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When Bad Things Happen to Attorneys' Good Clients

All of us lawyers want more civility in the litigation process.  But what about when the press for civility prejudices a client? In my view, that's what happened in Peters v. Pine Meadow Ranch Home Association, the Utah case covered by this article, Sanctioned for Disrespect (ABA e-Report, 1/26/07). As the article reports, in Peters, the Utah Supreme Court refused to consider the arguments of Boyd Kimball Dyer, attorney for plaintiffs, because his briefs "included a substantial amount of material that is offensive, inappropriate and disrespectful" of the appeals court. Dyer's briefs attacked the appellate judges only, accusing them of fabricating evidence. Apparently, Dyer did not  impugn or insult the opposing parties or counsel. The Utah Supreme Court struck the briefs and affirmed the appellate court's rulings against Dyer's client. And, the court assessed $17,000 in attorney fees against Dyer.   
Now, I'm all for civility in court proceedings. And while it's never appropriate to insult or attack judges, doing so doesn't impair civility as much as attacks on other lawyers, witnesses or the parties themselves. But more importantly, even assuming that Dyer crossed over the civility line, why punish his clients by dismissing Dyer's briefs? Dyer could have been sanctioned for his conduct with penalties or a censure. However, clients shouldn't take the fall just because the judge doesn't like their lawyer. Lack of civility is an evil that we ought to stamp out, to be sure, but not at the cost of a greater evil:  compromising a party's right to be heard.

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on January 26, 2007 at 05:28 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)


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