How Not To Endear Yourself To a Judge


There are few things that make me smile more than crazy court filings, but a woman in Minnesota recently filed a brief with a bankruptcy court that could end up costing both her and her attorney $10,000. This thing contained some serious crazy.

A fed-up bankruptcy judge Wednesday ordered a Hastings attorney and her client to show cause why each shouldn’t be fined up to $10,000 for calling the jurist a “Catholic Knight Witch Hunter” – as well as other names – in a court filing.

In a pair of sternly worded orders, U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Nancy Dreher said a legal memorandum filed last month by attorney Rebekah Nett was filled with “unsupported and outrageous allegations of bigotry, deceit, conspiracy and scandalous statements.”

Among other things, the attorney’s memo called Dreher, another judge and a couple of trustees “dirty Catholics” and said the courts were “composed of a bunch of ignoramus, bigoted Catholic beasts that carry the sword of the church.” …

In a letter to the judge dated Monday, Isaacson wrote that, “All the things that this Debtor has gone through are worse than the Inquisition, the Holocaust, and blood libels.” …

Nett and Isaacson called Dreher a “black-robed bigot.” They complained that Manty was “a Jesuitess” with a “track record of lies, deceit, treachery and connivery.”

“Since Debtor has been vocal in exposing their dirty deeds, these dirty Catholics have conspired together to hurt Debtor,” Nett and Isaacson wrote.

Isaacson is apparently a member of some weird Orthodox Jewish religious cult. And Nett has been fined before by judges for filing briefs like that.

Comments

  1. d cwilson says

    And Nett has been fined before by judges for filing briefs like that.

    Lawyers like Nett, Oily Taintz, and Bachmann are starting to make me wonder what is being taught in our law schools these days. My total knowledge of the legal consists of a single course in environmental law and watching every episode of Law and Order. Even I know that a legal is for making arguments based on the law, not for emotional appeals, much less insane conspiracy theories.

  2. Michael Heath says

    Rebekah Nett (the Isaacson’s attorney) writes in her brief:

    “All the things that this Debtor has gone through are worse than the Inquisition, the Holocaust, and blood libels.” …

    That’s seriously funny. The judge had to laugh at that, how couldn’t he? Perhaps Ms. Nett’s looking to become the back-up host for Bryan Fischer’s show. [Yes, I know she’s Jewish; that’d validate just how ecumenical AFA is.]

  3. Gregory says

    Hmph. Everyone knows that the court system is controlled by the Jews. Wait, that’s Hollywood. I don’t remember whose week it was to control the court system, what day was the letter written?

  4. Reginald Selkirk says

    Not only is that some extreme anti-Catlicker bias, but it is apparently not grounded in reality:

    The judge didn’t directly address the religious slurs in the body of her orders, but in one footnote she wrote, “I have never been Catholic.”
    .
    In another footnote she wrote, “I do not know of what religion, if any, Ms. Manty is, but it cannot be the same as mine, as I am not of any particular faith.”

  5. walton says

    I’m very uncomfortable with the given rationale for fining the attorney, and much more so with the idea of also fining the client. Don’t mistake this for a defence of the attorney’s conduct: in fact, from the facts given, I’d say she should be disbarred for total incompetence, since she clearly has no idea how to practice law.

    But as far as I can tell, she’s being fined not for her gross professional incompetence, but simply for insulting the judge in her tirade. The judge called it “an affront to the dignity of the legal profession and intended to undermine the respect and confidence essential to the proper functioning of this Court.”. I have a problem with sanctioning attorneys merely for insulting judges, and doubly so with sanctioning litigants for insulting judges. It smacks of authoritarianism. The idea seems to be that insulting a judge is some kind of lèse-majesté, and that people who go before a court have an obligation to pay the court verbal homage, like supplicants at the feet of a god-emperor. From my own anti-statist perspective, I have a problem with that. (I have issues with the associated ceremonies, too, like being expected to stand as a judge enters the courtroom.) In a free society, we are not supplicants at the altar of Authority; rather, if we are in court, it is because we are there to vindicate and protect our legal rights, something we ought to be able to do without feigning obsequiousness.

    Certainly, her tirade was completely inappropriate and unprofessional in a court filing, and represented a total failure to represent her client’s interests properly, therefore illustrating her incompetence as a lawyer. But why not just say that, rather than waxing lyrical about the “dignity” of the court? The harm done is to the client, whose interests she has harmed through her incompetence. Attorneys who can’t or won’t do their job of representing their clients properly should be sanctioned, but it should have nothing to do with the “dignity of the court”. I don’t disagree with this sanction, but I’m uncomfortable with the rationale underlying it.

    The principle of requiring “respect” for the judiciary has gotten much too far out of hand, in other cases. IIRC, there was one case in Florida where an attorney was sanctioned by the state bar for calling a judge an “evil witch” – not in a court filing, but on his personal blog. Some of these ethics rules represent a worryingly broad limit on freedom of expression.

