Attorney Misconduct vs. Unsportsmanlike Conduct: Don't be a Saint

By Robyn Hagan Cain on December 29, 2011 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

In case you didn't see it, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals' hometown team, the New Orleans Saints, won the NFC South title on Monday night with a 45-16 win over the Eleventh Circuit's Atlanta Falcons. Quarterback Drew Brees added to the excitement of the win, setting a new, NFL, single-season passing record.

And while Brees' record-breaking pass is the most talked-about moment of the game, running back Pierre Thomas' first-quarter antics have also created buzz. After scoring the Saints' first touchdown of the game, Thomas pulled a bow out of his uniform, stuck it on the ball, and gave it to a fan, resulting in a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.

For Southern lawyers, known for their courtroom panache, Thomas' antics were one of the highlights of the game, even if he violated unsportsmanlike conduct rules. But lawyers, unlike football players, risk far more than field position when sanctioned for attorney misconduct.

If an attorney's state law license is withdrawn or suspended, the attorney may also be suspended or disbarred for the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals bar under Fifth Circuit Local Rule 46.2.

What kind of conduct should you avoid? State professional conduct rules in the Fifth Circuit's three states - Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas, prohibit the following:

  • Violating or attempting to violate the Rules of Professional Conduct, knowingly assisting or inducing another to do so, or doing so through the acts of another
  • Committing a criminal act, especially one that reflects adversely on the lawyer's honesty, trustworthiness or fitness
  • Engaging in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation
  • Engaging in conduct that is prejudicial to the administration of justice
  • Stating or implying an ability to influence improperly a judge, judicial officer, governmental agency or official or to achieve results by means that violate the Rules of Professional Conduct or other law
  • Knowingly assisting a judge or judicial officer in conduct that is a violation of applicable Rules of Judicial Conduct or other law
  • Threatening to present criminal or disciplinary charges solely to obtain an advantage in a civil matter

In addition to the basic professional conduct rules, appellate attorneys must comply with local circuit rules, including frivolous appeal rules. (Federal appellate courts have been known to impose sanctions on attorneys who file frivolous appeals.)

Our tip for Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals practitioners? Don't be tempted to live out your NFL fantasies with excessive displays of flare in the courtroom or in your briefs. Dial down the drama, and avoid attorney misconduct sanctions.

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