Vulgarity Gets Lawyer in Trouble
A recent incident in San Diego County Superior Court is a reminder of an older California Court of Appeal case, People v. Chong, wherein the Court stated, “it is vital to the integrity of our adversary legal process that attorneys strive to maintain the highest standards of ethics, civility, and professionalism in the practice of law. In order to instill public confidence in the legal profession and our judicial system, an attorney must be an example of lawfulness, not lawlessness.”
In Veronica Doyle v. Vault PK (37-2018-00016374-CU-PO-CTL), San Diego Superior Court Judge Eddie C. Sturgeon filed a discipline referral with the State Bar of California against attorney Timothy Allen Scott for inappropriate courtroom behavior directed toward two female opposing counsel.
After opposing counsel successfully pursued a nonsuit motion—effectively ending Mr. Scott’s clients’ case—Mr. Scott addressed the court by thanking the court and its staff. When it came time to address the opposing attorneys, Mr. Scott stated, “[a]nd I want to say, ‘Have a good weekend to both MTS counsel. I’ll see you next Tuesday. See you next Tuesday.’ [Emphasis added.]”
This slur, dating back to at least the 90s, is often written out as “C U Next Tuesday” so that the first letter of each word spells an offensive term often used as a vulgarity when referring to female genitalia.
Judge Sturgeon admitted that he was initially unaware of the euphemism and even responded “How kind” when Mr. Scott initially made the comment. However, it was later brought to his attention by one of the targeted female opposing attorneys. When confronted on his use of the term, Mr. Scott admitted he knew full well the meaning of the slur. However, Mr. Scott was clearly mistaken in believing this—commonly known—slur was only an “inside joke” that would go undetected by all who heard it.
Judge Sturgeon’s order designated Mr. Scott’s “inside joke” as an “egregious and offensive insult” and cited People v. Chong stating, “[i]t is vital to the integrity of our adversary legal process that attorneys strive to maintain the highest standards of ethics, civility, and professionalism in the practice of law.”
Mr. Scott—in a statement of contrition—stated, “I am deeply embarrassed and repeat the apology I made to opposing counsel. This was not consistent with my values. I offer no excuses.” However, this was not enough to prevent Judge Sturgeon from filing a discipline referral with the State Bar of California.
Lesson of the story, folks: attorney breaches of professionalism in the courtroom (and beyond) possibly come with attorney discipline charges.