  6. Ben P says

    Even I know that a legal is for making arguments based on the law, not for emotional appeals, much less insane conspiracy theories.

    Well…sort of.

    Law and order presents an idealized view of the system. The judges and the parties all act calmly and make logical and rational arguments, and the judges (mostly) decide cases based on the law.

    Law school teaches the same idealized version of the law as some abstract “thing” that guides society.

    In reality the practice of law is about people. Raw emotional appeals, name calling, and petty maneuvering and bickering are much more par for the course.

    Take the most outrageous thing you saw a judge do on law and order, and I can probably top it with rulings from elected judges who are seriously biased and don’t know the law to begin with. What “the law” is matters a lot less than whether something is “fair” to the judge, and they know so many cases get settled before going to trial the chances of them getting called out on it on appeal are slim to none.

    Of course personally insulting the judge for being a catholic and accusing them of being part of a conspiracy will never get you ahead, but emotional appeals are par for the course.

    Note: this is of course complaining about state courts. The quality of the federal judiciary is generally quite a bit better, although certainly not uniformly good either.

  7. Strategically Shaved Monkey says

    Walton
    Agreed. That’s roughly what I meant about FoS not being allowed in court.
    What is it about the legal profession almost worldwide, that any criticism of an individual is turned into a criticism of the justice system in general.
    Sorta sounds like the post on the Panetta thread about criticism of the military = soldier murder.

    I once repeated that hackneyed old comment in court once …
    Judge – “I’ll find you in contempt”
    Me – “that sounds about right”
    Since the fine was only about $60, you may correctly presume it was not in the 1st world. I was probably lucky not to land up in clink. But this is a man who spent nearly 4 years and $5k in legal fees (same country) just to avoid being shafted by some jerk for less than $100.
    Hey, it’s hard to change your personality if it consists mostly of being stubborn.

    Sorry for the minor rant.

  8. walton says

    Walton – research the well-attested concept of Contempt of Court – Dingo

    Er… I have a law degree (albeit in England, but I’m currently studying in the US). I know perfectly well what contempt of court is. I am criticizing the concept, because I think it’s unacceptably vague and broad, and is used to suppress legitimate exercises of free speech. I am not ignorant of the law; I am arguing that the law is wrong and should be changed. Is that too difficult for you to understand?

    Also, you can take your arrogant condescension and shove it up your ass.

  9. d cwilson says

    @ Ben P.

    I noticed in my original post I accidentally left out the word “brief”. It should have read:

    Even I know that a legal briefis for making arguments based on the law, not for emotional appeals, much less insane conspiracy theories.

    I’m very aware that the courtroom is full of emotional appeals (and to be fair, so is the show Law and Order), but my point was supposed to have been about a legal brief itself, which is definitely not the place to be ranting about how the judge is part of a conspiracy to ruin their client.

    Your point about judges deciding cases more on emotion than the law is well-taken and again, I was specifically referring to legal briefs. But that is the reason why we have an appeals process: To correct cases where the judge did not apply the law properly.

    At least, that’s the theory.

  10. anandine says

    From the Scopes trial:

    Judge: “I hope that counsel intends no reflection upon this court.”

    Darrow: “Your honor is, of course, entitled to hope.”

  11. d cwilson says

    I am not ignorant of the law; I am arguing that the law is wrong and should be changed.

    Well, I have to disagree with you. People hire attorneys because they need someone with legal expertise. As a lawyer, you’re supposed to help them navigate the legal system and avoid making mistakes that will harm your chances of getting a result that is against the interests of your client. If the client wants to submit a brief that is filled with bigotry and insane conspiracy theories, the lawyer should act as a gatekeeper and say, “Whoa! That’s not going to help our case.”

    If he doesn’t, he is failing in his duty to his client and should be held in contempt of court. And probably disbarred if he has a history of doing stuff like this.

  12. skeptiverse says

    I actually agree with walton, the whole concept of contempt of court is vague and far to open. The idea that you cannot call and idiot an idiot simply because they are a judge just rubs me the wrong way. Just about every other profession has to put up with all manner of insult, why should the judiciary be given some sort of privileged status. I understand that it is definately not in your own best interest to insult a judge while they are presiding over your case but i do think the person should have the right to do it however unwise. Are judges and the legal system really that thin skinned?

  13. walton says

    Well, I have to disagree with you. People hire attorneys because they need someone with legal expertise. As a lawyer, you’re supposed to help them navigate the legal system and avoid making mistakes that will harm your chances of getting a result that is against the interests of your client. If the client wants to submit a brief that is filled with bigotry and insane conspiracy theories, the lawyer should act as a gatekeeper and say, “Whoa! That’s not going to help our case.”

    If he doesn’t, he is failing in his duty to his client and should be held in contempt of court. And probably disbarred if he has a history of doing stuff like this.

    I don’t disagree with any of that. Did you actually read what I posted?

