Legally Speaking: Lawyers are people, too

By John G. Browning | Dec 11, 2012

As a lawyer, you’re a member of a profession that’s held to a higher standard in your work life.

Unfortunately, in their personal lives, lawyers are just like everyone else dealing with human foibles and frailties.  Even more unfortunate, sometimes the problems in one’s personal life spill over into the lawyer’s career activities in situations that range from the comic to the tragic.

Take Jason Cantrell, for example.  The 43-year-old assistant New Orleans city attorney was in the courtroom of the Orleans Parish Magistrate Court in early October, chatting with a couple of police officers, when a marijuana cigarette fell out of his pocket.

The two cops looked at each other, the floor and then led Cantrell out of the courtroom in what had to be the easiest arrest they’d made in a long time.  Cantrell was charged with a low level offense, simple marijuana possession, and given a summons.

However, having a joint fall out of your pocket when you’re a lawyer—in court, no less—has major consequences.  Cantrell was suspended from, and then resigned from, his city job.

Even his wife, who was running for a city council seat, publicly criticized him.  That little episode certainly qualifies as one of those Southwest Airlines “Wanna get away?” commercials.

You’ve heard of athletes, celebrities and even the occasional politician who have forwarded naughty photos of themselves to the wrong person with embarrassing results.  But a judge?

That was the case with Philadelphia traffic court judge Willie Singletary, who was allegedly showing family photos to a government contractor when the slideshow included two photos of his genitals.

Singletary claimed he had forgotten about those photos, and the display was unintentional.  But the Pennsylvania Court of Judicial Discipline was not so understanding, and ruled that Singletary’s “photo session featuring the judicial penis” brought the judicial office into disrepute.

The court said “We hold that a judge who intentionally grooms his penis for photography, and then intentionally photographs his penis for the purpose of display to others, had better remember that the photographs are in his phone lest they ‘slip out’ at some inopportune (albeit unplanned) time under circumstances which are likely to offend another person or persons.”

The court suspended Willie for being too casual with his willy, and Singletary resigned shortly thereafter.

Maybe one day, Singletary will have to hold a press conference like the one held this November by Cortland County (New York) District Attorney Mark Suben.  During a heated election campaign, Suben’s opponent claimed that Suben had acted in porn films during the 1970s, a charge the D.A. denied.

But after the election was over, the 69-year-old Suben announced that he had indeed been an actor in adult films.  Appearing under the stage name “Gus Thomas,” the then-young actor (who was also doing commercials, soap operas and off-Broadway productions), appeared in such porn films as “The Devil’s Due,” “Bedroom Bedlam,” “The Love Witch,” and “Deep Throat 2.”

Later, the actor enrolled in law school, and Suben’s career would go on to feature stints as an assistant prosecutor, as a city court judge, a county attorney and as a city corporation counsel.  Imagine how the campaign commercials could have been livened up had Suben confessed his part before the election—you could have added a bad 70s porn music soundtrack and a booming announcer’s voiceover proclaiming “Mark Suben Is the Long Arm of the Law.”

While it’s not quite the same as accusing the D.A. of being a porn star, the campaign for Hocking County (Ohio) Prosecutor did get nasty enough to involve discussion of incumbent Laina Fetherolf’s panties, or lack thereof.

During the campaign, Fetherolf filed a complaint with the Ohio Elections Commission over lies allegedly being spread by her opponent, attorney Jason Sarver.  According to the complaint, Sarver was telling third parties a salacious tale about a time in court when Fetherolf had committed the fashion faux pas of wearing very visible dark panties under a light-colored dress.

Supposedly, the judge directed her to fix the problem, prompting Fetherolf to go to the restroom, remove her panties, and then return to the courtroom and place the undergarment in evidence before the judge while proclaiming “Problem solved.”

Fetherolf said she was willing to laugh it off until the story began to spread, a story that both she and the judge in question say is an outright lie.

The complaint, which was initially dismissed on technical grounds, was a unique one for the Ohio Elections Commission.  Phillip Richter, executive director of the commission, noted that “This is one of the more interesting complaints we’ve ever received.”

Yes, lawyers are human.  We make mistakes, sometimes very publicly: a recently-published lawbook, the 2013 edition of the New Jersey Federal Practice Rules, unfortunately spelled “Practice” as “Pracitce.” (oops!).

Sometimes we snap a little, like the lawyer for rapper/accused domestic abuser Chris Brown did when his celebrity client wouldn’t stop talking over his lawyer during a recent court appearance.  The lawyer warned Brown, “I don’t dance—you don’t talk.”

And, sometimes we go a little crazy.  In fact, a recent study compared traits that characterize psychopaths (things like stress tolerance, coldheartedness, egocentricity, manipulativeness, and “antisocial behaviors such as a parasitic lifestyle”), and tried to match them up with professions.

What profession was most likely to feature people with psychopathic personality disorders, according to this study?  Being a CEO was number one, followed by lawyer at number two (journalist was a distant sixth, right behind surgeon).

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