Now THAT’S An Unethical Lawyer!

Don't keep them waiting, Doug...

Don’t keep them waiting, Doug…

You know, I don’t comprehend  professional ethics alarm malfunctions like this one. I mean, if a lawyer thinks, “Hey, I think I’ll threaten opposing counsel with pepper spray and a stun gun to keep him in line,” and no faint ringing in his head suggests, “Wait—that might be unethical—maybe I sould check the rules,” what would make his ethics alarms sound? How can a lawyer ever think such conduct is justifiable or permissible, never mind that he could get away with it?

Nevertheless, California Douglas Crawford  held a can of pepper spray a yard from the face of the opposing lawyer, Walter Traver, during an April 2014 deposition  (with a stenographer there!). Crawford then told Traver, “I will pepper-spray you if you get out of hand.” Then the lawyer pointed a stun gun at Traver’s head and said, “If that doesn’t quell you, this is a flashlight that turns into a stun gun.” To show he wasn’t kidding, Crawford discharged the stun gun near Traver’s face.

The appeals court threw out Crawford’s case in what is called a terminating sanction, and he is likely to be disbarred over the incident. What the heck was he thinking? The story reminds me of an old SCTV news skit in which The SCTV Evening News reports that Bob Barker, angry and tired of hosting “Truth or Consequences,”  throws a bottle of acid in the face of a contestant. (“Asked if this would adversely affect his hosting of the popular game show, ‘The Price is Right,’ Barker told reporters, “Oh, I don’t think so. It’s just “Truth or Consequences” that I can’t take anymore.”) This kind of craziness is why the ABA has a provision in its Model Rules that will cover conduct that nobody could imagine. It is 8.4 (d)…

It is professional misconduct for a lawyer to…

(d) engage in conduct that is prejudicial to the administration of justice;

I’d say that threatening to pepper spray and shock your legal adversary is prejudicial to the administration of justice, wouldn’t you? I’d also say that any lawyer who doesn’t think so should probably be in another profession, like goat herding.


Pointer: ABA Journal

12 thoughts on “Now THAT’S An Unethical Lawyer!

    • I’m in favor of re-instituting trial by combat. No more overpaid lawyers. Just a little good blood sport with lunch. The odds of the right guy winning are probably no worse than it would be with a political judge, unethical attorneys and juries selected from the bottom of the barrel. Like Robert Taylor in “Ivanhoe”, I choose the ax!

    • Actually, I once kept TWO goats, big ones, in my back yard for almost two months, as cast members for a play. They escaped, got loose in the house once, and ate every bit of vegetation—the yard still hasn’t recovered. They nearly got me arrested when the jumped my fence and landed in a local judge’s yard.

  1. Sanctions are all well and good but what I don’t understand is why Crawford is not in prison. Is making threats while brandishing a weapon no longer illegal?

  2. “When Chase sought terminating sanctions for the pepper-spray threat, Crawford submitted court papers referring to Chase Bank as “Heavenly Father” and Traver as “Heavenly Father’s only begotten son.” He also said the trial judge was “sick and demented” and said the requested sanction against him should be increased to death and $265 million.”

    Not so much unethical as unhinged, I think. Disabled. Dangerously psychotic.

    Unfit to practice, anyway.

  3. He was confusing zealous representation with bullying. Lawyers are human, sometimes we get a little invested in our cases, and sometimes we let our emotions get ahead of us. I have been in shouting matches, finger-pointing, name calling, and about a half-dozen incidents that stopped just shy of violence (another attorney jabbing me in the chest with a pointing finger, a union rep threatening to break my arm, my telling another attorney who was shouting that I would throw him down the stairs if he didn’t sit down, and, most egregiously, another attorney THROWING a brief at me in open court and my yelling at him if he threw one more thing I would fight him right then and there).

    All of them have one thing in common, though, none of us ever took that additional substantial step of throwing a punch or anything like that. Inwardly I know that if I had gone after that guy in open court, if I had actually thrown another lawyer down a flight of steps, if that guy had actually broken my arm, that was going to be curtains. You don’t just walk away from doing something like that. Maybe you can bully someone you have more power over, like a store clerk, a waitress, an underling at work, or someone like that, but even that’s not a good idea (Yes, I know I boasted once about threatening a waitress for jerky behavior, but that was not my finest hour, and in retrospect, is something that merited a zero tip or a word to the manager, not a violent threat that I hope I wasn’t so blindly furious I would have carried out).

    This guy is a candidate for a psych eval as well as disbarment.

  4. (Yes, I know I boasted once about threatening a waitress for jerky behavior, but that was not my finest hour, and in retrospect, is something that merited a zero tip or a word to the manager, not a violent threat that I hope I wasn’t so blindly furious I would have carried out).

    It was big of you to admit your mistake. Kudos.

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