Lawyers Behaving Badly (1/17/12 Edition)
As of 2008, there were about 760,000 lawyers in the country that held jobs. Most are highly ethical, regardless of the clients they represent, and try their best to conduct themselves professionally. But it only takes a small minority to give the rest a bad name. It’s the outliers that always cause problems, for those are the ones that make news and stay in the minds of the public.
Today, we look at three of them:
1. Milwaukee attorney Jeff Zarzynski created a video showing him as a bully who learned to shake down other kids in school. And now, he says, he shakes down others as a personal injury attorney. He thinks he’s being funny, but the ad looks like it was created by corporate America looking to persuade legislators to slam the courthouse doors on people.
Note to Zarzynski: A shake down is “extortion of money, as by blackmail.” I think I’ve got a fair sense of humor, but your attempt at comedy fails spectacularly. You tell people that you demand things you are not entitled to. Jurors will not be amused. Nor for that matter, will the vast majority of ethical and hard working professionals you manage to tarnish by association. (Hat tip, Bob Ambrogi)
2. Ben Stein is suing Kyocera. Stein is an actor, conservative speechwriter and economist, and game show host. And he is also a lawyer. He claims he almost came to terms with Kyocera for a 300K advertising contract, then the company pulled out. Stein claims that this contract that was never signed was breached. And that Kyocera owes him 300K as a result.
The more newsworthy party, however, is that Stein claims as part of the suit that there was a “wrongful discharge in violation of fundamental public policy,” in which he claims that Kyocera’s withdrawal of their offer discriminates against him for his religious beliefs. What are those religious beliefs? That he doesn’t believe in global warming. He should know better than to bring such a stupid claim, especially given his conservative world view. Complaint is here, see page 9, third cause of action. As per scathing commentary at Gawker:
Also, according to Stein, he has a right to the $300,000 under the Constitution, which guarantees him freedom of religion. See, Stein believes that global warming isn’t real because “God, and not man, control[s] the weather.” When Kyocera declined to pay Stein $300,000 to represent the corporation in part because it doesn’t want to be associated with that belief, it violated Stein’s constitutional right to $300,000. He also accuses Kyocera of violating his “freedom of speech” and “political freedom.” Stein has no political freedom, because Kyocera robbed him of the freedom when it refused to pay him $300,000.
3. Miami maritime Attorney Brett Rivkind gets a nod here for sending out a “press release,”* which is little more than his solicitation of vicitms of the Costa Concordia shipwreck. The headline reads:
Maritime Attorney Brett Rivkind Expresses Shock Over Costa Concordia Deadly Crash.
Gee, thanks. And the opening of this awful thing is — surprise! — about him, not the accident or the victims. I’m not sure what the anti-solicitation rules are in Florida with respect to targeted advertising after a disaster, but even if this thing passes muster it stinks to high heaven. It was conduct almost identical to this — the crash of the Staten Island Ferry that took 11 lives and resulted in a slew of immediate lawyer ads — that led to New York’s 30-day anti-solicitation rule. (Hat tip, George Wallace, via Twitter. Main site: A Fool in the Forest)
Regardless of whether the conduct of these individuals violates an ethics rule of their particular jurisdictions, the conduct of each is an embarrassment to the profession, and lawyers should howl in protest when we see it. It feeds into all of the worst beliefs that many have of lawyers and our justice system (much of it fostered by big business looking to cut back on consumer rights) and helps to perpetuate it.
And that helps to create an overly cynical population, and an overly cynical jury pool, such that even those with the most meritorious of cases are left fighting uphill battles before an opening statement ever takes place. The legal playing field should be a level one, and lawyers should not be helping to create negative perceptions that will hurt those who turn to the courts seeking their ounce of justice. A pox on each of their houses for helping to create such negative perceptions which run directly contrary to the way most attorneys conduct themselves.
Addendum: Scott Greenfield weighs in with Another Bottom: Jeff Zarzynski, the Bully
*The link was coded “No Follow” so as not to inadvertently give Google juice to the “press release.”