Inside Baseball, but it is the Supreme Court

Like many other courts, the Supreme Court can also mete out discipline against misbehaving lawyers who are/were before it.

The court has now decide to make the disciplinary docket public:

Beginning on February 1, the Supreme Court will publicly disclose documents on actions it is considering or taking to discipline lawyers who are members of its bar, a process long shielded in privacy, the Court announced on Tuesday. Currently, that file is treated as confidential, although final disciplinary actions are made public along with regular orders on pending cases. In the new arrangement, attorneys involved in a case may ask to keep their response confidential, in whole or in part.

Under the new disclosure policy, the Court’s announcement made clear, public availability of that docket will be the general rule. It will apply to documents filed after February 1. But if there are reasons to keep an attorney’s response confidential, that will be considered on a case-by-case basis, if sought by the lawyer involved. Typically, a lawyer is notified that potential disciplinary action is being considered by way of a “show cause” order, to which the lawyer then has a chance to respond and to argue against a disciplinary order.

One of the Court’s most noteworthy disciplinary cases now unfolding involves a “show cause” order issued on December 8, involving a Washington, D.C., attorney, Howard Neil Shipley. The order told him to respond within forty days on why he should not be sanctioned for his handling of a specific petition for review. There was no explanation of why that document may have involved a breach of either the Court’s rules or ethical rules. The petition at issue was rambling and, at several points, nearly incoherent. There was an indication that a non-lawyer may have had a central role in its drafting.

The reason that this is significant is that it is highly likely that this change in policy will work it way down to lower courts, and the law “profession” is sorely in need of sunlight on issues of ethics, which is typically handled ways that serve members of the state bars more than the interest of their clients.

The filing in question was in Sigram Schindler Beteiligungsgesellschaft MBH v. Lee, (copy and paste is your friend) a patent case, and it appears that the filing was basically gibberish.

Someone on/around SCOTUS has decided that there is a significant possibility that much of the brief was written by the holder of one of the patents at issue, and that Mr. Shipley simply put his name on it without any meaningful review.

Still, it’s kind of weird.

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