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California Attorney Ordered By Court To Pay Donation to Women Lawyers’ Professional Group As Sanction For Sexist Comments

10 Indest-2008-7By George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health

A medical group defense attorney in California, Peter Bertling, was ordered on Tuesday, January 12, 2016, by U.S. Magistrate Judge Paul S. Grewal, to pay a $250 donation to the Women Lawyers’ Association. The ruling was in response to a sexist comment made by Bertling to opposing counsel, Lori Rifkin, during a heated deposition.

Additionally, Judge Grewal sanctioned Bertling’s clients, California Forensic Medical Group and Dr. Taylor Fithian, ordering them to pay attorneys’ fees and costs for certain depositions and the motion for sanctions.

Rifkin was representing the family of a 20-year-old man, Joshua Claypole, who hanged himself in a California prison. For more on the Claypole case and to view the complaint, click here. Rifkin stated she was insisting Bertling stop interrupting her during the deposition before his sordid comment. Bertling claimed Rifkin was “literally yelling” during the deposition before he remarked, “Don’t raise your voice at me… it’s not becoming of a woman.”

Although Bertling stated in his declaration in opposition to the motion for sanctions that he was sorry if he offended plaintiff’s counsel, Judge Grewal did not find his apology to be genuine,calling it a “halfhearted politician’s apology.”

Bertling is a “Repeat Offender.”

This is not the first time Judge Grewal had witnessed unbecoming behavior by Bertling during the wrongful death case. Judge Grewal’s order addressed a pattern of “bad” behavior by Bertling during the discovery process of the case. One example cited is from a previous deposition where Bertling was expected to produce documents used to create the expert’s report. Instead, Bertling provided the plaintiff’s with a defective disc that was unable to be used. Six months down the road, Bertling was still in noncompliance with the production of the requested documents.

Judge Grewal noted that Bertling was well-known for his crass behavior during depositions. During one such prior deposition, he made lengthy objections, interrupted answers from the witness being deposed and even proffered his own answers for the witness. Furthermore, Bertling failed to render any defense for his ill-fitting conduct.

Judge Grewal asserted that Bertling’s persistent behavior had “crossed well into sanctionable territory.” He said that while one could simply view Bertling’s actions as fervently defending his client, he “stooped to an indefensible attack” with his comment to Rifkin. To read the entirety of the order issued by Judge Grewal, click here.

Integrity in the Legal Process is a Must.

The Florida Bar has created a set of rules of professional conduct expected of all lawyers.
Chapter 4 of the Florida Bar rules, in the “Preamble: A Lawyer’s Responsibilities,” states inpart, “In all professional functions a lawyer should be competent, prompt, and diligent.” It further states, “A lawyer should use the law’s procedures only for legitimate purposes and not to harass or intimidate others. A lawyer should demonstrate respect for the legal system and for those who serve it, including judges, other lawyers, and public officials… it is also a lawyer’s duty to uphold the legal process.”

As far as zealously defending clients, the preamble further states, “A lawyer’s responsibilities as a representative of clients, an officer of the legal system, and a public citizen are usually harmonious. Zealous advocacy is not inconsistent with justice.”
The rules state, “Failure to comply with an obligation or prohibition imposed by a rule is a basis for invoking the disciplinary process… the rules presuppose that whether discipline should be imposed for a violation, and the severity of a sanction, depend on all the circumstances…”

To read chapter 4 of the Florida Bar rules in its entirety, click here.

In this particular circumstance, Judge Grewal said, “There are several obvious problems with his statement, but, most saliently, Bertling endorsed the stereotype that women are subject to a different standard of behavior than their fellow attorneys.”
Rifkin commented, “If we are going to rely on federal courts to dole out justice, then they have to be places that vigorously ensure integrity in the judicial process. Judge Grewal’s order recognizes that.”

Comments?

Do you believe the sanctions imposed on Attorney Bertling were fair? Do you have certain
expectations of attorneys when looking to retain legal representation? Is an attorney’s
behavior/conduct/demeanor most important to you when searching for legal counsel? Have you ever had a bad experience with a past attorney? Please leave any thoughtful comments
below.

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Sources:

Greene, Kat. “Calif. Atty Sanctioned For Sexist Deposition Comment.” Law360. Portfolio
Media Inc.: 13 Jan. 2016. Web. 21 Jan. 2016.

“Chapter 4. Rules of Professional Conduct. Preamble: A Lawyer’s Responsibilities.” The
Florida Bar: 4 Dec. 2015. Web. 21 Jan. 2016.

About the Author: George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., is Board Certified by The
Florida Bar in Health Law. He is the President and Managing Partner of The Health Law
Firm, which has a national practice. Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida area.
www.TheHealthLawfirm.com The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Ave., Altamonte Springs, FL 32714, Phone; (407) 331-6620.

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