“Lawyers must hold ‘Please See Me’ signs at courthouse after failing to provide hearing notice”

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Debra C. Weiss, reported that Reed Smith lawyers must hold ‘Please See Me’ signs at courthouse after failing to provide hearing notice (abajournal.com)(Apr. 4, 2023.)  The article states that:

A Delaware judge has ordered Reed Smith to station two lawyers at the courthouse Tuesday with “Please See Me” signs, after the law firm failed to provide notice of a hearing, causing it to be rescheduled.

The Vice Chancelor said that “the lawyers should be available to answer questions for shareholders of the ODP Corp., formerly Office Depot Inc., who show up at the courthouse expecting to attend the now-rescheduled settlement hearing….” Id. (citation omitted).

The article continues, noting that the Judge “said one lawyer should stand in the courthouse lobby and another by elevators on the 12th floor, where chancery courtrooms are located. The lobby sign should be printed in a large, readable font with the message: ‘Settlement Hearing for ODP Corporation: Please See Me.’ The other sign should contain a similar message.”

It reports that: “A Reed Smith lawyer had informed [the Judge] on Saturday that it didn’t provide the notice required by the settlement agreement ‘due to an internal miscommunication.’”

In my view, the sanction was inappropriate.

“[P]ublic humiliation is still used as a way to inflict punishment for contemptuous behavior, and for a reason—it works. However, public shaming can have serious consequences for the victim because people who’ve been publicly shamed may lose their friends, family, and career, potentially forever.”  Darya Sinusoid, Public Shaming: Effective But Unacceptable | Shortform Books (May 21, 2021). In 1867, a writer explained “why public shaming was so terrible: it destroyed people’s self-respect to the point that they felt they could never reform. If they couldn’t recover, there was no point trying to become a good citizen.”  Id.

Others assert that: “The thing about shaming is that it doesn’t really work…. It can have the opposite effect….”  Harmeet Kaur, Public shaming has become a common pastime during the pandemic. But it doesn’t really work | CNN (June 6, 2020).

It appears that the attorneys made an error.  That error appears to have inconvenienced a number of other people.  Did the punishment fit the “crime?”

Comment 4 to Md. Rule 18-102.5 states that: “In disposing of matters promptly and efficiently, a judge must demonstrate due regard for the rights of parties to be heard and to have issues resolved without unnecessary cost or delay. A judge should monitor and supervise cases in ways that reduce or eliminate dilatory practices, avoidable delays, and unnecessary costs.”

Md. Rule 18-102.8 provides: “A judge shall be patient, dignified, and courteous to litigants, jurors, witnesses, attorneys, court staff, court officials, and others with whom the judge deals in an official capacity, and shall require similar conduct of attorneys, court staff, court officials, and others subject to the judge’s direction and control.”

Md. Rule 18-102.15 states: ” A judge shall take or initiate appropriate corrective measures with respect to the unprofessional conduct of another judge or an attorney.” [emphasis added].  Comment 1 explains: “Permitting a judge to take ‘corrective’ measures gives the judge a wide range of options to deal with unprofessional conduct. Appropriate corrective measures may include direct communication with the judge or attorney who is believed to have committed the violation or other direct action if available. There may be instances of professional misconduct that would warrant a private admonition or referral to a bar association counseling service.”

Md. Rule 19-300.1 states: “An attorney, as a member of the legal profession, is a representative of clients, an officer of the legal system and a public citizen having special responsibility for the quality of justice.”  Comment 19 states: “Failure to comply with an obligation or prohibition imposed by a Rule is a basis for invoking the disciplinary process. The Rules presuppose that disciplinary assessment of an attorney’s conduct will be made on the basis of the facts and circumstances as they existed at the time of the conduct in question and in recognition of the fact that an attorney often has to act upon uncertain or incomplete evidence of the situation. Moreover, the Rules presuppose that whether or not discipline should be imposed for a violation, and the severity of a sanction, depend on all the circumstances, such as the willfulness and seriousness of the violation, extenuating factors and whether there have been previous violations.”

This sanction does not appear to be, in my opinion, proportional.