Bad Ideas

It's a train car, not a conference room.

Here at Above the Law, we’re trying to help you. We write about lawyers who do embarrassing things so that you can learn from their examples. Heck, you should get ethics CLE credit for reading this site.

One of our most widely-used lessons — now part of new employee training at a Wall Street firm, in fact — is the cautionary tale of Acela Bob. Pillsbury Winthrop partner Robert Robbins conducted what should have been a confidential conversation about impending layoffs at his firm — in a loud voice, using his cellphone bluetooth, on a crowded Acela train. An ATL reader heard the whole thing and tipped us off; we wrote it up. Shortly thereafter, Pillsbury — which had not yet admitted to any layoffs — confessed that cuts were coming (and “apologize[d] for the unfortunate manner in which our deliberations about reductions have become public”).

Here’s one lawyer who apparently never heard about Acela Bob, or perhaps forgot the story: James J. Kirk (no relation to Captain James T. Kirk).

This James Kirk is the managing partner of Kelley Drye & Warren — and a man who has no trouble making himself heard….

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Many of you know that the headline is the punchline to an awesome Dave Chappelle joke about black people and chicken. As far as I know, it is the only joke about black people and chicken (fried or otherwise) that is acceptable for white people to retell in 2010 America. I say again, it’s the only joke white people are allowed to make on this subject. (I’ll accept new submissions from African-American comedians — surely Kat Williams has something.) Obviously, if your name is Bill Maher, you are exempt from this rule, but that’s because Maher is pretty much the only white man in America who has figured out how to joke about Obama’s race, and he does so brilliantly.

For all other white people, I think this is a bright-line rule that should be easy to follow. They’re really not that many of them: you can’t make jokes about fried chicken or watermelon, you can’t use the “N”-word, you can’t comment on black women’s hair because you have no freaking idea what you’re dealing with. In exchange, you got a 300-year head start in this country, nobody ever profiles you, and just to be nice we’ll leave you hockey for your own sporting domination. That’s a good deal, right? There are a handful of jokes I can make that you cannot; if you think you’re getting the short end of the stick, call up a single mother living in the Bronx and ask her if she wants to trade.

Really, I didn’t think I had to write down the “no fried chicken jokes” rule. But the law firm of Morgan Hill in Washington State made me realize that sometimes you have to spell things out for people. Every Christmas, they send out their holiday party invitation in the form of a satirical newspaper. The flier contains funny, made-up stories about the big legal news items of the year in Washington.

At least, it’s supposed to be funny. This year, the invitation missed the mark. Badly….

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Maybe Demi Moore - and Ashton Kutcher, not Michael Douglas - will play them in the movie.

Last week, we started hearing about an amazing email making the rounds. In this email message, a male associate at a large law firm allegedly described, in excruciating detail, a supposed sexual encounter with a married female partner at the firm.

Apparently the raunchy email was making like an STD and going viral within the firm. Concerned about this development, the firm tried to crack down on dissemination by distributing a hard-copy memorandum to lawyers and staff, warning them about recent “spam” containing inappropriate language that was being circulated between several firm email accounts. Memo recipients were directed not to forward the “spam” if they received it, and they were also told not to disseminate the paper memo warning of the “spam.”

Meanwhile, the firm’s information-technology team was frantically trying to put the horse back in the barn. Members of the firm’s IT department were working overtime to locate and delete all copies of the email that they could find.

Alas, they didn’t work fast enough. The sexually explicit message — WARNING: stop reading here if such talk might offend you — finally found its blessed way to the Above the Law inbox….

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For a long time, Jonathan Lee Riches reigned as Craziest Pro Se Litigant in America. But at a certain point, JLR jumped the proverbial shark. His handwritten complaints, making bizarre allegations against everyone from Michael Vick to Martha Stewart to the late Benazir Bhutto, were just too clever by half. And once he passed the 1,500 mark in lawsuits, his shtick got… old.

Fortunately we have a new favorite pro se party for you. Meet Deborah Frisch (or Deborah E. Frisch, Ph.D., as she identifies herself in court filings). Frisch appears to be something of a loon, despite her doctorate and past teaching positions at such schools as the University of Oregon and the University of Arizona. Ironically enough, or maybe not so ironically, the nutty professor teaches… psychology.

Here’s the charming opening paragraph from a document that Frisch filed last week in federal district court in Oregon:

Plaintiff shall henceforth refer to self as litigant since she is defendant, appellant or plaintiff, depending on which shyster-vermin she is dealing with. Litigant files this response to the order filed by Docket Clerk Brinn and signed by USDC-OR Magistrate Coffin deeming all pending motions… moot since the frocked cowfucker in San Francisco denied the plaintiff’s appeal.

The “frocked cowfucker” appears to be the Honorable Alex Kozinski, Chief Judge of the Ninth Circuit, who served on a panel that rejected a Frisch appeal. For the record, his chambers are in Pasadena, not San Francisco.

Let’s look at the rest of Frisch’s filing, shall we?

