Legally Speaking: Lawyers Behaving Badly ... Again

By John G. Browning | Aug 19, 2008

After writing a three-part series on some of the lowlights of the legal profession earlier this year, you might think that I've run out of material. Evidently, you don't know lawyers very well.

There's a seemingly inexhaustible supply of lawyers who have fallen from grace, suffered from ethical lapses or whose grip on reality has simply gotten rather sweaty. If you don't believe me, just consider some of the following examples.

Not long ago, when I did a column on lawyers who have posed nude, I left out a couple of exhibitionist members of the bar. The first, David Remes, made headlines recently when he stripped down to his underwear at a news conference.

Why was the partner at the white shoe law firm Covington and Burling doing that for the cameras? It seems Remes, who is doing pro bono representation of 15 Guantanamo detainees, wanted to illustrate the "humiliating" strip searches that his clients have to endure several times a day.

At the news conference, Remes dropped his pants and demonstrated the "torment" consisting of searches in which the detainees are required to pull up their shirts up to their chest and drop their pants while U.S. military guards search them. Thanks for the image, David; now that I've been subjected to the sight of you in your "tighty-whities," cruel and unusual punishment hast taken on a whole new meaning.

David Remes has nothing on Scott Blauvelt. Blauvelt, a former city prosecutor in Cincinnati, was fired for his habit of taking after-hours strolls in public buildings – nude.

The au naturel walks reportedly began after Blauvelt began suffering side effects from a mediation used to treat seizures; Blauvelt was taking that medication at the time of a near-fatal Indiana car accident in 2005, in which he suffered a severe brain injury. That injury and medication may have led to Blauvelt's odd behavior.

His lawyer, however, says Blauvelt has overcome these mental problems and is back working as a criminal defense attorney, and he's won the first step in an appeal to get reinstated to his prosecutor's position.

Will Cincinnati give "the naked prosecutor," as papers have labeled him, his job back? No one knows, but maybe they could at least get him a pair of pants.

Another lawyer has found a different way of getting attention. If you go to see the upcoming Oliver Stone movie "W" about President Bush's administration, pay close attention to the person playing Scooter Libby. He's Mike Gassaway, an aspiring actor currently based in Austin who's been making the rounds of auditions, seeking work in television, films, and commercials.

Not long ago, Gassaway was in front of audiences of a different type, as a high-profile Oklahoma City attorney. He was disbarred by the Oklahoma Supreme Court for violating the rules of professional conduct in a variety of ways, not the least of which was his willingness to have a client's girlfriend perform certain sexual favors in lieu of paying Gassaway's attorney's fees in 2006. Apparently, now he's seeking a different kind of attention.

Sometimes, the attention devoted to lawyers is completely unwanted and unsolicited. That was the case with, a Web site that featured photos and profiles of "hot" young female associates at a number of prominent law firms. The blog posted photos (very tame, publicly available firm Web site photos), information on where the young women worked, and brief comments expressing admiration for their "hotness."

The site triggered controversy, with a number of female lawyers who had been proclaimed "Hot Attorney of the Day" (many of whom were unaware that their photos and profiles had been posted) speaking out.

"I would say that [my looks] are not what I want to be known for among the shareholders in my firm and other lawyers in the community," said Nora Brunelle, a lawyer with Fabian & Clendenin in Utah.

Abby Sacunas, an associate of Cozen and O'Connor, had a decidedly lawyerly reaction.

"It's demeaning and sexist. I think we should sue them," she said.

Other attorneys featured on the site were more blase.

"It's kind of funny. I wasn't embarrassed," said Heather Bias of the Denver office of Snell & Wilmer.

While disputing claims that they were shutting down in response to complaints, the anonymous mastermind behind has taken down the site.

Law professors and judges are no strangers to controversy, either. Take retired University of Arizona law professor Jack Rappeport, for example.

Rappeport was sued by his former cleaning lady for child support, who claimed the two had had a sexual relationship while she was employed by him. Rappeport disputed this claim, and in testifying in the case speculated that the housekeeper, Maryann Ortiz, might have "taken advantage" of him while he was heavily sedated.

Another theory offered up by the wacky professor was that Ortiz might have artificially inseminated herself, since he kept "refrigerated sperm in the refrigerator." Regardless of how the case turns out, I think Professor Rappeport's made sure no one's going to be raiding his refrigerator in the future.

Two members of the bench have found themselves "benched" permanently. Judge James Michael Shull recently became only the second Virginia judge to be removed from office since that state enacted its judicial disciplinary system in 1971.

His misconduct included ordering a woman to pull down her pants in open court during a hearing (supposedly to view an injury she was claiming) and deciding child custody matters by flipping a coin.

According to the Virginia Supreme Court's opinion, Judge Shull's actions "denigrated the litigants whose case he decided and subjected our justice system to ridicule."

Meanwhile, Deborah Riga – the former town judge of Schererville, Ind., who heard traffic offenses and small claims cases – has not only found herself out of a job but has found a new address: federal prison.

Riga pleaded guilty to funneling fees from defendants she sentenced to a driving school she secretly owned and to demanding kickbacks from a counseling firm that received referrals from her court. For pocketing about $12,000 in payments, Riga was sentenced to 15 months in prison, and was also ordered to make restitution.

In sentencing Riga, Judge Philip Simon told her "I could not understand what would motivate you to do this for what is really a paltry sum… whether it was arrogance or hubris. The citizens of Schererville, and more generally, of Indiana, deserve better."

Finally, we come to some lawyers who were tripped up by one of life's little ironies. The lawyers at Keller Rohrback in California recently prosecuted a stock backdating case involving the digital media chipmaker Zoran, claiming that the company's shareholders had lost money when several of Zoran's top executives were given backdated stock options (to buy stock from the company at arbitrarily low prices).

These lawyers represented to the court that they had achieved $1.6 million in value for shareholders by getting Zoran executives to agree to certain governance changes and to give up their stock options or have them reset at higher prices.

But when U.S. District Judge William Alsup took a closer look at Keller Rohrback's fee request, he found that the crusaders against backdating had themselves engaged in a bit of backdating, picking an earlier date (back when the company's stock was higher) for their settlement than when it had actually been confirmed.

As a result, Judge Alsup called the proposed settlement "collusive" and said it "would confer so little value on the corporation that it could only be approved upon showing that the suit is virtually worthless."

In other words, if you're going to make your living accusing others of nefarious activities, you might want to stay away from engaging in similar conduct.

John Browning is a partner in the Dallas office of Gordon & Rees, LLP. He may be contacted at:

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