The “old way” was for lawyers to suffer in silence and slink away.
I’ve used the phrase in prior posts, the “old ways” or the “way thing used to be.” (Example Link).
This series defines that phrase.
I am certainly not the first lawyer to be mistreated by judges.
I am not claiming I am the first lawyer put out of business by judges, I am not claiming to be the first lawyer who had the Lawyers Board used against her to stop her from speaking the truth about the justice system. I believe I follow in a long line of lawyers, who, before me, lived by their convictions, had the courage to speak out, experienced being shut down by those in power.
But in the past when a lawyer was targeted for destruction by judges, they mostly slunk away in shame.
I am trying to stay in the ring as the punches come.
If I go down on the mat, I am trying to get up before the count of 10.
Lawyers have been the serfs of the system for far too long. We have been expected to take all kinds of mistreatment by judges. And, we have not been able to complain about it (that is, unless you wanted bad things to befall you). Traditionally, we haven’t even been able to say anything about it in public. Not in the coutroom in the moment, not later.
Be quiet, keep it to yourself. Walk away.
That was the “old way.”
But the old way has been questioned.
Back when I was active with the Minnesota State Bar Association, I remember being shocked to learn that lawyers had the highest rate of depression of any field of work. I believed then, and I’ll say now, this comes from the requirement that we repress our feelings.
The requirement that we put our clients before ourselves, in the context of inhibiting lawyers from speaking out to protect themselves, has a significant downside – for us. It’s time we gave that due consideration.
If a private person abuses you, professionals will tell you it’s important to assert yourself, draw a boundary – tell them to stop. But as lawyers, we have not been permitted to do that – when it comes to mistreatment by judges.
Because we fear that the client might be harmed if we speak our own personal truth (such as, “stop abusing me!”), or because we fear retaliation by the judges, we have stuffed the feelings deep inside.
And we’ve done it year after year.
Now, of course, there are plenty of mature judges who don’t harass and abuse lawyers. I am not sweeping all judges into one lump here. But there are still enough judges who do it, that it is still a significant issue in the life of a litigator.
The more so because we have not been permitted to assert ourselves and becuase as a community, we have not talked much on this issue.
I remember hearing the story several years ago about a lawyer who appeared before a judge who verbally abused him, railed on him. As the story goes, a short time later (like about an hour – not even a day) the attorney had a massive heart attack and died. When I heard the story it was complete with the name of the lawyer, the name of the judge, the jurisdiction. It was credible to me. Some of those in the Twin Cities area might recall it. But the names are not important for my point, so they are not included here.
My point is that I heard that story in a hushed whisper. Surely a verbal lashing that results in such extreme harm should have been scrutinized. I am not saying it caused the harm – I don’t know. I’m saying we should have been able to talk openly about it, and investigated whether the judge’s conduct had an impact on the lawyer’s health.
From what I heard, there was no investigation.
That was the “old way.”
The “old way” was for lawyers to go away, ‘not with a bang but a whimper.’
In the “old way,” if judges put a lawyer out of business because of his politics, he was to slink away in shame. If the abuse got bad, if the judges intentionally prevented the lawyer from winning cases, if the lawyer’s health started to fail and it all slid downhill, then the lawyer was the problem – right?
Aha, strike now – take the license.
Out of sight out of mind.
Never look at why. Just blame the lawyer.
That was the old way.
The “old way” is changing.
I certainly am not going down in a hushed whisper.
That’s one of the reasons I started this blog. I wanted people to be able to watch what happened to me.
And they are watching; I get hits from around the globe. I know judicial reformists are watching. I know others are as well.
I had no idea things would get so vicious.
I’ll be posting documents soon that will tell you ust how vicious it has gotten.
I always knew I could not control what happened. that’s why the lawyer discipinary process is a closed system (no jury) – so judges can control the outcome (often dispensing with that pesky need to consider the law or the facts.)
But I also knew that no matter what happened, I was going to point out the problems with the system as I saw them.
I was silenced at first, then deluged, then traumatized (down on the mat for a while…count getting close to 10!), and now coming back – gaining strength.
I have no interest in slinking away.
I do have an interest in focusing on what is wrong, but also what is changing, how we can do better. I do so hope another lawyer doesn’t have to go through what I have gone through.
Lawyers are tired of being second class citizens. We are tired of judges who think they are the “kings” of their coutroom, treat lawyers as slaves.
We are tired of having fewer rights than the rest of America.
We are tired of living in fear.
No matter what happens, me talking about it, blogging about it, is a sign of change.
I’ll continue to discuss apsects of the “old ways,” which I hope are giving way.