A New York appeals court has upheld a $10,000 sanction against an attorney for bad faith conduct in handling his own divorce.
As the U.S. Supreme Court has found:
“[t]he adage that a lawyer who represents himself has a fool for a client’ is the product of years of experience by seasoned litigators.”
Divorce is a specialized area of the law, with its own rules and ways, most lawyers who attempt to represent themselves find themselves ill-equipped to competently handle the procedural or substantive aspects of their divorce cases on their own.
Also contested divorces are almost guaranteed to be emotionally charged, so a self-represented lawyer may be hard-pressed to summon the level of rational thought and independent judgment that is required of a capable litigator.
In a New York divorce case, an attorney representing himself was found to have used his pro se status to inflict harm on his wife, their child and the court, and in so doing cause significant harm to himself. The court found:
the attorney’s ill-advised behavior seriously calls into question his fitness to practice law. It is also, according to defendant and the attorney for the child, indicative of a personality that makes plaintiff incapable of properly parenting the parties’ child.
The first judge, in Washington D.C., also found:
That a motion the attorney brought was “replete with intemperate and uncivil language about which the Court previously cautioned him” and that “much of the matter . . . is redundant, immaterial, impertinent, or scandalous.”
On the front of the copy of the reconsideration motion that the Husband filed, a handwritten note was attached that stated:
“You’re pathetic! (Judicial Complaint forthcoming).”
Then, to a New York judge – after the case was transferred from D.C. – the lawyer is reported to have said:
I just want to make it known on the record that I am tired of the lies coming from the court and tainting of the record, knowing full well this is going to go to the Appellate Division.
I’ve written about courtroom behavior before. Divorce turns spouses against each other, to view each other with suspicion, and as enemies. Not surprisingly, good relations after the divorce seem unlikely, and future friendships seem impossible.
It takes a lot to make up with the person who may have ruined your life, or who has become public enemy #1.
The decision is available here.