I failed again as a blogger last week and do not have anything resembling a good excuse. There is a lot going on in the world that is troubling and last week was simply a week where it felt like writing anything that was not about how our country has become okay with putting children in cages seemed frivolous. That topic was not one that had any legal ethics component, however, so …
I’m still very angry about what my government is doing, but beyond the 50 or so words that precede this one, I’m not writing about that today.
There are two short stories sitting in my idea pile that have anger as their common thread so I’m threading them together today to simply talk about how easily anger can get the better of people if not channeled to something productive. One story involves a lawyer being properly disciplined for failing to manage his own anger. The other involves a tragic end of life for a lawyer who was slain by someone else who let anger take over.
A lawyer in Maryland, who already had a track record of disciplinary problems, now finds himself suspended from the practice of law for 30 days as a result of engaging in “road rage.” Dana Paul’s suspension, premised upon violations of RPC 8.4(a), (b) and (d) is not only yet another in a long list of incidents where angry lawyers do inexcusable things but also a reminder that RPC 8.4 is the kind of disciplinary rule that applies to lawyers even when they aren’t engaged in the practice of law.
The Maryland opinion describes the three different versions (Paul’s, the other driver’s, and a third-party witness to some of the incidents) of the events presented in evidence in the case which involved sustained interactions between Paul and another driver spanning over two counties in Maryland. Paul’s own testimony minimized his conduct but he ultimately did plead guilty to two counts – negligent driving and failure to return to/remain at the scene of an accident. Paul claimed that things started when the other car slowed down in front of him and he observed the driver of the other car on her cell phone. Paul says he passed her and beeped at her – claiming that he always beeps at people on their phones “as a way of telling drivers to not use their phones while operating a vehicle.” Paul then claimed that the vehicle passed him and cut him off and then would intentionally slam on her brakes. Then at a red light, Paul left his vehicle to question the driver.
The other driver testified to a different version of events at Paul’s criminal trial. A third-party witness who saw both the altercation at the traffic light and the moment when Paul’s car and the other car impacted each other offered testimony that the court found persuasive:
At the traffic light, [witness] asserted that Paul exited his vehicle, displayed both of his middle fingers towards [other driver,] and reentered his vehicle and drove of. Approximately eight miles later, [witness] was driving in the right lane while [other drive] drove next to [witness] in the left lane. [Witness] witnessed Paul’s car drive in between [witness] and [other driver’s] cars, causing [witness] to move to the right shoulder. [Witness] attempted to alert Paul that he could drive in front of her in order to avoid injury to any party Thereafter, [witness] observed Paul’s vehicle make contact with [other driver’s] vehicle. After the cars hit, [witness] stated that Paul moved behind [other driver] and took a picture of [other driver’s] license plate. Once [other driver] then pulled off onto the shoulder, [witness] did the same and gave [other driver] her name and address. [Witness] later drove to Easton at the request of the police to identify Paul as the person who struck [other driver’s] vehicle.
Paul’s conduct on the road did himself no favors, but Paul’s own statements to law enforcement were damaging as well as he was confronted by a state trooper after he had stopped at a restaurant to use the restroom and asked what had happened to his vehicle. After Paul said nothing happened, and after the state trooper pointed to paint on the side of Paul’s car, Paul then denied the allegation that he had hit the other driver’s car.
Ultimately, the Maryland court concluded that it had been proven by clear and convincing evidence that Paul’s “road rage” conduct was both criminal and of a nature that reflected adversely on his “fitness as an attorney” to be a violation of RPC 8.4(b) and also that because his conduct “involved dangerous, harmful, and threatening behavior stretching across two counties,” it was sufficiently prejudicial to the administration of justice to be a violation of RPC 8.4(d).
Of course, lawyers can be victims of unhealthy anger as well. Last week the ABA Journal online posted a story of a Georgia lawyer (just three years younger than I am) who was found dead in his law office after having apparently been gunned down by the husband of one of the Georgia lawyer’s divorce clients. The husband was also found dead in his former wife’s bed from an apparently self-inflicted gun shot. The police knew to go to the law office only after the husband had called his former wife and confessed to killing her lawyer. Although I was just a baby lawyer when it happened, I remember well when something not too different than this happened in Memphis back in 2002 when Robert Friedman was ambushed in his parking garage by the husband of one of Friedman’s divorce clients.
It is a difficult time to begrudge anyone the right to be angry, and you can count me on the side of those who don’t take kindly in the political arena to slavish calls for “civility” that really only amount to trying to prevent relatively powerless people from sending a message to powerful people, but if you are reading this and you get violent when you get angry, seek out ways to learn how to manage your anger.