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4th Circuit Unloads on Government's Use of Disrespectful and Uncivil Language in Appellate Brief

As I discussed here earlier this month, certain federal judges have zero patience for counsel who want to trot out exaggerated rhetoric about how bad their opponent's case is, how "stunningly incompetent" the other side's counsel may be, and so on. A 4th Circuit opinion from last week shows that this is also true when it is counsel for the government doing the talking.

In U.S. v. Venable (via Raymond Ward), James Venable was indicted on the charge of possessing a firearm while being a felon. Venable, an African American, moved to dismiss the indictment against him on the grounds that the U.S. Attorney's Office allegedly selected him for prosecution under a federal-state law enforcement initiative known as Project Exile, because of his race. When the lower court refused to grant Venable discovery on his selective prosecution claim, Venable appealed.

The whole matter seems to have pushed some buttons at the U.S. Attorney's Office, which filed a brief with the 4th Circuit that irritated the court quite a bit. The court added a footnote in its opinion stating that it felt "compelled to note that advocates, including government lawyers, do themselves a disservice when their briefs contain disrespectful or uncivil language directed against the district court, the reviewing court, opposing counsel, parties, or witnesses." The court wrote that the government's brief was 

replete with such language: it disdains the district court's "abrupt handling" of Appellant's first case; sarcastically refers to Appellant's previous counsel's "new-found appreciation for defendant's mental abilities;" criticizes the district court's "oblique language" on an issue unrelated to this appeal; states that the district court opinion in Jones "revealed a crabby and complaining reaction to Project Exile;" insinuates that the district court's concerns "require[ ] a belief in the absurd that is similar in kind to embracing paranormal conspiracy theories;" and accuses Appellant of being a "charlatan" and "exploit[ing] his identity as an African-American." The government is reminded that such disrespectful and uncivil language will not be tolerated by this court. (citations to Appellee's brief omitted)

So, to keep my running list current, courts are not at all interested in hearing your clever rhetoric; your emotional exaggerations of how good, bad or ugly the other side's case is; or your disrespectful or uncivil language directed toward the court, opposing counsel, parties, witnesses or anyone else. Save it for someone who cares!

Posted by Bruce Carton on February 22, 2012 at 04:26 PM | Permalink | Comments (3)


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