Taylor English partner screamed at opposing counsel, called her a 'worthless human,' sanctions motion claims
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Updated: A federal judge in North Carolina has determined that a Taylor English partner engaged in "unacceptable, deplorable" conduct in a courtroom confrontation with his opposing counsel.
In a March 2 order, U.S. District Judge Max O. Cogburn Jr. said he held a hearing and barred Taylor English partner Nathan A. White from having contact with his opposing counsel L. Michelle Gessner—except within the judge’s presence.
Cogburn, a judge in the Western District of North Carolina, denied the request for sanctions, however, following the conclusion of the trial March 2.
White had been accused of yelling at Gessner and calling her a “f- - -ing piece of s- - - worthless human.”
Cogburn said it is “undisputable” that White “engaged in multiple types of inexcusable professional misconduct by verbally attacking opposing counsel in the courtroom and in the presence of court staff and the court security officer.”
“Behavior such as this is unacceptable, deplorable, and not justified under any circumstances,” Cogburn wrote.
The motion describes White’s behavior as a “profane, vulgar and violent display.” His actions were “physically threatening and wildly disrespectful to a fellow attorney who was obviously a formidable opponent,” wrote Gessner, a lawyer in Charlotte, North Carolina.
The motion also says two other lawyers in the federal courtroom in North Carolina, Benjamin Fryer and Evan Dancy of FordHarrison, did not intervene and appeared to find White’s attack humorous. They denied doing anything wrong.
Cogburn determined that there was no evidence supporting the allegations against Fryer and Dancy. They “took no part in the unacceptable conduct of attorney White, nor did they encourage or support his conduct,” Cogburn said.
Gessner’s federal lawsuit alleges that Apple-affiliated repair shops violated federal and state wage laws by failing to pay for overtime and off-the-clock work, according to a previous opinion in the case.
The alleged outburst happened Feb. 28 after jurors in the first phase of the trial were dismissed and court had recessed, according to Gessner’s motion.
“Suddenly, and without warning or provocation,” White spoke to Gessner “very loudly and in a condescending tone,” asking her whether she was aware which defendants were represented by Dancy, the sanctions motion says. After Gessner responded that she was aware, White “exploded” and began yelling, the motion says.
“You are a f- - -ing piece of s- - - worthless human!” White allegedly said. “You know that?! You are a worthless human!”
Gessner said she responded that White doesn’t get to speak to her like that, and if he can’t speak to her with respect, he should not say anything at all.
Gessner left to gather her belongings from the attorney room and then returned to the courtroom. She asked the court clerk and the court reporter whether there was an audio or video recording of what had happened. Gessner said White was an officer of the court, and his behavior was unacceptable, according to the motion.
“At this point, Mr. White rushed up to Ms. Gessner and got within inches of her face, pointing his finger, close enough to strike her,” the motion says. He allegedly screamed, “I don’t care if it was recorded, you are a worthless f- - -ing piece of s- - -! You called me a liar yesterday!”
Gessner said she stood her ground.
Gessner again asked about a recording, and the clerk shook her head no. Gessner said the clerk and court reporter would have to be witnesses to the completely unacceptable episode.
White then proceeded to yell, “I don’t care! I’ll take this up to whatever board,” the motion says.
At that point, the motion says, a marshal stood between Gessner and “White’s entourage” and told Gessner to wait until the group had left the courtroom and the building. When the courthouse was clear, the marshal escorted Gessner from the building.
Gessner sought sanctions that include monetary penalties, a judgment for her clients in the second phase of the trial, a protective order, and an order to show cause why the lawyers should not be held in contempt.
Cogburn’s order said hearing testimony shows that White “did, in fact, use vulgar language against Ms. Gessner, approached her in an antagonistic manner, and otherwise acted towards Ms. Gessner in the manner she described in her motion.”
Gessner, on the other hand, “at all times acted professionally during the verbal altercation,” Cogburn said.
White said during the hearing he had a medical emergency two nights before the altercation and had been admitted to a hospital emergency room. He was in a very stressed mental state at the time of the incident, White said.
“The court strongly admonishes Mr. White. His conduct was unprofessional, egregious, and unacceptable for an officer of the court,” Cogburn wrote. “Moreover, Mr. White’s conduct, acting alone, unfairly implicated the reputations of attorneys Dancy and Fryer, who have done no wrong. The court trusts that Mr. White’s conduct was an anomaly and therefore will not take further action today.”
White and Dancy did not immediately respond to the ABA Journal’s requests for comment made by email and voicemail. Fryer spoke for himself and Dancy in an email that said they did nothing wrong.
“The allegations against Mr. Dancy and myself are not true,” Fryer said in the email, written before Cogburn released his order. “The incident was not funny. Far from coddling Mr. White, I turned him around and led him out of the courtroom. During Judge Cogburn’s evidentiary inquiry, his clerk of court testified that Mr. Dancy and I did nothing inappropriate.”
Updated March 2 at 4:12 p.m. to include Judge Max O. Cogburn Jr.’s order. Corrected March 2 at 6:30 p.m. to report that Cogburn denied the sanctions request after the trial.