Legal Ethics

Lawyer reprimanded for explicit and demeaning comments, including calling prosecutor 'Kurvacious'

  • Print.


A Delaware criminal defense lawyer was reprimanded and ordered to take a professionalism course for comments made to a former client and state prosecutors, including an assertion that he used to expose his “thing” to girls in a movie theater using a popcorn box held on his lap.

The lawyer, 75-year-old Joseph Hurley, was accused in two consolidated petitions, report the Delaware News Journal, Law360 and the Delaware Law Weekly. The Delaware Supreme Court imposed the reprimand in a March 14 order noted by the Legal Profession Blog.

One petition accused Hurley of making sexually explicit and demeaning remarks to several deputy attorneys general, including the popcorn box statement.

He suggested that one of the prosecutors had no “brain wave activity.” He wrote to another saying the prosecutor was “a young Jewish man, I suspect” and he should be “a goat herder in Lebanon.” In an email to another, Hurley said the prosecutor was “another beautiful, but arrogant female.” Another prosecutor said Hurley had sent her an email referring to her as “Kurvacious” and “Kooky.”

The second petition accused Hurley of making “antagonistic, inflammatory and demeaning” remarks about a former client who filed a disciplinary complaint against him. According to findings by the Board on Professional Responsibility, Hurley made sarcastic comments to the Office of Disciplinary Counsel about the complaint, in letters copied to the client.

In one letter, Hurley said that an ethics investigation results after a complaint is made, no matter how meritless. “Who defends the attorney?” Hurley wrote. “No one! Pity the poor attorney who has the bad luck to represent 20 ‘nutballs’ and, therefore, has 20 complaints filed against him or her.”

The Delaware Law Weekly says Hurley “has a reputation for his outsize personality,” while the News Journal says he is “known for his bravado and courtroom theatrics.”

After a hearing in the ethics case, Hurley wrote a document called “My Struggle, also known as ‘Hurleygate’” that he distributed to many lawyers and judges, the Delaware Supreme Court said. In the document, he referred to the Office of Disciplinary Counsel as the “Office of Disciplinary Censorship” and said the ODC has an “enemies list.” He also compared the ethics proceedings as the “Salem Witch (Warlock) Trial.”

Hurley apparently had a change of heart when he spoke with the Delaware Law Weekly last Thursday. He said that the professional culture has changed since he has started practicing law and he has accepted responsibility for his comments. He also said he has changed his sense of humor in the workplace.

“I stepped over a line that to me at that point was invisible,” Hurley told the publication. “It’ll never happen again.”

Give us feedback, share a story tip or update, or report an error.