“Good Luck In Hell”: Jury Abuse Ethics

12 angry men

 It’s not nice to be mean to juries.

More than that, it’s democracy self-abuse. Juries are the fractals of true democracy, played a crucial role in the intellectual germination of our founding documents  and are as important to the United States’ ideals and core beliefs as any institution.  Citizens contribute their time—okay, some need a little persuading—to take on the massive responsibility of life altering decisions, and despite their fallibility (and look at the rest of the government!) jurors deserve honor and respect.

For lawyers and judges to behave otherwise is not just foolish, it is prohibited by their respective professional ethics rules. Charles Guiteau, who shot President Garfield, was briefly a lawyer. He used to climb into the jury box to yell at jurors. That got him kicked out of the profession, so he moved on to shooting Presidents, which he was better at.

It’s even unethical to berate a former juror, as small firm New York attorney Frank Panetta of Massimo & Panetta  discovered when all of his ethics alarms malfunctioned simultaneously and he sent off the following masterpiece to Lauren Curry, the senior partner in another firm. Panetta is still steamed about a case he lost when a jury found against his client four years ago, and he blames Curry,  who served as his jury’s foreperson. He wrote in an Guiteau-like e-mail, and I swear, I’m not making this up: Continue reading

Casey Anthony’s Lawyer is Pronounced Unethical By an Expert

Jack Thompson knows incivility

Ah, the Casey Anthony trial continues to be the legal equivalent of “Jersey Shore,” or some other annoying TV reality show. In today’s episode: Hypocrisy! Revenge!  Irony! Abuse of process! Incivility!  And a special guest!

Cheney Mason, one of Casey Anthony’s defense attorneys, gave a raised middle finger (the international symbol of “I have nothing but contempt and utter disdain for you and your untoward words and conduct, so please have some form of unpleasant sexual intercourse with yourself!”) to a spectator who was verbally harassing Mason and others celebrating Anthony’s July 5 acquittal at a restaurant immediately after the trial.  Such public conduct by a lawyer is rude, undignified and inappropriate, but it is also rude, undignified and inappropriate for sea captains, puppeteers and plumbers, too. Incivility by a lawyer has to be especially egregious and must in some way threaten to undermine the administration of justice to raise the possibility of bar discipline, and flipping the bird to a jerk in a restaurant just plain doesn’t qualify. Now, a lawyer running all over town giving the finger to everyone for weeks on end, or a lawyer making the gesture to judges, opposing counsel or jury members in court would be very different matters. Such conduct would call into legitimate question a lawyer’s fitness to practice law. One such incident? No. I won’t speculate on what percentage of lawyers have given the upturned finger to someone during their careers, but you can.

Nevertheless, a Florida citizen decided to file an ethics complaint against Mason, which is his right. But this wasn’t just any Florida citizen; the complainant was Jack Thompson, a once nationally prominent attorney who managed the nearly impossible: he got himself disbarred for life in Florida for incivility, along with other ethical misconduct. Continue reading

Ignorant Juror, Malfunctioning Jury, Dysfunctional Justice

It was bound to happen, which is not to say that there is any excuse for it.  A juror during on a day off from trial, told the world via Facebook that she had already decided the defendant was guilty, writing that it was “gonna be fun to tell the defendant they’re guilty.” This statement, in addition to showing a disturbing lack of compassion and empathy, not to mention meanness, also was a violation of her duties as a juror. The trial wasn’t even finished, the jury hadn’t deliberated, and yet Hadley Jons, 20, had already decided on her vote and was bragging about it. Continue reading

Slap-happy Justice in West Virginia

I confess: I love this story.

The Charlestown Gazette reports that Assistant Kanawha County prosecutor Stewart Altmeyer has been suspended for one month without pay for suggesting a plea deal that permitted the victim of petit larceny to slap the defendant in exchange for dropping the complaint against Dallas Jarrett, who had allegedly taken a few Oxycontin pills from Deborah McGraw’s medicine cabinet while performing some household repairs for her.

Altmeyer says that he relayed McGraw’s offer half-seriously, and was taken aback when the one-slap deal was accepted by Jarrett and his attorney. He shouldn’t have been surprised: Jarrett was facing up to a year in prison. I’d take Deborah’s slap. Heck, I’d take a Mike Tyson slap. Wouldn’t you? Continue reading