Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert blog which will discuss the recent reprimand of a North Carolina lawyer for sending ex-parte e-mails to the judge and the judge’s law clerk in a “protracted and extremely contentious domestic case”. The reprimand is: In the Matter of Claire J. Samuels, NC Case No. 13G0801 (May 23, 2014) and is at: https://www.ncbar.com/orders/samuels,%20claire%20reprimand%2013g0801.pdf
According to the reprimand, the lawyer represented the wife in a protracted and extremely contentious domestic case against the husband, who apparently was also a lawyer. On “numerous occasions”, the lawyer “argued the merits of the case through emails to the judge and her clerk. The emails were improper and violated Rules 3.S(a)(3) and 8A (d) of the Rules of Professional Conduct.” The lawyer stated in her response to the Bar grievance that she was “only responding, as an advocate for (the) client, to the e-mails that (the husband) first presented to the court.”
The reprimand states that “(t)he Grievance Committee believed that because you were an advocate for your client, you were obligated to take the high road and not engage in those improper communications with (the husband). Finally, the Grievance Committee was concerned about your unprofessional conduct as exhibited in an April 26, 2013 email to (the husband) where you lost your objectivity as an attorney and got “personal” with (the husband). In that email you stated, ‘You’re a terrible husband, father, lawyer, and human being.’ The Committee cautions you to maintain objectivity and professionalism, even in the face of a stressful and difficult case.
Bottom line: This case apparently involved a pro se opposing party (who was a lawyer) who allegedly started the ex-parte communications; however, the reprimand confirms that, regardless of who starts it, the lawyer is still not permitted to engage in ex-parte contact with a presiding judge. Oh, and lawyers also should probably not send an e-mail to the opposing party stating “You’re a terrible husband, father, lawyer, and human being.”
Let’s please be careful out there!
Disclaimer: this Ethics Alert is not an advertisement and does not contain any legal advice and the comments herein should not be relied upon by anyone who reads it.
Joseph A. Corsmeier, Esquire
Law Office of Joseph A. Corsmeier, P.A.
2454 McMullen Booth Road, Suite 431
Clearwater, Florida 33759
Office (727) 799-1688
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This procedure seems a bit . . .casual. There doesn’t appear to have been much of an investigation. The Reprimand does not indicate whether the allegations about initial exparte communications from the pro se lawyer husband were true. In that case, shouldn’t the other lawyer in this case have received at least the same level of discipline? Without a lot more context, the two page opinion doesn’t seem like a useful enterprise if the goal is to send messages to the Bar at large about the parameters of proper behavior.