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Practice pointer: don’t refer to judges as ‘frocked cowf**kers.’

tajudeen-oladiran.jpgArizona attorney Tajudeen “Taj” Oladiran came onto our radar back in 2009, when he filed one of the craziest motions we’ve ever seen. Solo practitioner Oladiran, a former associate at Greenberg Traurig, filed a racketeering lawsuit against “Suntrust Bank and its pimps” for allegedly suckering him into predatory housing loans.

The motion that caught our eye — “Motion for a [sic] Honest and Honorable Court System” –  was filed to vent Oladiran’s frustration with the “dishonorable” Susan Bolton, whom Taj called “a brainless coward.” That would be the same Susan Bolton who, in a not-so-cowardly move, blocked part of Arizona’s controversial immigration law.

Taj ended the motion:

Finally, to Susan Bolton, we shall meet again you know where. :-)

Not only did Taj get our Motion of the Day nod with that, he earned Motion of the Year honors.

The Arizona court system was less impressed with the motion, though. There, it earned Taj a threat of disbarment…

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There’s nothing like cheating on the LSAT to start off your legal career. Sure, even if you manage to get into and graduate from law school, you’re going to have serious problems when it comes to the MPRE. Or the Character and Fitness interview. Or the “following the law” part of being a lawyer. But you know what they say: if you ain’t cheating, you ain’t trying.

So it is for one would-be law student. The kid tried to give his career a jump start by hiring someone else to take the LSAT is his place. And, even more stupidly, he posted his request for an “LSAT Stand-In” on Craigslist.

Of course, now that we’ve contacted him about the “questionable ethics” of his Craigslist post, he claims that it was all a joke. We’ve heard that before.

Let’s take a look at the ad, and you can decide for yourself what to make of it.

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We’ve come a long way from the days when federal courts issued orders banning racial discrimination. Now federal judges hand down orders mandating, or at least encouraging, race-based discrimination.

As reported in the American Lawyer, earlier this week Judge Harold Baer (S.D.N.Y.) issued an unusual order. On Monday, Judge Baer directed two firms serving as lead counsel in a securities class action to “make every effort” to staff the case with at least one minority and one woman:

ORDERED that Co-Lead Counsel, Robbins Geller Rudman & Dowd LLP and Labaton Sucharow LLP, shall make every effort to assign to this matter at least one minority lawyer and one woman lawyer with requisite experience….

If federal judges can run school districts and prison systems, law firms should be a piece of cake, right?

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Self-awareness: it’s a really important character trait. As you go about your day, your life, and your life’s work, it’s important to have an understanding of who you are and how you are perceived.

But what if your self-perception is grossly misaligned with objective reality? Well, then things could get tricky. You might make a mistake like perceiving yourself as sober when you are really drunk. Or perceiving that you are just drunk-driving down the West Side Highway when you are really drunk-driving while black down the West Side Highway.

Luckily, not all “self-awareness v. reality” conflicts result in serious consequences. For instance, if your self-perception doesn’t match reality while you are enrolled at New York Law School — well, then that’s just going to be hilarious.

As exhibit A, I present a Craigslist ad posted by a current 2L at NYLS. She’s looking for an unpaid intern to help her out with “things I need to do.” In return, she offers the great experience of learning about the law and about law school — secondhand, of course — from a prestigious NYLS student.

Nope, I’m not making this all up. But don’t worry, once you get a look at her picture, everything will make sense…

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Feast your eyes on 'The Prize.'

Thanks to the internet, your memory is probably getting worse. But surely you remember our recent Lawyer of the Day honoree, District Attorney Kenneth Kratz of Calumet County, Wisconsin.

A domestic violence victim who turned to Kratz’s office for help claims that the DA sexually harassed her via numerous text messages, trying to convince her to have an affair with him. One of his texts read, in pertinent part, “I’m the atty. I have the $350,000 house. I have the 6-figure career. You may be the tall, young, hot nymph, but I am the prize!”

(Someone should put that on a t-shirt: “You may be hot, but I am the prize!”)

Alas, the recipient of Kratz’s “I am the prize” text may not be the only woman he harassed. Two other women have come forward with allegations against the district attorney — and one of them claims Kratz has some weird ideas about what constitutes a fun date….

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Does He See Dead People — On a Date?”

Would you want your lawyer to do everything in his power to zealously represent you during your trial? What if doing all he can involves snorting a line during your trial?

Hey, don’t be too quick to judge. Coke heads tend to be alert and aggressive — and those are good qualities for a trial lawyer to have. And I don’t know about you, but one of the things I always tell my lawyer upon the first meeting is: “Look buddy, you handle your detox issues on your own time. When you’re billing me, I want you on whatever drug cocktail you need to be at your best.”

Of course, not all clients are as self-interested as I am. And most court officers also have ridiculous “standards” about “drug use in the courthouse.” Sheesh.

So, unfortunately, a Minnesota lawyer is going to have to spend two days in the pokey for his illicit trial prep skills…

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