Jim Dey | Lesson for lawyers: Don’t tell judge she’s a dope


When the late President Harry Truman had a beef with someone, he wrote an angry letter to the target of his ire. Then, feeling better, Truman put it in his desk.

Of course, he didn’t always do that. On one occasion, he let it rip and turned over his vitriol to the post office for delivery.

It was in 1950 when Truman, angered by Washington Post music critic Paul Hume’s unflattering review of daughter Margaret’s singing debut, wrote Hume.

“Some day I hope to meet you. When that happens you’ll need a new nose, a lot of beefsteak for black eyes, and perhaps a supporter below!” Truman wrote.

Many were amused by Truman’s fatherly anger. But the lesson is clear — discretion often is the better part of valor.

The same rule applies to everyone, including Chicago lawyer Nejla K. Lane.

Angered by U.S. Magistrate Sheila Finnegan’s adverse ruling, Lane sent insulting emails to the judge and her law clerk. Warned by Finnegan not to do that again, Lane sent two more angry emails.

The Illinois Attorney’s Registration & Disciplinary Commission recently recommended Lane’s law license be suspended for six months. Lane also must serve a probationary period and comply with conditions aimed at discouraging future misbehavior.

What happened to Lane happens to all lawyers — rulings don’t always go their way. But it’s rare that a lawyer responds as Lane did.

In 2017, a Lane client was involved in a bitter divorce case that spilled over into federal court.

After unsuccessfully seeking an extension of time to conduct a deposition, an angry Lane wrote the judge that “today in court, no matter what I said to you, you had already made up your mind … you never seem to doubt anything (opposing counsel) says. … I never get a break.”

Warned about not repeating that transgression, Lane lashed out again after another adverse ruling.

“This is an outrageous order by Judge Finnegan and it will be addressed accordingly. Judges are helping the criminal to escape punishment. … I am sickened by this order,” she wrote.

Lane completed her trifecta with another email.

“I get filled with anger and disgust over this ‘fraudulent’ order by this court. … What goes around comes around, justice will be done in the end. I wonder how you people sleep at night.”

Lane later conceded it was “wrong to send the emails” but claimed she wrote “in the heat of the moment.” That didn’t save her from being suspended from practicing in the federal courts.

Then came state regulators at the ARDC, which charged Lane made false statements about the judge and disrupted the progress of the case by her misconduct.

ARDC lawyers sought Lane’s suspension “until further order of the court.” That usually means permanent suspension.

While recognizing Lane’s anger issues, the ARDC’s three-member review panel took pity on her.

Noting Lane had attended “40 to 50 sessions pertaining to anger management,” the panel noted Lane’s testimony revealed her “misconduct was not an aberration.”

“She spent a great deal of maligning others and presenting numerous excuses for maligning Judge Finnegan. It also concerns us that (Lane) called one of the administrator’s questions ‘so stupid,’” the panel wrote.

The Illinois Supreme Court still must review the panel’s recommendation. Whatever the high court decides, it’s hard to dispute the notion that Lane would have been better served by filing her messages in her desk rather than sending them to the target of her ire.

Jim Dey, a member of The News-Gazette staff, can be reached at jdey@news-gazette.com or 217-393-8251.

via The News-Gazette

November 30, 2021 at 08:31AM

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