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Play Nice: Overly-zealous behavior can earn you more than a bad rap in the courtroom
Posted in Litigation

Lawyers are taught to be zealous advocates for the interests of their clients. There are, however, limits on the level of advocacy that is acceptable. For example, the Indiana Supreme Court recently suspended an attorney from the practice of law for 30 days for overstepping those boundaries.

In the case, the respondent represented a father in a dissolution action where the father’s ability to exercise parenting time became an issue. Presumably at the urging of his understandably frustrated client, the respondent sent a letter to the attorney for the mother (and copied the presiding judge), in which he stated that “[y]our client doesn’t understand what laws and court orders mean I guess. Probably because she’s an illegal alien to begin with.” The respondent also demanded that the mother’s attorney tell the mother that the opposing party would be demanding that she be put in JAIL (his emphasis) for contempt of court.

The Supreme Court concluded that this behavior violated Rules of Professional Conduct 4.4(a) (using means in representing a client that have no substantial purpose other than to embarrass, delay, or burden a third person) and 8.4(g) (engaging in conduct, in a professional capacity, manifesting bias or prejudice… and this conduct was not legitimate advocacy). The court concluded that accusing the mother of being in the country illegally “is not legitimate advocacy concerning the legal manner at issue and served no purpose other than to embarrass or burden” the mother. The court considered as aggravating factors the respondent’s lack of “insight into his misconduct,” his failure to apologize to the mother, and his substantial experience in the practice of law.

As lawyers, we all must be able to separate ourselves from the personal and emotional reactions our clients often feel about cases. If we cannot do this, we risk losing our sense of professionalism, and more importantly, our ability to practice law.

To learn more about Alex Gude and his practice, visit his profile.

  • Partner

    Alex is a passionate and thorough advocate who prides himself on crafting reasonable solutions and obtaining the best results possible for his clients.  He focuses his practice on fiduciary litigation in the corporate and estate ...

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