Legal Ethics

Recently retired judge is admonished for treating lawyers 'in a sarcastic and belittling manner'

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A recently retired judge in Los Angeles County has received a public admonishment for treating lawyers who appeared before him “in a sarcastic and belittling manner.”

The Commission on Judicial Performance admonished retired judge Ronald Sohigian, 76, on Tuesday, the Los Angeles Times reports. Sohigian retired on April 14.

The commission based its conclusion on five incidents between April 2011 and February 2012. According to the public admonishment (PDF), they included:

• When Sohigian overruled a lawyer’s objection, the lawyer asked the judge, “Your Honor, why is that not hearsay?” Sohigian replied, “I’ll explain it to you sometime when you pay tuition.”

• Lawyers told Sohigian they were not prepared for trial after another judicial officer said they would get several days’ notice before a trial. Sohigian criticized the lawyers for not being prepared and not having their materials. “Don’t expect me to swallow that kind of thing,” Sohigian said. “No lawyer with any—with any skill at all shows up here and says, ‘Golly, I was just—I just walked out of my office.’ ”

• Sohigian said a plaintiff’s lawyer was “now purporting to be concerned” about her client’s pregnancy, though the lawyer didn’t show up at a post-mediation status conference. The lawyer responded that defense counsel had spoken on the client’s behalf at the conference. Sohigian responded: “Was that your understanding? Tell me what provision of law authorizes a lawyer to represent simultaneously conflicting interests. I would be interested in knowing authority on that. Or if you’re running through the authority in your head right now, which you might be doing, tell me if you stumble upon in your own mind a massive body of authority that says that that’s absolutely prohibited. Indeed, if it occurs, it’s a basis for strict disciplinary measures, including such things as disbarment and so forth.”

Sohigian had told the commission that some of his remarks were intended to curb a lawyer’s disrespectful behavior without punishing him for contempt.

Sohigian was also publicly admonished in 2007 for his “belitting, rude and sarcastic” treatment of a lawyer.

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