Attorney Misconduct, Legal Ethics, Rudeness

Time for Our Daily Dose of Political Correctness

Quick, somebody call the Waahmbulance

The language police are out in force. The ABA Journal reports that a lawyer’s bad language, used in public, has triggered an ethics inquiry:

A township lawyer in New Jersey is facing the wrath of an animal rights group after he used the C-word to describe one of its demonstrators.

Lawyer Richard Shackleton now faces an ethics grievance and a privately filed criminal complaint as a result of the Feb. 20 dustup outside the Philadelphia Gun Club where the group was protesting, the New Jersey Law Journal reports. Shackleton had taken part in a live pigeon shoot, and as he left, he yelled at a protester, who also happened to be a lawyer. “Go f— yourself, you rotten c—,” he screamed.

Now, I’m not going to defend the language. The “c-word” isn’t part of my functional vocabulary. I don’t even use it in private. I think the c-word is a “fighting word,” so even if I wanted to use it, my general desire to avoid getting punched in the face would prevent me from saying it.

But an ethics inquiry? Really? Despite the fact that I’m a person who is regularly subjected to epithets of all kinds, I still don’t want to live in a society where public insults turn into ethics grievances and criminal complaints.

Perhaps things have gone this far because Shackleton wouldn’t apologize for his potty mouth…

Stuart Chaifetz filed the ethics complaint against Shackleton. The New Jersey Law Journal explains his reasoning:

Chaifetz asserts Shackleton violated Rules of Professional Conduct that bar criminal acts that “reflect adversely on the lawyer’s honesty, trustworthiness or fitness as a lawyer,” RPC 8.4(b), and conduct, in a professional capacity, “intended or likely to cause harm,” RPC 8.4(g).

Shackleton’s public statements after the Feb. 20 incident were what Chaifetz says met the “professional capacity” requirement of RPC 8.4(g).

No, Shackleton didn’t repeat the word, he just refused to apologize for it:

Chaifetz attended a meeting of the Long Beach Township commissioners on April 9. Shackleton was present, and, during the public comment period, Chaifetz asked him to apologize for his “vile and reprehensible” words. Shackleton’s response, again captured on video, was, “I’m happy to say that, what I said, I meant every word of it.”

Shackleton was still unrepentant during an NBC News interview at his law office, aired April 19, in which he said of his words to Bessey, “I think that’s what she is and I think she deserved it.”

“If he had apologized, we would not be here today,” says Chaifetz. “When he said she deserved it — no one deserves to be treated like that.”

Oh come on! You’re filing an ethics grievance because you want an apology? That’s just garbage. You’re not saying that the use of the c-word makes him unfit to be a lawyer (a fairly ridiculous proposition to start with). Instead, you’re arguing that his failure to apologize for offending your own sensibilities makes him unfit to be a lawyer. I’m not sure that any one word makes you an unfit attorney, but I’m positive that apologizing should have nothing to do with the question.

And while we’re here, did anybody notice that we’re talking about lawyers in New Jersey?

Shackleton referred a request for comment to his lawyer, Jeffrey Pollock at Fox Rothschild in Princeton. “We are reviewing the allegations, we deny that they have any merit and will vigorously defend them,” Pollock says.

“If swearing in public in a private capacity is a sanctionable offense, you’re going to lose half the lawyers in New Jersey,” he adds.

You can’t run around filing grievances against people because they curse at you. How is that not obvious? This didn’t happen in court. This wasn’t written in a brief. This guy shouted a slur in public.

It might be unfortunate, but it doesn’t even approach unethical. If foul language really pisses you off, listen to what my father taught me: “Sticks and stones may break your bones, but only a p***y cries over name-calling.”

Lawyer’s C-Word Invective Spurs Criminal, Ethics Charges by Animal Rights Group [ABA Journal]
Township Attorney Draws Ethics, Criminal Charges for Cursing at Another Lawyer [New Jersey Law Journal]

Earlier: The PC Police Ride Strong at Northwestern

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