Articles Posted in Ethics

One of the many hats I wear at Miller & Zois is that of our in-office appellate specialist. What that really means is that I handle all of our law firm’s personal injury cases that wind up being appealed, and that I accept referrals (from other lawyers only) to handle civil appeals of all types.

One thing I see over and over is briefs from the other side that make the ill-advised choice to attack the trial judge or trial counsel. And I don’t mean with reasoned legal arguments, I mean things that are over-the-top, like allegations that the judge was biased, or ad hominem attacks on the opposing party or their counsel. There are a lot of things wrong with doing that, but the two main ones are 1) it’s unprofessional and 2) making yourself look like a jackass isn’t very persuasive.

If you handle appeals on a regular basis, you should take a look at “Professionalism On Appeal: The Good, The Bad and the Ugly”, an article by Howard J. Bashman, a Philadelphia-area appellate specialist. I think he sums it up nicely by saying: “Indeed, expressing animosity toward opposing counsel on appeal, or toward the trial judge, usually proves to be counterproductive rather than an effective strategy for victory.”

Most lawyers handling cases involving permanent injuries and ongoing complaints of pain are familiar with the medical sub-specialty known as “pain management.” These doctors (often with experience in anesthesiology) concentrate in the management of long-term chronic pain. This is done by medication management and other methods. This is a legitimate medical specialty with its own certifying boards.

This kind of treatment is often viewed with some skepticism by insurers and juries. Anecdotally, I think this is because this treatment cannot result in a “cure” for whatever is wrong. Instead, it concentrates on making the patient as comfortable as possible by ameliorating the effects of painful permanent conditions. This leads to concerns that pain management treatment is not medically neccessary, or that it encourages drug-seeking behavior in patients.

Legitimate pain management doctors go to great lengths to establish medical neccessity, and to control concerns about drug-seeking by patients. They obtain records of past medical history, keep meticulate prescribing records, make patients sign treatment contracts, and often use urinalysis to monitor compliance. On the other hand, illegitimate pill-mill doctors have been known to omit these precautions, and will write endless streams of prescriptions for powerful narcotics, often based on nothign more than the patient’s say-so that it hurts. Most experienced personal injury lawyers have run into both kinds of pain management doctors. At least, I have.

My fellow attorneys, write this down: “Offering legal services in exchange for sex is unethical.” And unlikely to succeed, if you look at this ethics opinion where a lawyer made such an offer, to two clients who happened to be lesbians. You, sir, are a genius. Enjoy your well-deserved disbarment. Disclaimer: Although this is more likely to succeed with non-lesbians, it is equally wrong and repugnant. Thanks, Walter Olson. I do not agree with you politically on most things. But I agree unethical lawyers do everyone a disservice.

Justice Scalia trips and falls, but he is unharmed. Crap. This would have been the best slip/fall case ever, possibly even better than Judge Bork’s.  I love Judge Bork (not to be confused with Bjork). Great beard, (although not well visualized in the photo at right) and he reached the pinnacle of American achievement by becoming a verb.

Getting “Borked” now refers to defeating a judicial nominee by attackign his character and philosophy. And as an added bonus, it sounds kind of dirty.

I have a lot of respect for federal magistrate judges. They spend their days handling settlement conferences, ruling on motions, and presiding over discovery disputes. Every once in a while, if they are lucky, the parties to a case will consent to a trial before a magistrate to liven things up.

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Nothing sucks more than civil discovery disputes. Particularly those that involve deposition misconduct in the form of speaking objections, and motion papers inclusive of personal attacks. Here is the greatest court order I have ever seen (ABA Journal via ATL).

Judge Leen apparently got to this ruling too late to affect discovery in the case, but she’s not exactly apologetic about it. As she explains: “I am not the Maytag repairman of federal judges desperately hoping for something to do.” She thought so little of the merits of this dispute and the number of trees killed in its pursuit that she assigned her intern to read the 185 pages of transcripts submitted by the parties and to submit a memorandum. The intern was very quickly able to determine what the lawyers should have known- they were being bad.