found in this case. Instead, the referee should have found that Patterson’s pattern of engaging in such serious and damaging misbehavior warranted an especially severe sanction.”
The office number listed for Patterson by the Florida Bar no longer connects to his office. A LinkedIn profile for a person named Kelsay Patterson said he is executive director for Sleepy Herd Inc., a nonprofit that advocates for homeless people who live in their cars. The executive director did not immediately respond to an email sent to an address listed on the Sleepy Herd website.