Legal Ethics

Lawyer Suspended for Deposition Tirade; Taped Incident Is Instructive, Court Says

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A Miami lawyer won’t be able to attend depositions alone for the next two years, unless the proceedings are videotaped, under an unusual order by the Florida Supreme Court.

Plaintiffs lawyer Robert Joseph Ratiner was sanctioned for his videotaped conduct at a May 2007 deposition with DuPont lawyers in a case alleging crop harm from the fungicide Benlate, the Daily Business Review reports. The court’s deposition requirements are in addition to a 60-day suspension and a requirement that Ratiner receive mental health counseling and write letters of apology to those at a deposition.

A referee in the case found that Ratiner’s outburst followed the opposing counsel’s attempt to stick an exhibit sticker on Ratiner’s laptop, according to the supreme court opinion (PDF). Ratiner briefly touched the opposing counsel’s hand, then attempted to run around the table toward him, the referee found.

According to the referee’s findings of fact, Ratiner “then proceeded to forcefully lean over the deposition table, lambast [opposing counsel] in a tirade while proceeding to tear up the evidence sticker, wad it up and flick or toss it in the direction of [opposing counsel].”

Ratiner’s own consultant told him to take a Xanax, and the court reporter protested, “I can’t work like this!”

The Florida Supreme Court called Ratiner’s conduct “an embarrassment to all members of the Florida Bar.”

“The referee has suggested and we agree that members of the bar and law students could view the video recording of the laptop incident in the context of a course on professionalism as a glaring example of how not to conduct oneself in a legal proceeding,” the court said.

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