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f/k/a archives . . . real opinions & real haiku

March 7, 2005

e-shaming and lawyer conduct

Filed under: — David Giacalone @ 1:13 pm

Does online infamy, or the fear of it, cause lawyers to improve their conduct? Can it spur rehabilitation and deter unprofessional performance?  Two items about lawyers in the news this weekend got me thinking about this topic:

– the Texas lawyer, Jesse Gamez, who failed to tell the court that his girlfriend was on the jury in a Ford Rollover case (AP/Herald Democrat, “Ford hit with $28 million verdict in rollover lawsuit.”, March 3, 2005; David Berstein at VC; Steele at LegalEthicsForum, March 6, 2005; Overlawyered, March 7, 2005), and

– two Pennsylvania lawyers, Joanne D. Sommer and Jay H. Karsch, who were scolded by a judge for their very poor research (see, “Judge Lectures Lawyers on Research for Motion,” March 4, 2005; Law Dawg; Virtual Chase)

napping, hearing
the rice-planting song

ISSA, translated by D. Lanoue

In Sept. 2003, Denise Howell at Bag&Baggage and Yoss at RealityChecker asked whether cyber-infamy could help curb frivolous suits. I was skeptical at the time (see post), believing that clients looking for BigLaw counsel would not much care, and that Joe Client, looking for Main Street lawyers, would not find worthwhile material online.  However, I’m more optimistic that fear of being e-shamed might in fact have a beneficial effect on lawyer conduct. Why? Well, in addition to noticing that topics covered online are often quite relevant to choice of lawyers (or should be), I have seen that:

tiny check news services enjoy covering lawyer miscues, and the articles are easily and eagerly found by scavenging weblog editors

tiny check lawyer webloggers (myself included) have an enormous appetite for chewing over the discovered mistakes of their colleagues, and readers like to comment on them

tiny check search engines give very high placement to both conventional news sources and weblog content

sleuthSm Already this morning, before the weblogs have had an effect on Google results, look what happens if you search for the Texas juror’s lawyer-boyfriend:

If you Google <“Jesse Gamez” +Texas +lawyer> the first 9 results concern his relationship with the evicted juror

If you Google <“Jesse Gamez“>, the first, third and fifth result are about the Ford-rollover girlfriend on the jury, and the fourth result is a rather interesting 1997 Texas Supreme Court opinion in which Gamez’s working relationship with Diana Palacios, the girlfriend, resulted in a law firm being disqualified from a Norplant case. (In re American Home Product, Tex. Sup. Ct, No. 97-0654). [both Walter Olson and John Steele have already noted the oddness of that case in the context of the Rollover romance controversy.]

Similarly, if you Google <“Joanne D. Sommer”>, the first and fourth results are the article about her poor research — and several others in the top ten tellingly indicate that she is an expert in education law and employment discrimination, which might make one wonder just how her work product could have been so wrong. Also, Googling her co-counsel <“Jay H. Karsch“>, shows the article as the #1 and #4 result, while #3 indicates that Karsch chairs disciplinary hearings in Bucks county.

eating then going to bed
I hear the winter prayers

……………………………………… by ISSA, translated by D. Lanoue

Stories such as that of Sommer and Karsch often get this weblogger to take a look at the website of the lawyers’ firm. At the Eastburn and Gray site, I learned that they are the largest law firm in Bucks County, PA, with 27 lawyers. Also, found out that Joanne D. Sommer has been practicing since 1977 and Jay H. Karsch since 1974. On the firm’s profile page, I found a little hornblowing: “The firm’s partners served as models for some of the characters of Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist James Gould Cozzens.” Not knowing much about Cozzens, I took a detour, and discovered that he won the Pulitzer for his novel Guard of Honor (1948). Moreover, the Columbia Encyclopedia had a short but, perhaps ironic listing for Cozzens:

“Cozzens, James Gould, 1903–78, American novelist, b. Chicago. His novels usually concern upper-middle-class professional men who are faced with moral dilemmas that require compromising their ideals. All Cozzens’s works are characterized by meticulous
craftsmanship and an objective, almost clinical style.”

A quick search to learn more about the unhappy judge, Gene E.K. Pratter, informed me that she had been General Counsel of Duane Morris and “worked in commercial litigation, professional liability litigation, as well asemployment contract and insurance coverage litigation.” (DM press release, June 1, 2004) That might explain her sensitivity to the shoddy pleading before her.

eyes glued to the chestnut
beyond reach

……………………………………… by ISSA, translated by D. Lanoue

I cannot test my theory that the fear or actuality of being e-shamed is improving lawyer conduct. But, a survey or study might prove helpful. However, I did look to see what would happen if I Googled the names of some of the lawyers who have been mentioned here at f/k/a in a less than favorable light. Here are my findings:

— If you Googe for <“Brian Purcilli”>, of poor proofreading infamy (see our post from Feb. 24, 2004), the first fifteen results refer to his loss of fees due to poor proofreading, and the 16th involves a case he brought on his own behalf in which he was assessed attorney’s fees for continuing his claim “arbitrarily, vexatiously or in bad faith.”

— If you Google <“Dennis Driscoll” +attorney>, the first result is the article describing his being sanctioned in Daniels v. Alander for failing to speak up when his co-counsel misinformed a Connecticut court in an ex parte hearing. (our posts here and here)

tiny check When you Google <“Douglas R. Daniels”>, the “mis-speaking” senior associate in the Connecticut Silent Associate case, the article on Daniels v. Alander, doesn’t appear until the 6th result. However, #1, #2, #3 and #5 are all opinions in which Daniels is disciplined for serious violations of the rules of professional conduct.

— If you Google Schenectady lawyer <“Romolo Versaci”>, the first 7 results concern his defamation suit against an unemployed widow for referring to Versaci as a “so-called lawyer.” (see our post)

— If you Google <“Thomas D. Stokes” +Florida> our post, recounting his judicial scolding for too-zealously trying to recover attorneys’ fees in a personal injury case, is the only result; if you search for <“Thomas D. Stokes” +lawyer> it’s the 2nd result.

Finally, go Google the admited sex-offender <“Michael Boxley”> (our post)

sleuthSm Were I a law professor, I’d be warning my students that Big Blogger is watching and will catch you, should you make gaffs or violations that find their way online. Were I a law firm manager, I’d be warning my colleagues that cyber-shaming is to be avoided at all costs. If I were a lawyer prone to professional missteps, I’d be trying very hard to be on my very best behavior and to perform competently and diligently at all times. Your “mistakes” will be available online for all time.

even a child has made
a snow Buddha

……………………………………… by ISSA, translated by D. Lanoue

p.s. If you came here via Bag-n-Baggage, and are wondering about
Snow Buddhas, click for a treat — snow buddha – just enough.

– this post was first published March 7, 2005,
can e-shame change lawyer conduct?

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