15 February 2005

Not a Bunch of Honor Students

A court in California has finally decided to take some aspects of disciplining lawyers into its own hands, as it's pretty apparent that the bar isn't doing the job (I only wish it was confined to California). According to an article in the National Law Journal yesterday,

A federal judge in Fresno, Calif., has ordered the entire 80-lawyer firm of Lozano Smith back to school for a refresher course in ethics as a sanction for repeated misrepresentation of facts and the law in a dispute over aid for a learning-disabled student. Fresno-based Lozano Smith represents 200 school districts in California on special-education issues and boasts on its Web site that it is "California's premier public agency law firm." U.S. District Judge Oliver Wanger sanctioned the firm recently for "misguided advocacy" over four years of opposing services for a special-education student in the Bret Harte Union School District, southeast of Sacramento.

(fake paragraphing removed for clarity) Ouch. I'm glad I'm not in charge of trying to get malpractice insurance for that firm…

What is so irritating about this story is that it is such exceptional news. That would not bother me so much if the kind of misbehavior cited in the article (and opinion) were equally rare. It is not; "repeated misstatements of the record, frivolous objections to plaintiff's statement of facts, and repeated mischaracterizations of the law" are the normal behavior I've come to expect as a reasonable possibility (not an outside chance) in both complex litigation and publishing disputes in court, let alone outside of it. No, the story is not rare because the conduct is rare. The story is rare because it's so rare for any action to be taken. And that says more than might I wish about the profession of which I am a member.