The Courthouse: Still Not a Good Place to Assault Someone

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Tempers do flare from time to time when practicing law, and sometimes conflict is unavoidable.  But there are still a few basic rules that you really must observe:

  1. In modern-day practice, engaging in fisticuffs is generally considered unprofessional.
  2. If you are determined to engage in fisticuffs, the courthouse itself is a poor choice of location.  In fact, it should not be on your short list at all.
  3. Speaking of short lists, avoid altercations with (a) judges and (b) prosecutors in addition to (c) deputies or really anyone who is armed with more than a briefcase.

On June 1, the Portland Oregonian reported that an attorney there had gotten in a scuffle with an administrative law judge.  The two apparently have a long history of friction, with Judge Dan Hyatt accusing Dan Bernath of "assaultive behavior" and Bernath accusing Hyatt of unprofessional conduct.  Bernath has filed multiple complaints with the state bar, all of which were dismissed although one led the Social Security Administration to later find Hyatt had broken some of its rules.  Some have suggested Bernath is a bit of a crank with a hot temper, who was once (according to the Oregon Bar) sanctioned for bringing a concealed weapon to a deposition.  (Bernath said he had a permit.)  Hyatt no longer hears cases in which Bernath is involved, but unfortunately they sometimes must use the same elevator.

What exactly happened on March 31 remains in dispute, except that both men agree there was chest-bumping.  Whoever started the fight, Bernath ended up getting arrested, which might mean he was the aggressor or might just be an example of why Rule 3(a) above is a good idea.  Bernath has been charged with disorderly conduct for the elevator fracas, but says he is planning to sue Hyatt. That should cool things down.

Then there was Henry Hams, who allegedly violated Rules 3(b) and (c) in Chicago recently.  Hams, who the report describes as a "public defender and boxer," was charged with aggravated battery in a public place.  The public place was a courthouse and the guy he was aggravated at was a prosecutor.  According to the report, the scuffle resulted from an argument over a hearing date that then "spilled out" from the courtroom into the hallway and became a physical fight.  Police said Hams put the prosecutor in a "choking headlock" and that it took two deputies to separate them.  One of the deputies suffered a minor injury, and the prosecutor was treated at a local hospital and released.

The Sun-Times obviously made some effort to run down the boxing angle of this story, tracking down records that showed Hams got a one-year license to box professionally in 2006, and sending a reporter down to his boxing club to confirm that Hams had been seen "working out at the club from time to time."  Sounds to me like somebody has seen "Raging Bull" a few too many times, but was unable to make that angle work here.

Link: Chicago Sun-Times