Legal Matters

ABA Journal takes a hard look at the cost of criticizing judges Using a local case, the American Bar Association Journal raises serious concerns about the repercussions for attorneys who allege judicial misconduct.

Using a local case, the ABA Journal raises serious concerns about the repercussions for attorneys who allege judicial misconduct.

The ABA Journal, the flagship magazine of the American Bar Association, takes a look at a compelling legal case involving allegations of misconduct made by a local attorney against Judge Phyllis Keaty, then a district judge who has since gone on to serve on the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeal.

In the opening of his Dec. 1 column, “How far can criticism of judges go under ethics rules?” David L. Hudson Jr. writes:

When an attorney in Louisiana filed appellate pleadings that alleged misconduct by the trial judge in a case, it was the attorney—not the judge—who found herself in ethics hot water with the state supreme court.

But some leading ethics and First Amendment experts—and even two dissenting justices of the Louisiana Supreme Court—suggest that the disciplinary action against attorney Christine M. Mire was inappropriate under the language of Rule 8.2(a) of the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct. The Louisiana Rules of Professional Conduct follow Model Rule 8.2 word for word. (The ABA Model Rules are the primary basis for binding ethics rules in almost every state, although California sets forth its rules using a different format from the Model Rules.)

According to pleadings filed with the Louisiana Supreme Court, Mire filed an appeal in the Louisiana Court of Appeal that included vigorous criticisms of Phyllis Keaty, a district court judge who presided over a family law case in which Mire was representing one of the parties. ...

Mire thought Judge Keaty failed to disclose the extent of her family’s relationship with a litigant on the other side of the case. (The appeals court later ordered Keaty removed from the case because of a “community interest.”)

Mire filed a motion that asked Judge Keaty to recuse herself from the case, which Keaty refused. When Mire requested a copy of the hearing record, she received a recording that contained a statement that she thought was not actually made at the hearing.

The recording apparently had been spliced at the exact location where Judge Keaty had talked about her connection with the litigant on the other side. Mire thought the recording and the transcript of the hearing had been altered intentionally.

Read the full column here (and be sure to read the comments as well).