Kicking A Lawyer When She’s Down


The more I read “Above the Law,” the less I like it.

The legal gossip site has now devoted two articles to an embarrassing incident involving Sarah E. Buffett,  a partner at Nelson Mullins, one of the largest firms in the country. While on a flight, Buffett downed three glasses of wine as a chaser to a prescription sleeping pill without eating dinner, and instead of falling asleep as was her evident intent, went bananas. Sitting in first class, she first began damaging her seat and then tried to smash the aircraft window with an entertainment system remote. Then she got up and began “acting in a menacing manner in front of the cockpit door.” The flight attendants weren’t able to restrain the out-of-control lawyer, so other passengers had to help get Buffett into plastic restraints. She removed those restraints twice before passengers held her down while an attendant wrapped her legs with tape.

The pilot was forced to turn around and make an emergency landing.

Buffett, who said in court that she remembers none of this, has been charged with violation of 49 U.S. Code § 46504, a crime punishable by a fine and/or possible imprisonment of up to 20 years. Her firm has suspended her from all duties, and wiped her bio from its website. She has been humiliated and her career is in jeopardy.

Nobody can seriously think that Buffett would have behaved this way intentionally, or if she hadn’t been surprised by an unexpectedly violent reaction to mixing the prescription drug with alcohol. She endangered the plane’s occupants, including herself. She is responsible for her actions, but from all the descriptions it seems clear that it was an unfortunate, accidental incident in all respects.

Buffett’s public statement, delivered by her attorney,  reads…

“Ms. Buffett wishes to express her sincerest apologies to all the passengers, flight staff, and everyone else affected by her behavior. She experienced an unprecedented reaction to the prescription medication she was taking, under a physician’s care. She is undertaking all appropriate professional, medical, and personal measures to ensure such behavior can never happen again.”

So what is Above the Law’s ‘s response?  “Sarah Buffett is sorry for her plane party fouls. She promises she’ll never get caught again.”

Huh? “Never get caught?” How does one go bonkers on a plane mid-air and not get caught? What kind of unsympathetic jerk calls something like this a “plane party foul”? Buffett made a dumb mistake, but she was hardly partying.

Why doesn’t Zaretski come right out and say how she really feels, which is apparently, “Ha-Ha! Big, fancy rich lawyer who I bet looks down on hard-working blog-writers like me, look at the mess you made with your careless drinking and pill popping! Now you are screwed! Yippee! I hope you get what’s coming to you and you end up doing document review in some ambulance-chaser’s cheap office in Poughkeepsie!”

Imagine writing for a legal gossip website and hating lawyers that much. Zaretski jokingly calls Buffett a “partner with issues,” but I’d say she’s the one with issues, and vicious schadenfreude is only part of it.

If it’s any consolation, Sarah, the apology was fine, and having one drink too many on an empty stomach and a sleeping pill doesn’t make you an unethical lawyer or a bad person. I’m sorry this happened to you.


48 thoughts on “Kicking A Lawyer When She’s Down

  1. Is it all of above the law, or just Staci Zaretski?

    I do think some level of punishment is in order, since I can almost guarantee the sleeping pill she took has a warning against combining it with alcohol, like every other sleeping pill on the market. Even if not I still think it’s a stupid idea to combine alcohol with pretty much anything else barring an explicit statement that it’s fine.

    The apology was definitely not an apology for getting caught, and I would place it pretty well on your apology scale, with a penalty for being delivered by her lawyer.

  2. It would indeed seem that her explosion was not intended. But how do you assess the fact that she chose to mix alcohol with a prescription medicine? Doesn’t that bad judgment force most of the blame onto herself?

    Should a person not be held accountable if she fails to heed the recommendations/warnings of a prescription drug?

    If she had only gone into a coma and could not be revived, would not the plane have been forced to turn around?

    Was not her action ‘highly irresponsible’?

    • What’s your point? I said she was responsible for her actions, and she faces rather dire consequences, though I bet she doesn’t go to jail. 100% of the blame is hers. Nonetheless, it still was a mistake. She did not intend to go nuts and try to crash the plane. The writer’s snide nastiness is gratuitous and mean by any measure.

      If she had only gone into a coma and could not be revived, my guess is that Staci would think that was hilarious too.

    • You present a situation for analysis, I examine it. You wrote:

      She is responsible for her actions, but from all the descriptions it seems clear that it was an unfortunate, accidental incident in all respects.

      The first clause seems correct, but what follows seems to desire to excuse her from the consequences of her actions. It might not really be only a ‘accidental incident’ and most certainly not in ‘all respects’.

      It seems one would be forced to say: She made an extremely bad choice and had a reaction that she did not intend, but that she is responsible for everything that occurred, is liable, etc.

      My ‘point’ is only that.

      I do understand that a major part of your critique is against someone unfairly taking advantage of another’s misfortune. That much is clear.

      My point about a ‘coma’ is that would have been a passive ‘accident’ but would have caused all the same harm.

