On many occasions when we hear of attorneys running into trouble with the courts, the heart of the matter has to do with a problem between the attorney and the client, such as a dispute involving client funds or the failure to meet a court-established deadline to the client’s detriment. But sometimes an attorney can get too emotionally close to the subject matter of a case, and this can cloud his or her judgment. When this happens, it is possible for such an attorney to cross the line when it comes to professional ethics.
In this regard, let’s consider the recent example of a New Jersey lawyer — who is also licensed to practice law in Florida — who was representing clients in Florida litigation but who evidently began to take the client’s dispute to the level where he filed a lawsuit in New Jersey against the other side’s counsel, alleging that the other attorney in Florida had engaged in a fraudulent transaction
Florida attorney retained local counsel, who countered the lawsuit by claiming that the it was frivolous under the New Jersey Rules of Professional conduct, which reads in relevant part:
A lawyer shall not bring or defend a proceeding, nor assert or controvert an issue therein unless the lawyer knows or reasonably believes that there is a basis in law and fact for doing so that is not frivolous…”
After the Florida attorney prevailed on the frivolous lawsuit motion and the judge dismissed the complaint with prejudice, the New Jersey attorney filed motion to reconsider, which caused the judge hearing the matter to sanction him, stating that either the attorney had failed to do his due diligence that would have revealed that the New Jersey court had no jurisdiction over the matter. The judge also noted that the New Jersey attorney had multiple opportunities to withdraw the lawsuit, but refused to do so.
The import of this case is that it is incumbent on attorneys not to burden their clients or the courts with unprofessional or unethical behavior, and when they fail to meet this obligation it can fall on other attorneys and the courts to intervene to stop it and where necessary to penalize the offending lawyer.
Source: New Jersey Law Journal, “Judge Sanctions NJ Attorney for Suit Against Fla. Attorney,” David Gialanella, August 21, 2015