Legal Ethics

Lawyer is disbarred for 'disparaging misconduct,' including 'lie, lie, lie' statement

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Florida Supreme Court

Supreme Court of Florida

The Florida Supreme Court has cited “cumulative and escalating misconduct” in a decision to disbar a lawyer for his behavior in litigation with DuPont that had alleged crop harm from the Benlate fungicide.

Robert Joseph Ratiner was disbarred in a Feb. 22 opinion that cited a muttered courtroom statement and disruptive table kicking, report the Daily Business Review and the Legal Profession Blog.

Judge Amy Steele Donner had testified in ethics proceedings about the conduct. Donner said she had overheard Ratiner say the words “lie, lie, lie” during cross-examination of Ratiner’s law partner. She also said she had ended a post-trial hearing after Ratiner was accused of loudly kicking the counsel’s table.

Donner also testified that she saw Ratiner wrinkling and throwing documents, he had been disrespectful to the court, and he was a “bully.” The Florida Supreme Court noted the referee had not made recommendations of guilt based on those allegations by the judge, but said the evidence was supported by the record and relevant to the discipline.

A referee had recommended a three-year suspension. The Florida Supreme Court decided disbarment was appropriate because of two prior ethics cases demonstrating “the progression of Ratiner’s disparaging misconduct towards other members of the legal profession.”

In the first ethics case, Ratiner was suspended for 60 days as a result of his conduct in a 2007 deposition. The incident began when the opposing counsel stuck an exhibit sticker on Ratiner’s laptop. Ratiner tried to to run around the counsel table toward the opposing lawyer, according to a referee’s findings. Ratiner then “forcefully” leaned over the deposition table, launched into a tirade, wadded up the deposition sticker and flicked it in the opposing counsel’s direction, a referee had found.

The Florida Supreme Court had said in a 2010 opinion that a video recording of the deposition incident could be viewed in professionalism courses as an example of how not to act in a legal proceeding.

In a second disciplinary case, Ratiner referred to an opposing lawyer as a dominatrix during the first day of a document review session. The second day he tried to grab a document from the opposing counsel, spurring a security guard to intervene. The Florida Supreme Court imposed a three-year suspension.

Ratiner had argued there was no pattern of misconduct because he has consistently maintained his innocence. The Florida Supreme Court said it did not believe the innocence claim was made in good faith.

“Ratiner has denied the existence of such objectionable, disrespectful conduct over the years, even in the face of videotaped evidence and witness testimony,” the Florida Supreme Court said. “His argument or belief that said conduct constitutes the zealous representation of his clients is completely unacceptable.”

The ABA Journal was unable to contact Ratiner for comment. His email address was not working and there was no answer at a phone number listed with the Florida Bar. The Daily Business Review identified Ratiner’s lawyer as Kevin Tynan; he did not immediately respond to an ABA Journal request for comment.

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