Lawyers behaving badly not limited to Jefferson County courts

Marilyn Tennissen Dec. 21, 2008, 1:00pm

In a local court, Judge Donald Floyd has twice had to issue stern warnings to misbehaving attorneys during an ongoing trial, but the theatrics in his court are nothing compared to the brawl that broke out between lawyers in a New Orleans courtroom recently.

Prior to a Dec. 15 hearing in Orleans Parish Civil District Court, attorneys Madro Bandaries and J. Robert Ates got into a fistfight that ended with Ates being led away in handcuffs, according to a story in the New Orleans Times-Pacayune.

The Associated Press reports that Bandaries and Ates were involved in a class action case against Louisiana Citizens Property Insurance Corp., the state run insurer of last resort. Ates is part of a legal team challenging the fairness of the settlement that Bandaries helped broker.

Bandaries said he was sitting at a table when Ates came up behind him, put his hands on his shoulders and said something about Monday being Bandaries' funeral or the case's funeral, according the newspaper report. Bandaries claims that Ates then turned him around and pushed him.

Bandaries fell backward onto a ramp leading to the witness stand, as other lawyers jumped in to break up the fight and some ran to get Judge Kern Reese.

"The one thing I am not going to tolerate is lawyers being unprofessional," Judge Reese said.

As Bandaries and Ates were separated, the judge convened court to take their competing statements about who picked the fight.

Ates said it was Bandaries who provoked the scuffle. As he began setting up his materials and greeting other lawyers, Ates contended, Bandaries made "a snide remark."

"I tried to ignore that, and then he made another one," Ates said.

He said Bandaries grabbed the lapel of his coat, grabbed his tie and pushed him.

"I pushed him back, at which time he attempted to kick me in the scrotum," Ates is quoted in The Times-Picayune.

But Reese had observed Ates standing over Bandaries when he entered the courtroom, so he fined Ates $100 and ordered him to spend 24 hours in jail.

Lead attorney on Ates' team, Wiley Beevers, immediately asked the state's 4th Circuit Court of Appeal to review Reese's sentence and set bond so Ates could be released. Beevers said Ates was the only person on the team qualified to examine a class-action expert witness scheduled to testify.

The appeals court didn't immediately rule on the request.

Reese eventually signed an order that kept Ates from spending the night in jail, and Beevers went to get Ates from Central Lockup that evening.

In Jefferson County, Judge Donald Floyd has had to threaten several lawyers with contempt charges on more than one occasion because of their continued bickering during a medical malpractice trial in the 172nd District Court.

On Dec. 3, after only 10 minutes into proceedings in the case of Stacy Thompson vs. Dr. James Woodruff et al, Floyd had jurors leave the courtroom so he could lecture plaintiff's attorney Valorie Davenport and a defense team that included Beaumont attorney Joel Sprott. The opposing counsel had gotten into a shouting match as soon as Davenport began her opening remarks.

The trial recessed for a week for a planned vacation by one of the attorneys, but as soon as the trial resumed on Dec. 15, the lawyers were at it again. Floyd removed the jurors once more and told counsel to straighten up their act because the jury was laughing at their theatrics.

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