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Have Some Empathy, Please

June 21, 2021

Censure and contempt rulings may be satisfying but they don't always do any real good. It's better to have some empathy.

Milt Policzer

By Milt Policzer

Courthouse News columnist; racehorse owner and breeder; one of those guys who always got picked last.

It’s hard to have empathy for someone who’s yelling at you. But I can’t help but thinking that a California appellate court maybe should have tried empathy before it issued a self-described “cautionary tale” of a lawyer who may have a problem.

Consider: a lawyer named Paul M. Mahoney who’s been practicing for 52 years — i.e., not a young guy — decided to dispense with evidence and legal arguments and instead filed a petition complaining that “our society has been going down the tubes for a long time.”

Then he said the court ignored the facts and the law, might have been influenced by politics, and screwed his client.

The court, for some reason, responded by asking the lawyer why he shouldn’t be held in contempt.

“We expected contrition,” the ruling said optimistically.

They didn’t get it. “Instead, Attorney Mahoney ‘doubled down’ on his original petition.”

This isn’t just a bad legal tactic — this is a cry for help. Has someone thought to check up on this lawyer who, as far as I can tell, hasn’t had any publicly listed discipline? Why isn’t the court sending out social workers?

How is a $2,000 fine going to affect a guy who’s lost it?

I hope he’s all right. Someone please go check on him. Give him a hug.

By the way, I don’t think we needed a “cautionary tale.” I don’t remember this from law school, but I’m pretty sure most of us learned at some point that insulting your judge isn’t the best way to represent your client. The ruling, though, is educational. It features quotes from Edward Coke and Sir Francis Bacon from the 16th and 17th centuries. Surely, ranting lawyers will take the time to learn from this.

Another life change. Censure probably doesn’t help the mentally ill either. I can’t explain what the North Carolina Supreme Court did the other day when it censured a judge who had been doing fine on the bench for almost 20 years until suddenly he wasn’t.

According to the court’s ruling, a married judge of the General Court of Justice who was appointed to the bench in 1999 started revealing on Facebook in 2017 that he was having “conversations with at least 35 different women that ranged from inappropriate and flirtatious to sexually explicit.” One of the women tried to extort money from the judge.

It then turned out that an MRI showed the judge was in the early stage of frontotemporal dementia, a disease that can cause a lack of control of sexual impulses.

So the North Carolina Supreme Court censured him. That’ll teach him….

Rightful termination? Yeah, it’s not right to fire someone for reporting illegality. But every now and then you’ve got to sympathize with the bosses.

A woman recently filed a wrongful termination complaint in Alameda County, California, against Stanford Health Care Company. She was fired shortly after complaining about a vendor giving some pizza and drinks to her work group “in violation of numerous state and federal policies prohibiting such gifts to health care personnel.”

Her supervisor acknowledged the policies and then accepted the drinks and pizza anyway. “Plaintiff complained about this and was terminated because of her complaints.”

OK, the plaintiff was doing the right thing, but I think most of us would have wanted to fire her. Or at least would have refused to give her any pizza.


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