Lawyer who yelled profanities at judge at bar association party gets stayed suspension
An Ohio lawyer has received a stayed six-month suspension for alcohol-related conduct, including a profane outburst directed at a judge during a holiday party.
The Ohio Supreme Court disciplined Natalie Bahan of West Mansfield, Ohio, in an April 14 opinion. The six-month suspension is stayed on the condition that Bahan engage in no further misconduct, that she submit to a substance use assessment by the Ohio Lawyers Assistance Program, and that she comply with recommendations from the OLAP.
Two judges on the seven-member court concurred in the judgment. But they would not have disciplined Bahan for her profane criticism of the judge because of her First Amendment right to criticize the courts.
The majority, however, concluded that Bahan violated an ethics rule requiring lawyers to maintain a respectful attitude toward the courts for her December 2018 outburst at a Logan County Bar Association holiday event.
During the party, the bar association presented a mock award to a judge who was then on the Logan County Court of Common Pleas.
“Bahan, who had consumed alcohol at the event and appeared to be intoxicated, loudly and rudely interrupted the presentation,” the opinion said. She used the F-word to describe the judge, and she also called him a “piece of s- - -” and an “a- -hole.”
The judge, Judge William Goslee, was involved in filing a grievance against Bahan in a separate case in which she received a public reprimand for improper in-person solicitation of a client, according to prior coverage by Court News Ohio. That prior ethics matter was pending at the time of the holiday party.
Bahan had argued that her profanity was intended to criticize courtroom conduct by Goslee that led the bar to present him with the mock award. Her profanity was protected political speech, she had said.
The majority said it did not think that sanctioning Bahan for her outburst would have a chilling effect on legitimate criticism of the judiciary by attorneys. Lawyers who have the privilege of practicing law accepts certain duties as officers of the court, according to the majority opinion by Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor.
Ohio lawyer regulations “require a lawyer to conduct herself with the dignity and respect that is commensurate with her role as an officer of the court to encourage civility and to preserve public confidence in the legal system,” O’Connor wrote.
Bahan also engaged in conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice for two other incidents that allegedly happened while she was intoxicated, the Ohio Supreme Court concluded.
In the first incident, Bahan was accused of calling the sheriff’s office in May 2019 to report that her car had been stolen. She later said she thought that her husband had taken her vehicle home from a charity benefit. He said there was no car theft, and he had driven her home from the event.
In the second incident, Bahan called the sheriff’s office to report that her teenage son had stolen her iPad. When deputies arrived, she allegedly yelled profanities at them as they helped her husband leave their home.
Bahan had sought no more than a public reprimand.
Goslee resigned from his judgeship in June 2019, citing “health reasons and the sedentary nature of serving on the bench,” according to PeakofOhio.com.
Bahan and her lawyer, Tim Steinhelfer, gave statements to the ABA Journal.
“I thought the disciplinary system was supposed to protect the public, not protect judges’ feelings,” Bahan said in her statement.
She said she spoke out against Goslee at the holiday party because he got the mock award for an alleged incident in which he used curse words.
“I guess when it comes to judges, it’s better to see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil. But I wasn’t raised that way,” Bahan said.
Bahan pointed out that none of her clients were harmed. She also said she and Steinhelfer weren’t able to find a single case in which a lawyer was sanctioned for calling police over a trivial matter.
“I’m not saying it hasn’t happened, but today’s precedent seems dangerous and may have much wider implications, especially for women in the law,” she said.
Steinhelfer said he is proud to have Bahan as a client because she has the courage to speak truth to power.
“The First Amendment is always on fragile ground and depends on the courage of Americans willing to defend it,” Steinhelfer said.
“I take solace in the dissenting opinions. Sometimes dissents eventually become majorities, and I look forward to that day,” Steinhelfer said.
Updated April 19 at 3:15 p.m. to include statements by Natalie Bahan and Tim Steinhelfer.