Legal Ethics

Lawyer is reprimanded for pretending to gag during prosecutor questioning of witness

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An assistant public defender in Florida has received a reprimand for pretending to gag while a prosecutor questioned a jailhouse informant against her murder client during a court hearing.

Usually ethics complaints are handled through a Florida Bar disciplinary process, but the complaint against Palm Beach County Assistant Public Defender Elizabeth Ramsey was handled through a rare civil procedure before a judge, the Sun Sentinel reports. The Palm Beach Post also has a story.

Judge Peter Blanc found Ramsey should be reprimanded and placed on probation for making the gagging gesture during a December 2015 court hearing. But he found no misconduct for her decision to play a recorded phone call between the jailhouse informant and his daughter during the same hearing. Blanc said there was insufficient evidence to establish that Ramsey’s aim in playing the recording was to embarrass the witness.

Ramsey said in an affidavit she believed the jailhouse informant was lying when he said Ramsey’s client had confessed to him. The affidavit said Ramsey intended her gesture as “a confidential attorney/client nonverbal communication” to express that she was skeptical of the testimony.

Blanc said he decided on probation because Ramsey’s clients need her legal services. Ramsey will also have to take ethics classes and write a letter of apology to the judge who filed the complaint against her, Circuit Judge Jack Schramm Cox.

In a September decision, Blanc dismissed a criminal contempt charge against Ramsey that contended she violated Cox’s court order against disclosing transcripts of recorded phone conversations involving the informant.

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