Lawyers & Judges “Stealing” the Spotlight
We often hear stories about when the integrity of lawyers and judges (who are also usually lawyers) has been severely compromised. It is no wonder that lawyers, and legal professionals generally, suffer from a terrible public perception.
One only needs to browse the headlines of national news sources for examples:
- An Arizona lawyer, Jeffrey Greenberg, stole $33.6 million in a real estate fraud case involving bogus court filings, which is just one instance in recent years of a number of real estate lawyers having been embroiled in mortgage fraud cases. (Read here.)
- A New York lawyer is charged with grand larceny for stealing $587k in Brooklyn real estate proceeds from the estate of deceased New York judge John Phillips, Jr., including writing over 300 checks for personal expenses against a $737,000 escrow deposit from a prospective buyer. (Read here.)
- A now-suspended federal judge Joseph O’Neill, who lied to the FBI, is forced to plead guilty after an incriminating record phone conversation is revealed. Related to this sting operation, other judges have been suspended or are facing legal ethics lawsuits as part of a federal investigation to uncover favorable treatment of a political supporter of former Judge Joseph Waters. (Read here.)
- A Florida lawyer and lobbyist, Alan Koslow, is charged with conspiracy to commit money laundering (involving two undercover FBI agents) and is forced to resign from well-known firm Becker & Poliakoff. (Read here.)
It is hard not to assume that the above instances are representative of the legal profession as a whole. However, statistics show that these instances are anomalies, but they make great headlines. Understanding this point requires knowing that there are roughly 1.3 million lawyers in the United States (that is 4 lawyers per every 1000 people). Remember, all lawyers and judges take oaths to protect the laws and maintain the integrity of the judicial system. As an example, the California Attorney’s Oath is as follows:
“I solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of California, and that I will faithfully discharge the duties of an attorney and counselor at law to the best of my knowledge and ability.” 
Additionally, all lawyers and judges are subject to an array of ethical rules and professional codes. States have their own individual codes of professionalism to which its lawyers must abide. For judges, Model Rules for Judicial Conduct exist. Judges are also subject to various judicial canons, the first four of which are as follows:
- CANON 1 : A judge shall uphold and promote the independence, integrity, and impartiality of the judiciary, and shall avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety.
- CANON 2: A judge shall perform the duties of judicial office impartially, competently, and diligently.
- CANON 3: A judge shall conduct the judge’s personal and extrajudicial activities to minimize the risk of conflict with the obligations of judicial office.
- CANON 4: A judge or candidate for judicial office shall not engage in political or campaign activity that is inconsistent with the independence, integrity, or impartiality of the judiciary.
Moreover, there is a State Bar that oversees its lawyers in each state. All State Bar members (all lawyers licensed to practice in the state) are considered officers of the court. The State Bar of California was created in 1927 as a public corporation within the judicial branch of government to serve as an arm of the California Supreme Court. It has an “integrated network of functions and services—many of them mandated by law—[that] protects the public and assists attorneys in meeting their professional obligations. Other State Bars throughout the U.S. have the similar functions, services, and purposes.
While the above stories may be reprehensible, one should always remember there is another side to each story. Further, the adversarial nature of the American legal system means that in almost every case the losing side often ends up with a distaste for both their own lawyer(s) and their opponent. Let that sink in for a moment: in almost every case, half of the parties will end up disliking 100% of the lawyers involved. This error in perception—and a few terribly bad apples—greatly detracts from the fact that most in the legal profession are more than competent and take their oath and duties very seriously.
Lastly, I leave you with two stories that gave me a chuckle. First, Nevada Judge Conrad Hafen ordered assistant public defender Zohra Bakhtary to be handcuffed next to inmates in jail garb to teach her proper court decorum because she kept talking over him. (Read here and here.) And second, sometimes when one doesn’t understand what is going on in the legal system—or, let’s say, in a courthouse, why not blame a ghost? (Read here.)
— By Keobopha Keopong, Esq., Barnes Law
Keo Keopong is an associate attorney with Barnes Law, licensed to practice law in California.
The opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the firm, its clients, or any of its or their respective affiliates. This article is for general information purposes and is not intended to be and should not be taken as legal advice.
 Business and Professions Code Section 6068, “Duties of Attorney”: https://www.calbarxap.com/applications/calbar/pdfs/code_section_6068.pdf