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Disbarred for Yelling at Law Clerk

Be kind to a judge's law clerk. That is the moral of a 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision this week upholding the one-year disbarment from federal court of a lawyer who did not take kindly to the law clerk's phone call. As the lawyer grew increasingly angry during the call, the law clerk duly wrote it all down, later reporting it to Mildred Methvin, the federal magistrate judge for whom she worked in the Western District of Louisiana. Magistrate Judge Methvin passed it on to U.S. District Judge Tucker Melancon, all of which set in motion the path to the lawyer's disbarment.

The 5th Circuit's per curiam opinion, In the Matter of R. Michael Moity Jr., provides all the details of the ill-fated phone call. The law clerk, Stacey Blanke, called Moity to find out why he had not shown up for a scheduled pretrial conference under Rule 16. Here is how it starts:

Mr. Moity referenced a telephone message from the court which he acknowledged that he had not returned. Indeed, Ms. Blanke had placed two telephone calls to Mr. Moity in the days before the conference, one on Tuesday, September 19 and one on Wednesday, September 20. When Mr. Moity mentioned those phone calls, Ms. Blanke confirmed that she had indeed called him, and that both messages specifically referenced the Rule 16 conference. At that point, Mr. Moity started yelling and asking, in a very angry tone, whether Ms. Blanke had specifically included in her messages to his office that he was supposed to appear at the Rule 16 conference. Ms. Blanke asked Mr. Moity to calm down, and then asked if he was suggesting that it was her responsibility to call him and remind him about the conference. Mr. Moity stated he was not implying that, but then started questioning Ms. Blanke, in what she perceived to be a very ugly tone, why she hadn’t done so, since she was “already calling anyway.”

And that was just the start of the call. Later came this:

Ms. Blanke told Mr. Moity that there was no reason to get upset, that this was a professional phone call to assess why he had not returned the court’s phone calls and why he’d failed to appear at a court-ordered conference for the purpose of the court’s assessment of sanctions. At some point, Mr. Moity cut Ms. Blanke off in mid-sentence, yelling “Stop saying ‘Mr. Moity.’ You’ve said my name about 5 times, I know my name!”

This exchange led eventually a contempt hearing at which the lawyer was alleged to have misrepresented his prior disciplinary record and to have impugned the integrity of two federal judges. All of that added up to the decision to disbar him, which the 5th Circuit saw no reason to overturn. The lawyer argued on appeal that the sanction was far too severe for what he described as a "curt conversation." But the circuit court saw it otherwise. "The conversation reported by the magistrate judge's law clerk displayed severe disrespect to the court by the anger and harsh tone shown to a representative of the magistrate judge."

[Hat tip to Legal Profession Blog.]

Posted by Robert J. Ambrogi on April 10, 2009 at 10:55 AM | Permalink | Comments (14)


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