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Treat lawyers respectfully even when undeserved, ALJs told

ANNAPOLIS – Administrative law judges must treat lawyers and litigants with respect – even when they don’t deserve it, the chair of the Maryland ALJs’ Ethics and Professionalism Committee said Tuesday.

“It’s up to you as the judge to set the tone for order and decorum,” ALJ Louis Hurwitz told attendees at the National Association of Administrative Law Judiciary’s midyear conference, co-sponsored by The Daily Record.

Lawyers and litigants often don’t make that easy, Hurwitz said, using examples of attorneys who have questioned an ALJ’s ability to remain unbiased, questioned the judge’s experience or criticized their own clients during a hearing. He also cited litigants who may pretend not to understand English.

“You are the judge,” Hurwitz said. “You are the one who should rise above all of this.”

Their duty to treat lawyers with “dignity and respect,” however, does not mean judges should remain silent when an attorney has acted unprofessionally or unethically, he added.

“There is a line that sometimes you can tell when it’s been crossed,” Hurwitz said.

“Some things may be so outrageous that Mr. Grossman needs to know about it,” he added, referring to Bar Counsel Glenn M. Grossman, chief prosecutor of Maryland lawyers who run afoul of the state’s rules of professional conduct.

Glenn Grossman. (File.)

Bar Counsel Glenn Grossman. (File)

Grossman, who joined Hurwitz on the conference’s judicial-conduct panel, advised ALJs to admonish attorneys when they act unprofessionally and to do so as part of the hearing’s record.

Such admonishments are an effective way for the judge to make clear that “in this courtroom, we’re not going to tolerate disrespectful behavior,” Grossman said.

ALJs might also experience “frequent fliers,” lawyers who regularly exhibit incivility during administrative hearings, Grossman said. With such attorneys, judges should refrain from responding in kind but “tuck it back in the memory bank” and be prepared each time these lawyers appear before them, he added.

Hurwitz agreed, saying the Maryland Office of Administrative Hearings encounters “some serial offenders” among members of the bar.

“We have to be ready from them,” he added. “You [judges] may have good responses, but you have to stay above the fray. You have to take it all with a grain of salt.”

Hurwitz also agreed that an attorney’s outrageous behavior should be made part of the hearing record but cautioned judges against behaving in kind, as that, too, would be on the record.

“The record is your friend unless you say things that aren’t so friendly,” Hurwitz said.

Kudge Lynne A. Battaglia in her chambers at the Robert C. Murphy Courts of Appeal Building in Annapolis in 2010. (The Daily Record/Rich Dennison)

Kudge Lynne A. Battaglia in her chambers at the Robert C. Murphy Courts of Appeal Building in Annapolis in 2010. (The Daily Record/Rich Dennison)

Hurwitz and Grossman were joined on the panel by Maryland Court of Appeals Judge Lynne A. Battaglia, who chairs the board of directors at Maryland Professionalism Center Inc., an arm of the state judiciary.

Battaglia cited sexist comments as examples of attorney behavior that ALJ’s should not tolerate, such as referring to a female judge as “girl” or “sweetheart.”

“I still bristle as a woman when I hear this type of remark,” Battaglia said.

Battaglia noted the sexism she personally experienced early in her career, and one of her comments drew a humorous comment from bar counsel.

“I used to be called sweetheart a lot,” she said.

“That is surprising,” Grossman said, referring to his frequent and often heated legal arguments with Battaglia and her six fellow judges on Maryland’s top court.