      • What? You think she intentionally rendered herself a danger to herself and others? There is no better word for what happened than “accident” as in “accidentally” gave herself a toxic combination of drugs and alcohol. As with someone who falls asleep at the wheel of a car (as I have) she is accountable for the damage, but there is no mens rea for a crime.

        • Again, I am not at all strong in jurisprudence so I am going to make use of my time here to think more in those terms.

          My intuition tells me that though it could not be said that she ‘intended’ to become psychotic or drunk and drugged to an extreme, the result from taking that drug in combination with 3 glasses of wine could be looked at as more than a ‘mistake’. But I do not know if there is an intermediate term. My questions are good faith questions so please don’t jump to conclusions.

          • Thus ‘negligence’ and ‘recklessness’ could be applied to her decision, don’t you think?

            I am also interested to know your opinion about the firm firing her. Were they justified?

        • OK, but what about DUI? You can make a similar argument for someone who drank a little more than they should have and caused an accident.

            • Yes, but if she had just gotten drunk and done the same thing, she wouldn’t be getting any sympathy. I see no difference in abusing prescription drugs (because you can’t believe you are supposed to be taking alcohol with your sleeping pills) and getting plastered on alcohol. Nobody would be saying that ‘she didn’t really mean to do this’ or ‘she never would have acted this way if she wasn’t drunk out of her mind’.

        • You’re not wrong, you’re just pedantic. Error and Mistake, in common parlance, are synonyms. Sonce she was not practicing law, the legal terms of art “error” and “mistake” are as irrelevant here as the definitions of the same words in baseball, where they are also distinct.

          ˈerər/ noun
          noun: error; plural noun: errors

          DEF: a mistake.
          synonyms: mistake, inaccuracy, miscalculation, blunder, oversight; More
          fallacy, misconception, delusion;
          misprint, erratum;
          informalslip-up, boo-boo, goof
          “leaving the door unlocked was my error”
          the state or condition of being wrong in conduct or judgment.
          “the money had been paid in error”
          synonyms:wrongly, by mistake, mistakenly, incorrectly;

          This kind of comment comes perilously close to trolling. That would be a mistake.

      • In no sense am I ‘trolling’, and there is no intention of being a troll. You made this comment once before, mistakenly. 😉

        • Why do you think that is? I think it is because your attempts at razor-slicing issues into nonsensical slivers often end up being more annoying than enlightening. Making an artificial distinction where there is none between error and mistake is a perfect example. But it is true: one cannot be an unintentional troll, even if the content of a comment is identical to what a troll would write.

          • Though I do not agree with your conclusion, or your grumpy animus, I will withdraw. Only a troll would persist, no?

              • They say a technology sufficiently advanced enough can’t be differentiated from magic.

                Isn’t there a quote about intelligence? People being so advanced others can’t discern between them and stupidity?

                • And too, at least to some, magic could only be interpreted as advanced technology.

                  I will locate a quote for your purposes, just give me awhile.

                  Also, thank you for your formatting tips. Would you be so kind as to provide the others? (Or a link to a page):

                  There are lots of other ways to mark-up your text, such as hyperlinks and embedding images & videos, but those are the basics.

                • “My friend, remember that without stupidity, intelligence could not exist. Without ugliness, beauty could not shine. Let no one tell you that you have no purpose!”

  3. Wow.

    As a complete tangent… This is the third time this month that there’s been a news story of an unruly passenger on a plane having to be restrained by passengers and tape. Is this just a coincidence? Does it happen more often than I think and I’m just paying attention? Weird.

      • It’s an early Silly Season this year.

        Not much of an excuse, but to back up the idea of “mistake,” I am remembering a case brought into the hospital where I had a student clinical — you always remember first times! — of a woman going bonkers on alcohol and a single dose of an opiate (trank, downer, that species of). She had done considerable damage to her own home and at first glance seemed to be on PCP or something similar. Her husband swore she’d just had a sleeping pill and “a few drinks.” After she’d recovered several hours later, one of the doctors asked her if she’d read the instructions on the bottle. Her answer was basically: Yes, of course. I just thought the reason you didn’t mix them was that they would knock you out, better than taking a bunch of the pills. That’s all I wanted, a good night’s sleep.
        That sounds like what Buffett was doing, making the same stupid but, I think, common mistake of thinking that just because the caution on the label doesn’t spell out all the myriad possible consequences — the long, long list from the PDR of everything from hangnails to homicide that cause viewers to laugh at the ad that had just advised them to “tell your doctor” that in spite of all these dire possibilities they need this drug urgently — that means you can decide for yourself. It’s like the amber traffic light: “well, officer, it doesn’t mean STOP, so of course I wen’t on through.” Who hasn’t stuck a Q-Tip in his ear (they just said don’t do it; they never said it could puncture my eardrum!), or stopped taking the medicine before the prescribed period was over because they felt okay (gee, nobody told me I can’t use that whole class of drug anymore and there’s nothing else that will help); and so on? As I said, not an excuse, just an explanation for a thoughtless error that could have turned out worse — she could have been driving.

