Friday, October 5, 2012

How not to practice law: bring your recreational drugs to court, then drop them in the middle of court in front of a police officer

Lowering the Bar (here) and Prof. Jonathan Turley (here) are reporting today on a story about a New Orleans prosecutor who recently resigned after he dropped some marijuana out of his pocket in the middle of court in front of a police officer. In this case, the incident cost the prosecutor his job.  Should he be disciplined too?  If so, what sanction would you impose? 

These questions raise the issue of whether violating the law, in and of itself, regardless of what the law is, is a punishable offense for professional responsibility purposes.  There has always been some debate as to whether courts are consistent when imposing sanctions for illegal conduct. Often, violations of tax laws are treated leniently, while misappropriation (ie, stealing) violations are dealt with harshly.  DUIs, sexual misconduct, misdemeanor shoplifting and others are somewhere in between.  Part of the analysis has to do with the danger posed to others and whether the "others" involve children or other vulnerable people who are less likely to be able to protect themselves, or whether the illegal conduct involves a so-called "victimless" crime.  (It is debatable whether there is such a thing as a "victimless crime", but that is another story.)

I think there is something to say about taking into account the circumstances and the character of the conduct.  I do disagree with the cases that impose the lightest of sanctions for illegal conduct, but I don't think that all illegal conduct is of the same character or that disbarment is always the proper sanction.  I also think it is important whether the conduct is an isolated incident and whether the person would benefit from counseling or treatment, particularly if it is a case of addiction. 

Go herehere and here for three recent examples of cases on the issue of appropriate sanctions for illegal conduct.  For many more, click on "sanctions" and scroll down.

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