Cultural Illiteracy Meets Judicial Ethics!

This was resolved in September 2022, but I missed it, and attention should be paid.

An Illinois lawyer was representing a client in an age discrimination lawsuit that arose out of an attempt to purchase property and, chagrined at the judge’s ruling at one point, uttered the Elizabethan era word, “gadzooks!” under his breath. The judge admonished the lawyer not to make comments “under your breath,” and the attorney replied, “I said, ‘gadzooks!'”  The judge shot back, “If you make one more comment that’s offensive to this court, I will hold you in contempt of court.”  The lawyer, apparently astonished, said: “Gadzooks is offensive to the court?”

The judge stated: “You are now in contempt of court. I’m fining you $1,000.” When the the lawyer replied, “May I ask the court.”  The judge stated: “You are now (at) $2,000!”

During the eventual disciplinary hearing—the episode tied up the lawyer for years—the judge testified that she did not know what “gadzooks” meant but found it offensive, and that she regarded the exclamation an attempt to impugn her ruling.  The lawyer testified that he did not consider “gadzooks” to be offensive, and also  testified that he did not yell or shout “gadzooks” as the judge claimed. When he did raise his voice during the trial, it was so his 83-year-old client could hear him, he said.The Bar investigation and hearing results rejected allegations that the lawyer engaged in conduct intended to disrupt the tribunal (Rule 3.5); represented a client in a way to embarrass, delay or burden the judge (Rule 4.4); or committed a criminal act reflecting adversely on his fitness as a lawyer (8.4).  The Report stated:

“By no means do we excuse [the lawyer’s] misconduct, but neither do we find it particularly serious, given that it occurred on one afternoon of a four-day trial, caused no harm to the parties, and caused only a short delay in the proceedings…We also find that [the lawyer’s] misconduct is mitigated by the facts that he fully cooperated in his disciplinary proceeding, has an unblemished record in 33 years of practice, and presented impressive character testimony.”

The Report recommended that the lawyer receive a reprimand (one of the lightest forms of lawyer discipline) for engaging in conduct that was “prejudicial to the administration of justice.” (Rule 8.4 (d)).

Well.

1. Gadzooks is traced back to the 17th century or earlier, and is believed to be a condensed form of some exclamation, usually said to be “God’s hooks” (nails of Christ’s cross) or even “God’s hocks.” It is the equivalent of “Egad!” or “Zounds!,” and is a non-vulgar expression of surprise or consternation.

2. I’m reasonably sure the word pops up somewhere in Shakespeare, but even if it doesn’t I would expect a reasonably educated person–and judges should be that–to at least be familiar with the term.

3. It sure looks like the judge screwed up, was embarrassed, and concocted other grounds to impugn the lawyer rather than having the guts and integrity to apologize.

4. The authorities here, as is typically the case, chose to unjustly punish a lawyer rather than criticize a judge. The Court of Appeals had already upheld her contempt charge. Judges stick together.

Odds Bodkins!

_____________________

Pointer: Professional Responsibility Blog

12 thoughts on “Cultural Illiteracy Meets Judicial Ethics!

  1. I’ve always found judges’ broad powers concerning, especially since most judges effectively answer to no one (either because they have lifetime assignment, or because they elected in de facto single party locality). This turns many judges into infallible authoritarians; and this is especially concerning nowadays with so many judges (presumably) being appointed or elected based on their checkboxes rather than qualifications and abilities. I’m not sure how we can fix this!!

    P.S., I’m not a bit surprised this happened in Illinois—it’s the worst run state, bar none, which is why it’s losing most people (percentage wise) after W.Va

  2. The “You’re now at $2000” reminded me of an old Cuban radio show of the ’60s. Amusing courtroom comedy where a relapsing petty criminal defends himself pro-se against recurring victims. One of the tropes is the judge fining everyone for both merited, unmerited, and imagined offenses (including the court secretary before the proceedings start… which was the recurrent opening).

    I loved it, but I did not expect to see that in an actual courtroom.

    [For those interested it is called “La Tremenda Corte”, and it even became a TV show for a few years in Mexico with the original cast. Videos and audios of doubtful legality are easy to find.]

  3. I think I learned ‘Gadzooks!” from The Three Musketeers. I’m unsure if it was from the book or from the candy bar commercials.

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