HOT SPRINGS – Trial judges need to do their share to prevent rude and unprofessional conduct among lawyers, according to a justice of the Supreme Court of Virginia.
Justice Donald W. Lemons said trial judges actually contribute to incivility when they offer only mild admonishment in the face of bad lawyer behavior.
Speaking at a forum on professionalism and civility at The Homestead, Lemons said trial judges confronted with unprofessional practices should clearly articulate what is expected and what is not allowed, make themselves accessible for complaints about sharp practice and impose sanctions proportionate to the offense and directed to where the offense occurred.
Some attorneys at the Virginia Association of Defense Attorneys seminar expressed concern about judges who chastise both sides when only one advocate is misbehaving. Lemons said he has urged trial judges to become more assertive.
“The bench needs to come up to the plate and start playing ball,” Lemons said.
Petersburg Circuit Judge Pamela S. Baskervill said she has pondered whether to call a senior partner to report misbehavior by a junior partner.
Retired Fairfax County Circuit Judge Stanley P. Klein said he prefers to take the lawyers to his chambers to let them know their misconduct has not gone unnoticed. “It’s tough to do when the client’s in the courtroom,” he said.
Judge Rossie D. Alston Jr. of the Court of Appeals of Virginia said some lawyers never seem to get the message.
“Certain things resonate with some people, some things will never resonate with some people,” Alston said.
The forum on civility is a joint project of the VADA and the Virginia Trial Lawyers Association.