When I was in law school in the late 1970’s, I would sometimes see a car with a bumper sticker that asked; “Have you hugged your lawyer today?” There have been times the past 32 years I’ve though about that bumper sticker, mostly when someone comes to me because they want to change lawyers. I ask them why they want to make such a drastic move and they usually say, “I don’t think the judge likes my lawyer.”
When I hear that, I can usually help the person understand the lawyer is doing a good job. I have never asked, “Did you ever think about giving you lawyer a hug?” How would you feel if you were a lawyer, fighting for your client and had to appear before an out of control judge?
From the outset, I want to make it clear. It is very, very rare a jurist does not drive to work intending to do the ethical, honest and wise thing; and equally rare when a judge drives home with a clear conscious thinking they did that very thing. But the truth is most every judge worries they have done the right thing in court. And like us, judge’s have bad marriage, kids they worry about, someone on their staff they want to fire, concern that an appellate court is going to reverse the judge’s decision. Judge’s have lots of stress too. The experienced lawyer knows that the cranky judge is a lot happier when lawyers are not antagonistic with each other, and their clients are reasonable. The experienced lawyer knows the best way to “get the judge on your side”, is to be prepared, present your client’s case professionally and for your client to be and act civil outside the court, be reasonable when negotiating, and not unruly while testifying. The experienced lawyer knows that the best way for a lawyer to reverse a judge’s negative opinion of the party or the lawyer is to accept an adverse ruling, not talk back, argue or make a face.
But what do you do when the judge is wrong. Sometimes, I really mean almost never, a judge is just plan nuts…wacky…bonkers.
An article in the most recent edition of On-Line American Bar Journal reminds me of the judge who needs to removed from hearing any case. The ABJ tells the story of a Florida judge – not the one that earlier this year punched a public defender in the face – but of another wacky, crazy, Florida judge. I have put my comments in bold type, but here is a partial reprint of the ABA Journal article:
“Even before she assumed the bench nearly four years ago, a Florida judge had begun to exhibit “a pattern of behavior which is inexplicable, appears to demonstrate instability and is disruptive to the 18th Judicial Circuit,” contends an ethics complaint filed Monday against Judge Linda Schoonover.”
“Perhaps best-known for sending a Facebook friend request to a party in a divorce case who contended the judge retaliated against her when she refused it, Schoonover demonstrated “paranoia” and made incorrect statements on multiple occasions, the Florida Judicial Qualifications Commission says in its notice of formal charges.”
(Note: The article refers to an earlier article about this judge which I have reprinted in italics. You can skip to the rest of the article or read what happened when the judge sent a Facebook friend request to a woman whose divorce case the judge was hearing).
A Florida judge who sent a Facebook friend request—which was rebuffed—to a litigant in a divorce she was presiding over has been removed from the case, the Wall Street Journal Law Blog reports.
Judge Linda D. Schoonover reached out to litigant Sandra Chace ex parte with the friend request… Chace did not accept the request after her lawyer advised her not to. Chace’s lawyer alleged that when she denied Schoonover’s friend request, the judge retaliated by giving her most of the marital debt in her divorce, and giving her husband, Robert Loisel Jr., a larger alimony award.
“It seems clear that a judge’s ex parte communication with a party presents a legally sufficient claim for disqualification, particularly in the case where the party’s failure to respond to a Facebook ‘friend’ request creates a reasonable fear of offending the solicitor,” the opinion states. “The ‘friend’ request placed the litigant between the proverbial rock and a hard place: either engage in improper ex parte communications with the judge presiding over the case, or risk offending the judge by not accepting the ‘friend’ request.”
You gotta wonder what the client thought about her lawyer when that happened. After all, he told her not to accept the friend request. Now, back to recent ABA Journal article:
“The filing contends that the judge, or someone acting on her behalf contacted the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. The complainant said that the judge’s office had been bugged, when it wasn’t; accused a former chief circuit judge of assigning Schoonover a larger than standard amount of work, which he didn’t; and complained that unauthorized persons were shown entering Schoonover’s chambers on a security camera she had installed.”
“As with the other issues reported, the FDLE investigated the claim about unauthorized entrance. After reviewing the video footage, the agency determined that the individuals in question were court maintenance personnel, the (ethics bar) says, characterizing the incident as an example of “bizarre” behavior on the judge’s part. ‘Your bizarre behavior was based in part on your belief that your judicial colleagues and courthouse personnel have or intended to mistreat you,’ wrote the (ethics bar).”
And, even that wasn’t enough to remove the judge from hearing cases, because the Florida supreme court allowed her to keep deciding cases.
“Schoonover remains on the bench…and currently presides over a juvenile dependency (docket)….”
So, if you find yourself wondering, “Does the judge not like my lawyer” consider that there’s nothing wrong with your lawyer and that your lawyer might just need a pat on the back, and you might want to get a bumper sticker that asks, “Have you hugged your lawyer today?”