  4. It’s a nasty, point-and-laugh culture that we have, all “anti-bullying campaigns” to the contrary.

    I remember the infamous incident with the founder of Invisible Children in San Diego, just because it was close to where I lived. Every website, blog, and news source described the guy as going on a drunken, naked rampage down the street. NBC used “drunken” and “arrested” in their headlines, even though there was no arrest and the poor guy was just driven to the hospital for treatment.

    He was also widely reported to have been publicly masturbating (this was not true.)

    He later made a public statement about being driven mad by lack of sleep and water, due to stress from recent online attacks against himself, his charity, and his family that had blown way out of proportion. He was roundly mocked for making that excuse, with sites like Jezebel actually throwing public celebrations at his “downfall.”

    By the time his doctor confirmed that the sleep depravation and lack of water story was the truth, no one cared anymore. South Park then made an episode about him being drunk and masturbating in public. No matter what legitimate criticisms there are about the Kony 2012 campaign…the world really did a cruel number on that guy.

    • Too many online things become mass hysteria, with just as much danger as public lynchings about a hundred years ago. People don’t just want to convince or make a point, but grind others who they don’t like or disagree with into dust. The worst are the self-righteous who do things ‘for your own good…’ makes me want to go out and have a chocolate cake and some rum.

  5. Take it from someone who knows all too well Buffett’s alcoholic history! There were countless incidents during my marriage to her that mirror her behavior on that flight. I hope the prosecution calls me to testify or offer a deposition! This was not an isolated incident by any means, and I do hope she gets what is coming to her!!!

  6. Apparently, someone, somewhere, should be thinking about intent. Also, knowledge. Did she know that mixing the wine and the sleeping pill were going to cause the reaction it did? Somehow, I seriously doubt it. Hence, my guess is that, no she did not intend to go berserk on the plane. Most lawyers that I know, and no offense intended, Jack, are rather stodgy and except for politics, rather conservative…both of them. I don’t get out much.

  7. [Working out formatting]

    Another possible take:

    One of those truly vile attorneys with the capacity to ruin a person’s life, who has a long-standing alcohol abuse problem, and a history of outrageous alcoholic episodes, ‘mistakenly’ abuses a prescription drug by chasing it with three glasses of wine, then goes berserk and commits very serious Federal crimes.

    To cover herself, or to attempt to, she bold-facedly lies/distorts the facts, saying:

    “Ms. Buffett wishes to express her sincerest apologies to all the passengers, flight staff, and everyone else affected by her behavior. She experienced an unprecedented reaction to the prescription medication she was taking, under a physician’s care. She is undertaking all appropriate professional, medical, and personal measures to ensure such behavior can never happen again.”

    Whereas the facts are totally different. She has a problem she was not dealing with, and has had repeated episodes, and happened to have provoked in herself a drunken, out-of-control episode, perhaps not out of criminal intent but with strong degrees of negligence.

    Someone – possibly someone with some history with her, who seems to know her – mocks her ‘apology’, saying “Sarah Buffett is sorry for her plane party fouls. She promises she’ll never get caught again” – which according to the recent accounts (or are they mere innuendos – the post here by an ‘ex’) may in fact be true: since she has not availed herself of opportunities to address her problem, the problem that causes ‘mistakes’, she is not to be excused from them and – though it is somewhat mean to do so – deserves all the mocking she receives.

    If it’s any consolation, Sarah, the apology was fine, and having one drink too many on an empty stomach and a sleeping pill doesn’t make you an unethical lawyer or a bad person. I’m sorry this happened to you.

    The pattern of behavior very likely indicate extensive judgment problems that have effect in all areas of her life, including the professional arena. While this specific set of choices, and the ramifications, have nothing to do with any specific legal case, one would be strongly advised not to hire such a lawyer nor to trust her judgment. Based on the behavior she could very well be irresponsible, reckless, as well as unethical.

    Someone might say: “I am sorry only for all those people whose lives, even if only temporarily, your actions and decisions have impeded, and I have not one shred of sympathy for you, you vile creature! May you also suffer ridicule and mockery as well as criminal penalties. You are indeed a bad person. Make efforts to improve yourself”.

    • Alizia,

      Your words speak so much truth – as if you reached into my mind to pull them out – but you bring much more eloquence and grace with your words than I could ever hope to muster.

      Very well said. And as someone who knows 1st hand, you are spot on. Thanks for your thoughts!

  8. I know Sarah personally not in her official capacity as an attorney. My view may not mean much but she is the kindest, most well meaning person I have ever met. She would do anything for a friend. This incident was unpleasant, unplanned, and unfortunately can not be erased. For her career to be ruined is awful. No one could ever say this normal behavior for her. Please remember when you debate such things there are REAL people that are going through this. This isn’t mock court or a pretend scenario. A wonderful human being made a single terrible lapse in judgment because a long flight was terrifying.

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