Since November 2016, many a Trump-hater has attributed various flavors of rude behavior to the new standards set by our boorish commander-in-chief. Vulgar as Donald Trump may be though, I often dismiss those attributions as little more than liberal hyperbole. This time, however, the offender was clear: he’ll act like a jackass, and he’ll do it because of Trump.
Chicago lawyer Charles Andrew Cohn was conducting a deposition in an insurance defense case when this exchange happened with “KH,” opposing counsel in the case:
KH: So no one provided you any vehicle to use during your work for TEKsystems; is that correct?
Plaintiff/Witness: That question is vague.
Cohn: And I will object.
KH: Well, would you answer.
Cohn: It’s ridiculous, just ridiculous. It goes beyond — I’ll object and direct you not to answer.
KH: Will you answer the question?
KH: Certify the question.
Cohn: Okay. Then certify your own stupidity at this point.
KH: Counsel, I’m not going to sit here and take insults from you.
Cohn: At this point in time, a man who insults on a daily basis everybody he does business with has now been elected President of the United States. The standards have changed. I’ll say what I want.
After another rather typical dispute in deposition questioning, Cohn made a further eerily Trumpian comment, threatening his opposing counsel (a woman) thusly:
Cohn: Motions for sanctions; indicate that on the record. I’m going to get sanctions against your firm like you wouldn’t believe, bitch.
Litigation can often get heated, and intense arguments during depositions are nothing unusual. However, attorneys rarely hurl on-the-record insults at opposing counsel. In fact, the Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct dictate that all lawyers “should demonstrate respect for the legal system and for those who serve it, including judges, other lawyers and public officials,” should uphold decorum during depositions, and should refrain from embarrassing intimidating opposing counsel.
Cohn’s inappropriate behavior didn’t stop in the deposition room, either. When opposing counsel brought the matter before Judge Franklin Valderrama, the judge gave Cohn something of a tongue-lashing for his comments; Cohn not only held his ground, but also accused the judge of wrongdoing. Cohn dismissed the judge’s admonishments as “robe rage,” and complained that the entire incident “calls into question the impartiality of the tribunal.” He even remarked that the judge’s job is “to put out fires rather than pour oil on the flames.”
The Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission has now filed an ethical complaint against Cohn for his unprofessional behavior. I expect that’ll go well.
For those who have never deposed a witness before, let me say this: it’s not a good look to insult your adversary. But if you get caught in a moment of lost self-control, just shut up. Do not accuse the judge of being biased. Just. Stop. Talking. Oh, and while we’re on the subject of whether President Trump has changed the standards of decency for legal practitioners, now is a good time to remind everyone that Trump isn’t a lawyer. Carry on.
This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of just the author.