    [Me:] I’m very uncomfortable with the given rationale for fining the attorney, and much more so with the idea of also fining the client. Don’t mistake this for a defence of the attorney’s conduct: in fact, from the facts given, I’d say she should be disbarred for total incompetence, since she clearly has no idea how to practice law…

    Certainly, her tirade was completely inappropriate and unprofessional in a court filing, and represented a total failure to represent her client’s interests properly, therefore illustrating her incompetence as a lawyer. But why not just say that, rather than waxing lyrical about the “dignity” of the court? The harm done is to the client, whose interests she has harmed through her incompetence. Attorneys who can’t or won’t do their job of representing their clients properly should be sanctioned, but it should have nothing to do with the “dignity of the court”. I don’t disagree with this sanction, but I’m uncomfortable with the rationale underlying it.

    You’re repeating back to me exactly what I said. Yes. There are many incompetent lawyers out there, and if they are incompetent to represent their client’s interests, they should be disbarred. The attorney in this case has proven abject incompetence, and should be disbarred.

    But she was not sanctioned for being incompetent. She was sanctioned for insulting the judge and offending the “dignity” of the court and the judicial system. That’s what I have a problem with. It’s not the outcome (which I actually think is not severe enough; fining her won’t achieve anything, but disbarment would), but the reasoning behind it.

    (Also, what’s with the “he”? The attorney in this case is a woman.)

  14. Ben P says

    I’m very aware that the courtroom is full of emotional appeals (and to be fair, so is the show Law and Order), but my point was supposed to have been about a legal brief itself, which is definitely not the place to be ranting about how the judge is part of a conspiracy to ruin their client.

    I figured the missing word was “brief” and I actually wrote my response with that in mind. Even then it’s not as important as you’d think. I’ve occasionally lost a summary judgment solely on the basis of the Plaintiff arguing some variation of “Your honor, it’s only fair that my client gets to present this to a jury.”

    I also wish I had a dollar for every time I’ve shown up at a hearing (at least nominally about “the law” and what we wrote in the briefs) where the judge has not read the pleadings and has no idea what the legal issues are.

  15. walton says

    I actually feel very strongly that, as far as competence and ethical integrity are concerned, there should be much stronger enforcement against incompetent or con-artist lawyers. Combined with much more comprehensive public funding for low-income people in need of legal advice, which would eliminate much of the problem.

    (By way of background, I’m a law student seeking to have a career in immigration law, and, unfortunately, in the US there is a major problem with the inadequate representation provided by many private immigration attorneys – largely because the federal government doesn’t fund legal aid for people in immigration removal proceedings, so they are not guaranteed counsel, and have to find their own lawyers with whatever resources they have, which may be very few. Non-profit organizations and law school clinics do a huge amount of pro bono work, but they can’t take on every case everywhere.)

    So I am certainly not arguing that attorneys who are incompetent should not be disbarred. Far from it. They absolutely should, and I’m entirely in agreement that sanctions against the attorney in this case were appropriate and necessary, because she clearly has no clue how to practise law. However, lawyers and their clients should not be sanctioned merely for insulting a judge or offending the “dignity” of the judicial system. Again, I’ll reiterate that it’s the reasoning I find objectionable: since the same reasoning can be, and has been, used to suppress legitimate speech outside the courtroom.

  16. Azkyroth says

    If he doesn’t, he is failing in his duty to his client and should be held in contempt of court. And probably disbarred if he has a history of doing stuff like this.

    If “contempt of court” is so broad as to apply to general, if gross, professional negligence, does it also apply to “failing to wash your hands?”

  17. shadowwalkyr says

    Apparently, I have not so fertile an imagination as I thought. When I saw the title of the post, I assumed it would be something along the lines of Dembski’s comments about Judge Jones before the Dover trial:

    Judge John E. Jones on the other hand is a good old boy brought up through the conservative ranks. He was state attorney for D.A.R.E, . . . political buddy of Governor Tom Ridge (who in turn is deep in George W. Bush’s circle of power), and finally was appointed by GW hisself[sic]. Senator Rick Santorum is a Pennsylvanian in the same circles (author of the ‘Santorum Language’ that encourages schools to teach the controversy) and last but far from least, George W. Bush hisself[sic] drove a stake in the ground saying teach the controversy. Unless Judge Jones wants to cut his career off at the knees he isn’t going to rule against the wishes of his political allies.”

    Or, in shorter form, “He won’t rule against us because he’s corrupt.”

  18. says

    There seems to be more to this story than Ed covered in his post. It’s not just that this lawyer insulted this judge in this one brief, both the lawyer and the client (who is also a lawyer, this also explains why the slient is getting fined too) have filed multiple briefs like this and were warned not to do it again and did. You can debate whether insulting a judge should count as contempt of court but I think disobeying a judges direct orders certainly should if for no other reason than to maintain a semblance of order in the courtroom.
    http://www.loweringthebar.net/2011/12/lawyer-facing-contempt.html

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