The Florida Supreme Court on Thursday disbarred a Miami Lakes attorney for “escalating misconduct,” including loudly kicking a table and muttering “lie, lie, lie” during court proceedings.
The justices handed down harsher discipline than the referee recommended for plaintiffs lawyer Robert Ratiner, whose law license was already suspended. This is the third time Ratiner has been disciplined for his behavior in litigation against chemical maker DuPont.
“Ratiner’s intentional and egregious misconduct continues to demonstrate an attitude that is wholly inconsistent with professional standards, and there is no indication that he is willing to follow the professional ethics of the legal profession,” the justices wrote. “As we observed in [Fla. Bar v.] Norkin, ‘One can be professional and aggressive without being obnoxious.’”
Ratiner, who became a lawyer in 1990, first got in hot water with the Florida Bar after he launched into a tirade against opposing counsel for DuPont during a 2007 deposition. Ratiner Trial Law represented orchid growers who alleged DuPont’s fungicide Benlate killed their plants.
The chemical company’s attorney tried to place an exhibit sticker on Ratiner’s laptop, and Ratiner tried to run around the table toward him before lambasting him to the point where the court reporter said, “I can’t work like this!”, according to the referee. The Florida Supreme Court suspended Ratiner for 60 days and put him on probation.
In 2009, Ratiner was in a document review session with DuPont when he loudly called opposing counsel a “dominatrix,” with “no substantial purpose other than to embarrass” her, according to the referee. He later tried to forcibly take papers from another female attorney, even after she told him, “Don’t grab [me] ever again.” The incidents led to a three-year suspension.
The Florida Bar then filed a third complaint against Ratiner for his behavior in Miami-Dade Circuit Court proceedings that started in late 2011. Judge Amy Steele Donner said she heard Ratiner say “lie, lie, lie” while a DuPont lawyer conducted the direct examination of Ratiner’s law partner. Ratiner denied making the comment.
The judge also ended a hearing because Ratiner was kicking the table where he was sitting so loudly it was disrupting the proceedings.
The Florida Bar sought Ratiner’s disbarment. The referee, the late Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Jorge Rodriguez-Chomat, recommended three more years of suspension to be tacked onto the end of his earlier suspension. The Florida Supreme Court ruled Ratiner’s cumulative behavior was too egregious for any discipline less severe than losing his license, noting it didn’t buy his claims of innocence.
“Ratiner has denied the existence of such objectionable, disrespectful conduct over the years, even in the face of videotaped evidence and witness testimony,” the justices wrote. “His argument or belief that said conduct constitutes the zealous representation of his clients is completely unacceptable.”
Ratiner’s defense attorney, Kevin Tynan of Richardson & Tynan in Tamarac, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Ratiner’s law firm email address and phone number were out of service.
The Florida Bar was represented by Executive Director Joshua Doyle of Tallahassee, Adria Quintela of Sunrise and Tonya Avery of Miami.
Justice R. Fred Lewis recused himself from the case.