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Federal Judge Reminds Lawyers ‘This Trial Is Not a Playground’

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Federal Judge Reminds Lawyers ‘This Trial Is Not a Playground’

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Update: A federal judge in Colorado has warned attorneys for parties to a business dispute that he will not “sit back in the face of further vilification.”

Senior U.S. District Judge William J. Martinez of the District of Colorado addressed the attorney’s conduct in the “final thoughts” section of the May 18 order denying both parties’ motions.

Law360 has coverage.

The motions, according to Martinez, “highlight a disturbing trend in the behavior of the lawyer in this case.”

“Litigation by its very nature involves conflict, but the lawyer took it to the extreme,” Martinez said. “Lawyers are officials of the court and are expected to recognize the great gulf between zealous advocacy and defiance.”

Martínez rejected a “motion for demonstration of authority”, which he interpreted as a motion for summary judgment that was filed too late. And he denied a motion to recuse one of the lawyers because it was filed only a year after the allegedly conflicting lawyer entered the case.

“A party cannot simply exercise the known right to disqualify the opposing attorney until the right moment,” Martinez wrote.

Martinez found this alleged behavior disturbing:

The lawyers “repeatedly accused each other of inappropriate actions, thereby further escalating tensions.” The attorneys for the case failed to meet and confer in good faith, leading the Justice of the Peace to order them to record their meetings and provide the records in case of discovery disputes. The lawyer against whom the challenge was filed responded with a motion to challenge the opposing lawyer. In an email correspondence relating to the discovery controversy, plaintiffs’ attorney Joshua Lacks wrote to defense attorney Rachel Crockett that his law firm staff “remains shocked at the content and content of (Crockett’s) messages.” He also said that Crockett’s previous email was “oddly controversial and insincere”. Crockett responded that the “tenor and tone” of Lux’s email distressed her, and said that his suggestion of a “reboot” of the relationship was “disingenuous”.

Martinez said he was “struck by the divisiveness and aggressively personal nature” of the email exchanges.

“The Court also cannot ignore the remarkably similar choice of words by Lux and Crockett,” Martinez wrote. “From this, the court can only conclude that this inappropriate exchange is the legal equivalent of the familiar schoolyard refrain: “I know you are, but who am I?” Counsel should not be reminded that this trial is not a playground.”

Martinez then warned that “continued unprofessional behavior of this nature” could prompt him to file a complaint with the District Court’s Conduct Committee “among other possible sanctions.”

Lux’s LinkedIn profile states that he is a lawyer for DiCello Levitt Gutzler in New York. However, he is no longer listed as an attorney on the firm’s website, and the person who answered the call said he no longer works there. He did not immediately respond to a message left on the number and email address provided by the New York courts.

Crockett is an employee of Lloyd & Mousilli. Lema Barazi, a partner at the firm, answered questions from the ABA Journal via email. The questions and answers are:

ABA Journal: Crockett agrees that the email exchange was wrong?

Barazi: As Judge Martinez noted, he was struck by the contentious and aggressively personal nature of the exchange. We were too. We believe that Ms. Crockett’s response to Mr. Lax’s scathing email was professional and measured.

ABA Journal: Crockett disagrees with Judge Martinez?

Barazi: Judge Martinez is experienced, intelligent, manages an efficient and fair court and is highly respected for good reason. Neither Miss Crockett nor I intend to disagree with him. However, we regret that we have been joined with the plaintiffs’ attorney.

ABA Journal: Is Crockett still on the case?

Barazi: Of course.

ABA Journal: What’s the next step?

Barazi: The next step is to choose a jury and win this case, which Ms. Crockett and I are looking forward to.

ABA Journal: Does Crockett have a different reaction?

Barazi: There is very little going on in this case other than the particular order that caught your attention. With all due respect to the ABA Journal, we’re not going to sue over this. Instead, we’ll rely on what’s going on in the courtroom and what’s on the record, which includes the attached order, issued just a few days before the one you’re asking about.

The email attachment was a May 1 order from Martinez to impose monetary sanctions on Lax for serving a subpoena after the disclosure deadline. He will have to pay the opposing attorney’s fees related to the subpoena and petition for sanctions.

Updated May 24 at 2:25 pm to include comments by Lema Barazi of Lloyd & Mousilli.

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