Lawyer Breaks Etiquette Rule #1, Talks Smack About Judge to Judge

By Betty Wang, JD on October 10, 2013 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Here's a good, old-fashioned lesson in etiquette for you -- don't talk smack about someone. Especially to the actual subject. The email version of this happened recently when lawyer and former state bar president Warren Whitted Jr. emailed some of his associates after an oral argument, the ABA Journal reports.

"You did a great job and dealt with some ill-conceived and uninformed questions very well," Whitted wrote.

That doesn't sound too bad, right? Here's the clincher: the email was not only sent to a group of attorneys, but it was accidentally copied to Chief Justice Michael Heavican, who was one of the state court of appeals judge.


Remedying the Situation

Whitted must have noticed his faux pas fairly quickly, because within hours, an apologetic response was zipped off to Heavican (directly, and only him this time). "The comments were not directed at you, and I intended no disrespect to the court," Whitted claimed in the email, according to the ABA.

Too little, too late, though? It may not be so bad, after all, especially considering that the general tone and approach Whitted used was tame and professional enough, for the most part. However, the fact still remains that, if not Judge Heavican, Whitted thought somebody on the bench was a little dim.

Ex-Parte Communication

Chief Justice Heavican then felt he was obliged to disclose the email as an ex-parte communication regarding the subject matter of the pending case. His full disclosure essentially stated that after being made aware of the contents of the communication, this new knowledge wouldn't affect his deliberations. He also asked if there were any objections to his continued involvement in the case.

A separate response from the bar association was filed, as well, wherein two attorneys stated that the initial email sent out by Whitter was entirely his own personal feelings and that Heavican did not need to step aside.

All's well that ends well? For the most part. Lesson learned for Whitted and for all you other fine legal folks out there, as well -- always double check who is in your recipient list before you hit send.

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