Legal Ethics

Lawyer who 'incessantly' disparaged opposing counsel gets two-year suspension

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The Florida Supreme court has suspended a lawyer for two years for rude conduct and recommended that the case be studied “as a glaring example of unprofessional behavior.”

The court rejected a referee’s recommended sanction for Jeffrey Alan Norkin as too lenient, saying a two-year suspension is appropriate given Norkin’s “appalling and unprofessional behavior.” The ABA/BNA Lawyers’ Manual reported on the Oct. 31 decision (PDF).

According to the court, Norkin accused a judge of being at the “beck and call” of his client’s opponent in a civil case, yelled in court, and “incessantly” disparaged and humiliated opposing counsel in the litigation.

The opposing counsel, Gary Brooks, was 71 years old at the time and was suffering from Parkinson’s disease and kidney cancer. He was a Harvard law grad with a “lengthy and unblemished career,” the court said. Brooks died last year.

Norkin was accused of acting improperly toward Brooks when he:

• Sent emails to Brooks that said Brooks was lying and disingenuous, his motions were “laughable and scurrilous,” and he will come to regret his “incompetent, unethical and improper litigation practices.” Other emails threatened to seek sanctions against Brooks and advised him to notify his malpractice insurance carrier.

• Approached Brooks in the courthouse hallway and said he had confirmed in conversations with other lawyers that Brooks was “underhanded and a scumbag.” Other lawyers were within earshot at the time.

The court concluded its opinion with this advice for Florida lawyers: “Competent, zealous representation is required when working on a case for a client. There are proper types of behavior and methods to utilize when aggressively representing a client. Screaming at judges and opposing counsel, and personally attacking opposing counsel by disparaging him and attempting to humiliate him, are not among the types of acceptable conduct but are entirely unacceptable. One can be professional and aggressive without being obnoxious. Attorneys should focus on the substance of their cases, treating judges and opposing counsel with civility, rather than trying to prevail by being insolent toward judges and purposefully offensive toward opposing counsel. …

“Norkin has conducted himself in a manner that is the antithesis of what this court expects from attorneys. By his unprofessional behavior, he has denigrated lawyers in the eyes of the public.”

Norkin contacted the ABA Journal and says that he has filed motions for a rehearing, which are pending.

Updated on Nov. 27 after contact with Norkin.

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