"I'm from Brooklyn," says lawyer Sue Parisien. "I don't rattle easily." Yet she confesses to being frightened a few weeks back when, in a Pierce County personal injury trial stemming from a car accident, her opposing counsel announced he had a gun and was going to "shoot up the whole f...ing place."
At least Parisien, a candidate for King County Superior Court judge and a former state assistant attorney general, thinks so. Speaking to Seattle Weekly after a judicial candidates forum yesterday, Parisien says she's seen an increase in "unprofessionalism and troubling incidents" among lawyers over the past four or five years. She says she's heard the same from other attorneys around the state.
Parisien says she can't disclose many details about the Pierce County incident because she is in the process of reporting it to the Washington State Bar, which is responsible for disciplining lawyers. What she does say is that the menacing attorney in question enjoys a reputation as a successful advocate who often wins large awards for his clients.
In this case, he was representing a plaintiff asking for a million-dollar-plus award, and was ticked off when the judge ruled on a crucial matter in Parisien's favor. Having recently left the attorney general's office, Parisien was representing a trucking company and driver.
Just a few months before that, Parisien says she was on the receiving end of a nasty attack from her opposing counsel in a different case. When she said she couldn't get across Snoqualmie Pass in a snowstorm to attend a deposition, nor make it the next day because she had a breast cancer check up and in any case lacked childcare, the attorney wrote her a letter saying she was playing the helpless-female, single-parent, breast-cancer-survivor, have-pity-on-me card. He also tried to have her sanctioned.
"I thought that was pretty sexist," says Parisien, noting that such is a recurring theme in the new lawyer-on-lawyer hostility.
Apparently, judges are not immune from this trend. So implied King County Bar Association president Richard Mitchell, who moderated the forum, and noted a number of cases in which both judges and lawyers had engaged in unethical behavior. He asked the candidates whether they would be willing to use disciplinary procedures in such situations.
Asked for more information after the forum, Mitchell is hesitant to single people out. But he says the cases have sometimes involved "judges speaking inappropriately" to the lawyers or litigants that appear before them.
"If we don't start self-policing, I think that's a problem," Mitchell says. Yet, he says that many of the judicial candidates were more "equivocal" than he expected on the topic.
"The question you ask is a difficult one," said Judy Ramseyer. "It requires tact and some judgment." Many said they would talk to the offending lawyer or go to a supervisor before reporting someone to the state bar.
The legal profession, as Mitchell observes, may be losing its "genteel aspect" in some respects, but it's apparently still reluctant to push anybody out of the club.