In one of the most hotly contested medical malpractice cases in recent memory, Tennessee attorney Sadler Bailey found himself in hot water for ignoring a judge’s instructions to refrain from speaking objections and criticizing rulings. Bailey was representing an eight year old victim of a traumatic birth injury against a large medical facility. The case endured over 740 pleadings and generated a high level of animosity between the lawyers. There were accusations of misrepresentations, bullying, and outright lying throughout the filings.
In light of the well-documented animosity between the parties, the trial court sought to establish control early, admonishing the parties prior to opening statement to “Stand up, say objection, and sit down”. During the defense opening statement Bailey objected 12 times, almost all of the speaking variety. The Court called a sidebar and instructed Bailey to allow the defense to finish uninterrupted. Bailey objected two additional times.
So began a litany of commentary during which Bailey began to verbally detail his displeasure with the trial Judge. These tirades included explaining that when the judge did not spend the time on the law she “almost always gets it wrong”, was on pace “to set a world record for reversible error”, categorized the courts rulings as “crazy”, and stated that the Judge “didn’t care” and that her positions were “bizarre”. The Court tired of the commentary and eventually granted a mistrial.
This was apparently not the first time Bailey had expressed his feelings in the Memphis courthouse. In addressing defense counsel when the motion for mistrial was initially denied the judge stated: “if the courts of Shelby County were to grant a mistrial every time Mr. Bailey gets on his soapbox he would never try another case…” It was only after the conduct continued that the court reversed itself and granted the motion.
Both defense counsel and the trial judge filed complaints with the Office of Disciplinary Counsel. A hearing panel found Bailey had violated several Rules of Professional Conduct and suspended him for 60 days. Bailey was not impressed. In an interview with the Commercial Appeal he indicated that “if I’m unsuccessful on appeal. I will be sitting on a beach for 60 days with a coconut rum and enjoying the time with my children… but I will not be remorseful”.
In the first level of appeal Baily had some level of success. The Chancery Court agreed as to the violations, but they lowered the sanction to a public censure. He was not as successful at the next level. The Tennessee Supreme Court reversed the Chancery Court, finding that Bailey had been disrespectful and echoing the Hearing Panels finding that abusing or insulting the court to obtain favorable rulings cannot be tolerated; adding that attorneys play an integral role in the judicial system and should “respect the line separating, in the judicial context, tolerable criticism from unacceptable speech”. The high court reinstated the suspension and noted that the ABA Standards state that a suspension should be for no less than six months.
To review the opinion click here.