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Thursday, May 23, 2024 | Back issues
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Proper Discipline

We in the legal profession hear a lot about lawyer discipline, but what about client discipline?

It's not as if clients never do anything wrong. Heck, most of them wouldn't need lawyers if they hadn't done something wrong in the first place. Why should they get off easy just because they've hired a lawyer?

But clients get special treatment.

Consider this from a ruling of the Supreme Court of Appeal of West Virginia, called Lawyer Disciplinary Board v. Robinson : "Mr. Robinson beat a client ... with a wooden bat on his front porch and then chased his defenseless client with this weapon down a residential street until he fell to the ground. ... (T)he HPS concluded that causing such injuries to his client constituted a violation of Mr. Robinson's duty to his client."

Whether the client deserved it or not.

OK, there were some other factors in this case - the lawyer, allegedly, had thrown a propane tank through the windshield of his wife's car, and he may have kept some settlement money that didn't belong to him. But I know there are a lot of lawyers out there who can understand the need to keep clients in line.

The lesson here is that you've got be subtle.

If a client misses a deadline or goes on blabbing when you've told him to be quiet, add 12 hours of lawyer time or maybe 2,000 pages of printing to his next invoice.

Or consider a shock collar that doesn't leave marks.

Remember, your client is your responsibility. Train him or her properly.

And consider spaying or neutering.

Enough is Enough. I had yet another of those "What Could the Government Be Thinking?" moments the other day when paying my property tax bill online.

This is what my computer screen told me: "Check the box for item(s) you want to pay then select 'Add to Shopping Cart.' You may also specify another amount to pay as long as it does not exceed the balance due amount."

Yes, you can pay Los Angeles County less than you owe but not more.

Tree Appeal. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

And so is the value of damage to beauty - if the beholder is a judge.

Really. We now have precedent for this from an appeals court in a California case called Rony v. Costa . Here's the key passage:

"As with other hard-to-quantify injuries, such as emotional and reputational ones, the trier of fact court was free to place any dollar amount on aesthetic harm. ..."

In this particular case, the amount was $15,000 for injuring a tree - which was trebled under California law because the tree lobby in California is not to be messed with.

(Please note my impressive restraint here. I could have said the tree lobby had taken root in California, but I held back. Until now.)

The obvious lesson here is that when considering whether to file an affidavit of prejudice against a judge in a tree injury case, you want a pasty-faced judge who doesn't go outdoors much.

In case you're wondering what the case is about, it seems that the plaintiff's neighbor wanted to put a pizza oven in his backyard, so he hired an unlicensed and, apparently, incompetent tree trimmer who proceeded to hack a cypress tree next door.

Obviously, there never should have been a trial - the defense could easily have offered years of free pizza.

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