It goes without saying that one of key elements that distinguishes lawyers from other professions is our strong dedication to ethics (hold the “lawyers have ethics?” jokes, please!). Lawyers are bound by a code of ethics unlike any other profession. Violation of those ethical codes comes with serious consequences not just for our clients, but for ourselves. From public reprimands to suspensions or even disbarment, the ethics rules are no joke. As a federal employee, there’s an additional layer of ethical rules that I have to follow on top of the rules prescribed by the Maryland Court of Appeals.
During a job interview for an attorney position a few years ago, I was asked the question, “are you comfortable being supervised by a non-attorney?” I thought about my response for a moment and said “yes.” The more I contemplated the answer, however, I realized I should have responded “no.” I say this not because I feel I am superior to a non-lawyer but because, as a lawyer, I am subject to a code of ethics that a non-lawyer is not. While I didn’t anticipate a non-lawyer supervisor asking me to do something that would violate the rule of professional conduct, it was a risk I simply wasn’t willing to take.
There have been some prominent examples of non-lawyers discussing the actions and decisions of lawyers and judges in ways that, if done by licensed attorneys, would most certainly earn them a letter from the Attorney Grievance Commission. The expectation that non-lawyers are free to publicly criticize and attempt to influence judicial decisions through social media is not only startling but genuinely concerns me.
What is even more harrowing is that some of these individuals are named defendants in cases before the judges being insulted. Could you imagine the ramifications if some of the criticisms were said directly to the judges in open court? I don’t think a judge could put them in contempt of court fast enough. The audacity of those who think they can publicly call out and ridicule judges for giving adverse rulings is something I’ve never seen before.
I truly hope the general public knows and understands that this type of behavior towards the judiciary and the legal profession is neither appropriate nor acceptable. It must not be tolerated.