A panel of New York state and federal judges on Thursday discussed their reactions to blunders they’ve encountered in the courtroom, including incivility, misrepresentations and unpreparedness.
The discussion on recurring ethics issues, moderated by Christopher Dysard of Spears & Imes and Gabrielle Friedman of Lankler Siffert & Wohl, was part of the American Bar Association’s annual meeting in New York.
Justice Anthony Cannataro, supervising judge of the Civil Court of New York City, said while New York is known to have tough litigators, “real estate people in New York County are the most hardball of them all.” Cannataro, whose court regularly handles landlord-tenant cases, recounted an experience in which he heard one attorney say to another, “I hate you and I’ve always hated you.” The judge added, “I just thought to myself, what world have I entered?”
“Uncivil behavior is the refuge of a bad lawyer. So don’t do it,” Cannataro said.
Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Debra James said she sometimes encounters incivility between lawyers in discovery, where lawyers can blame one another for not disclosing certain records. But James said she requires the producer to hand over an index of what has been disclosed to prevent disputes.
She also said lawyers always need to read a judge’s local rules and need to know exactly what’s in their own briefing papers. That may seem elementary, she said, but sometimes it doesn’t happen when others have prepared them.
Similarly, Cannataro said ethical issues may arise “not so much from intentional unethical behavior” but due to omission or ignorance of courtroom rules and customs.
While sanctions and disciplinary actions can result from unethical behavior, “you can do just as much damage by having a bad reputation in the courtroom,” Cannataro said.
Southern District Judge Lorna Schofield said if she suspects lawyers misrepresenting facts, she has asked lawyers to write an affidavit, under penalty of perjury, to outline the events.