Lawyer Punished for Biased Comment About Judge in E-Mail to His Own Clients

This is what happened in People v. Abrams, decided by the Colorado Supreme Court Feb. 12, but just posted on Westlaw a few days ago. Colorado lawyer Robert E. Abrams referred to a judge as a “gay, fat, fag” in an e-mail to his clients. Eventually, his relationship with the clients became strained (apparently mostly based on other reasons), and after he withdrew from representing them, they filed a complaint with bar authorities, based in part on his speech about the judge. The Colorado Supreme Court ruled against Abrams based on Colorado Rule of Professional Conduct 8.4(g), which says that a lawyer may not

engage in conduct, in the representation of a client, that exhibits or is intended to appeal to or engender bias against a person on account of that person’s race, gender, religion, national origin, disability, age, sexual orientation, or socioeconomic status, whether that conduct is directed to other counsel, court personnel, parties, judges, judicial officers, or any persons involved in the legal process.

The court added:

In his private life, Respondent is free to speak in whatever manner he chooses. When representing clients, however, Respondent must put aside the schoolyard code of conduct and adhere to professional standards. Just as our language, norms of social engagement, and the Rules of Professional Conduct evolve, so too must Respondent. This is because lawyers’ words and deeds reflect on the values and ideals of today’s legal profession. Lawyers are also officers of the court, so their conduct signals to clients the quality of justice and the measure of fairness that can be expected from the legal system as a whole. That system is meant to serve all and dispense justice equally, without regard to race, gender, religion, national origin, disability, age, sexual orientation, or socioeconomic status; when lawyers represent that system, their conduct must give effect to those principles.

A few thoughts:

[1.] Note that the rule isn’t limited to slurs, but extends to any conduct or speech. Telling a client that he should try to avoid a particular judge because the judge is old or Catholic or rich would likely be covered as

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