Remember the Southwest Airlines advertising campaign featuring people caught in embarrassing or awkward situations calling for a quick exit—followed by an announcer’s voiceover of “Wanna get away?” and a plug for the airline’s discounted fares? Probably every attorney can relate, since we’ve all had some “wanna get away” moments ourselves, whether in the courtroom or the conference room. But for some lawyers, those moments happened in the public eye.
Aw, C’mon, Mom and Dad
Remember when you were a teenager and embarrassed by something your parents said or did? Well, it doesn’t get any better once you’re an adult—just ask Justin Jiron, the top criminal prosecutor for Chittenden County, Vermont. Last December, Jiron got a call from police about two individuals from California apprehended during a traffic stop in York, Nebraska, and charged with transporting 60 pounds of marijuana.
Why would a Vermont prosecutor be notified about a drug bust that’s a little out of his jurisdiction? Well, in this case, the two suspects were Jiron’s elderly parents, 80 year-old Patrick and 70 year-old Barbara. What were these two senior citizens doing with a carload of pot with a street value of over $300,000? According to the couple, they planned to give the weed as Christmas presents to friends and family in Vermont and Boston (“Kids, don’t eat any of Grandma’s brownies this year. Just trust me on this.”)
To Boldly Go Where No Candidate Has Gone Before
Dallas-area labor and employment lawyer Brandy Chambers proudly flies her geek flag, even during her current campaign for the Texas House (Chambers is a Democratic candidate challenging Republican incumbent Angie Chen Button). In a recent campaign newsletter, Chambers shared a photo of herself with Star Trek’s Captain Kirk, actor William Shatner, referring to being “a grown woman going to Comic-Con, and getting geeked out when she sees Captain Kirk.” But the 86 year-old Shatner was not amused and quickly set his Twitter phasers on stun, demanding that Chambers remove the photo and implied “endorsement.”
The chastened University of Oklahoma law grad swiftly apologized, saying she didn’t mean to imply any endorsement, and deleted her tweet linking to the campaign newsletter. Chambers has since called the whole episode “distracting” and “stressful.” How do you say “get my lawyer” in Klingon?
Epic Civility Fail
Virtually everyone agrees that we need more civility in our profession. Boca Raton, Florida, lawyer Peter Lindley presumably meant well when he shook hands with 76 year-old lawyer George Vallario Jr. at a child’s birthday party in 2014. But in a lawsuit filed soon afterward, Vallario claims the “negligent handshake” was “unexpected, unprovoked, uninvited, unauthorized” and caused him severe pain and suffering. He sought over $100,000 in damages, or “as much as I can get,” according to Vallario, who says he’s been treated by an orthopedic surgeon and arthritis specialists. But a Palm Beach County jury disagreed with Vallario, finding Lindley not negligent and rendering a take nothing verdict in July 2017. I guess the jurors felt it was a pretty shaky case.
Proofread, Proofread, Proofread
I preach the importance of careful proofreading to lawyers all the time. After all, you definitely don’t want an embarrassing mistake to become a matter of public record. Just ask the lawyers for Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who in a recent voting rights lawsuit filed proposed conclusions of law that inadvertently included the all caps notation that one of their arguments was “PROBABLY NOT WORTH ARGUING.” Whoops!
And you definitely don’t want to wind up like Florida employment lawyer Jay Romano. In one of Romano’s civil rights lawsuits in front of U.S. District Judge Cecilia Altonaga, the judge expressed great frustration with the lawyer’s repeated “grammatical errors, including improper punctuation, misspelling of words, incorrect conjugation of verbs, and lack of apostrophes when required for possessive adjectives; sentence fragments; and nonsensical sentences.”
Judge Altonaga called his pleadings “an eyesore,” and opposing counsel found them “muddled and unintelligible.” But the federal judge offered a novel—if embarrassing—solution: before Romano would be allowed to file another amended complaint, he would have to “certif[y] the pleading has been reviewed and approved by a teacher of the English language.” Rather than employ an English teacher, Romano chose to voluntarily dismiss his lawsuit, and he is presumably murdering the English language in other courts now.
John G. Browning is a shareholder at Passman & Jones in Dallas, where he handles a variety of civil litigation in state and federal courts.