Bad Ideas, Bankruptcy, Benchslaps, Fast Food, Practice Pointers, Rudeness

HappyMealGate: Let’s Just Have a Public Flogging, and Get This Over With

Fry Guy Fry Kid William Smith William P Smith Bill Smith McDermott Will Emery Above the Law blog.JPGSurely you all recall William P. Smith — a partner at McDermott Will & Emery (Chicago), and head of its bankruptcy department — who recently told a Miami bankruptcy judge, in open court, that she was “a few French Fries short of a Happy Meal.” We broke the story here (with follow-up here).
The “Happy Meal” comment royally pissed off Judge Laurel Myerson Isicoff (and not ’cause she’s a Burger King partisan). She benchslapped Bill Smith via an Order to Show Cause, directing the Fry Guy to explain why he shouldn’t be suspended from practice in her court.
The firm has now filed a motion in response to the OSC. From the Daily Business Review:

Chicago attorney William P. Smith says he’s very, very, very sorry for telling U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Laurel Myerson Isicoff she was “a few French fries short of a Happy Meal” during a May 7 court hearing in Miami.

The chairman of McDermott Will & Emery, the Chicago-based firm whose bankruptcy practice Smith heads, is ready to prostrate himself before the judge as well.

According to a recent motion filed by the law firm, Harvey Freishtat, who heads the 1,000-lawyer firm, plans to fly to Miami for a hearing on Smith’s comment. The motion states Freishtat will personally express “on behalf of the entire firm, to this court, to the other lawyers in this case, and to the other honorable judges of this District Court, [his firm’s] sincere and deepest apology for the words used by Mr. Smith.”

And would Her Honor like a side of fries with that?
More discussion after the jump.

More from Daniel Ostrovsky’s article:

The hearing [on the motion] is scheduled to take place June 20 at 11 a.m. before Judge Isicoff….

In his motion responding to the order, Smith wrote he “expresses his heartfelt, sincere apologies to Judge Isicoff, this honorable Court and the parties present in the courtroom on May 7, 2007.” He said he “fully intends to present himself to the Court at the hearing on the order to show cause and at that time will personally express his apologies to all involved.”

Smith is represented by Paul J. Battista and Allison R. Day of Genovese Joblove & Battista in Miami.

“It is not Mr. Smith’s intention to offer any justification for his statements or argue that they should not be viewed as offensive to the Court,” Smith’s motion states. “Simply stated, he is truly sorry for what he said, understands that his statements were improper and regrets the inconvenience to the Court.”

That’s probably wise. There are possible rationalizations for the remark that could be offered (and were offered by ATL readers in the comments). E.g., that Smith was saying that the argument or position — not the judge — was “a few fries short of a Happy Meal.” But at this point, considering the highly embarrassing, national incident this has turned into, it’s probably best for William Smith to throw himself on the mercy of the court.
And McDermott Will & Emery isn’t exactly rushing to his defense:

McDermott Will & Emery, through its Miami partner Steven E. Siff, filed its own motion seeking permission to participate in the hearing on the order to show cause. The firm’s motion states Smith’s “words were improper and do not conform to the standards of professionalism, civility, respect and courtesy to which MWE subscribes and which all of the Firm’s lawyers and other personnel are required to observe.”

Furthermore, according to the motion, chairman Freishtat will advise Isicoff of “remedial measures that have been taken and that will be taken by the Firm, separately and together with Mr. Smith, in light of this incident and to ensure that conduct of this nature is not repeated.”

Judge Isicoff granted both Smith’s motion to expedite the hearing on the show cause order — which was originally scheduled to take place June 25 — and the law firm’s motion to participate in that hearing.

Does Judge Isicoff’s granting of these motions suggest that she is somewhat mollified? Or does she simply like the idea of a parade of MWE lawyers, including firm chairman Harvey Freishtat, kissing the hem of her robes in apology?

Mindy Mora, a partner in the bankruptcy group at Bilzin Sumberg Baena Price & Axelrod in Miami who is not involved in the case, said it’s critically important for Smith’s practice to convince Judge Isicoff not to take away his pro hac vice license to practice in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of Florida.

She said it would be difficult for Smith to maintain a nationwide bankruptcy practice if Isicoff pulls his license here, because that has to be disclosed every time he seeks pro hac vice admission elsewhere.

Hmm, good point. Imagine having to relate the “Happy Meal” anecdote every time you need to appear pro hac.

Mora also said Smith’s motion to move up the hearing on the show cause order may have been motivated by his and his firm’s desire to “reduce the size of the audience” for that hearing.

Smith’s comments have been widely discussed by legal blogs around the country.

And they will continue to be, at least if we have anything to say about it.
Attention Miami readers: We hope that some of you — perhaps law clerks in the same courthouse — will attend the hearing. It’s scheduled for this coming Wednesday, June 20, at 11 AM.
If you do attend, please take good notes. Then share your observations with your friends at ATL. Thanks!
Bankruptcy Court: Chicago attorney, Firm Prepare Miami Apologies [Daily Business Review]
Earlier: HappyMealGate: An Update on the Fry Guy
ATL Practice Pointers: Don’t Insult the Judge in Open Court

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