Calling judge a “drunken idiot on the bench,” among other things, earns attorney sanction from NM Supreme Court

Today the New Mexico Supreme Court issued a published opinion (In re Ortiz) sanctioning an attorney for repeated instances of unprofessional behavior, sending a message that the Court will not be tolerant of this sort of conduct.

Justice Chavez‘s opinion recounts multiple instances of uncivil behavior by the attorney in question. In one case, the attorney called a domestic violence commissioner “a freak,” and wrote letters calling opposing counsel “despicable” and “eternal lying scum.”

In another case, also a domestic relations matter, the attorney said the judge (who was not present in the courtroom at the moment) was a “drunken idiot on the bench,” and accused the opponent’s mother of having “bought off” the judge.

In a third case, the attorney sent an e-mail asserting that a judge and opposing counsel were “bosom buddies,” implying that the judge had had improper contact with a witness, and accused opposing counsel of inappropriate conduct. There was no evidence to support these assertions.

The attorney, to her credit, admitted that her conduct violated the Rules of Professional Conduct, so the only issue was the proper sanction to be imposed. The Disciplinary Board recommended a six-month suspension from practice, and a 12-month period of supervised probation, among other things, because several aggravating circumstances existed — they attorney had substantial experience as an attorney, had prior disciplinary offenses, but still engaged in a pattern of misconduct.

Ultimately, however, the Court did not impose the six-month suspension. The attorney provided evidence that she suffered from previously-undiagnosed bipolar disorder, and submitted proof that the disorder had affected her conduct. While stressing that “a mental infirmity does not provide a defense to professional misconduct,” the Court rescinded the suspension.

In my experience, most New Mexico lawyers are civil. In a small legal community like this one, it does not pay to be rude and uncivil to opposing counsel — you will probably have to work with them again, and who knows, they may be appointed a judge some day. But of course, I’ve also come across obnoxious attorneys.

What is your experience? Do you find most other lawyers to be civil, or not?  If not, have you ever considered reporting them to the Disciplinary Board?  Please feel free to leave a comment below.

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