Friday, September 3, 2010

Do Not Blow Off Hearings In Federal Court, uh, Any Court!

An Alabama attorney is scrambling after missing two hearings in federal court.  The irate U.S. District judge has issued an order indefinitely suspending John Wayne Boone from practicing in federal court.  Here's the story from the Press Register:

A federal judge here has indefinitely banned a local lawyer from practicing in U.S. District Court after he missed two scheduled court hearings.   John Wayne Boone, who was representing a defendant in a drug case, asked U.S. District Judge Kristi DuBose (pic) today to reconsider her decision. The order affects defendants in five or six other federal cases he is handling.   Boone wrote that he was busy dealing with the illness and death of his mother, as well as a health issue of his own when he missed the hearings.
'I had a death in the family. My mom died and I was out of the office for three days,' he said in an interview.  After that, Boone said, he thought he was having a heart attack and spent three days in the hospital.  'It was a double-whammy,' he said.  Boone was representing Troung L Le, a defendant accused of participating in a wide-ranging conspiracy to sell the club drug Ecstasy.  

[Judge] DuBose suspended Boone last week after he failed to appear with his client at a scheduled plea hearing on Aug. 23. She scheduled another hearing for Aug. 25 for Boone to explain his absence. Le attended that hearing, but Boone did not.

'Mr. Boone’s failures to appear at the August 23 plea hearing and the August 25 show-cause hearing were in bad faith,'  [judge  DuBose wrote.   Boone said he was upset by that contention. 'Nothing could be further from the truth,' he said.

Boone’s trouble began when he missed a status conference with U.S. Magistrate Judge Sonja Bivins on Aug. 9. Boone told Bivins that he was having trouble with the court’s electronic filing system, according to court records, and Bivins told him to familiarize himself with the system.

Boone said that his mother became ill and went into the hospital during the first week of August and died on Aug. 19. That was the Thursday before the scheduled Aug. 23 plea hearing. Boone said he was waiting for prosecutors to send a written offer for a plea bargain.  Assistant U.S. Attorney Gloria Bedwell e-mailed the proposed plea agreement to Boone on Aug. 20, according to DuBose’s order. She wrote that Boone received notice both via e-mail and orally from Bivins of the Aug. 23 date for the plea hearing.

Boone said that he was busy on Aug. 20 making arrangements for the funeral, which was held on Aug. 21.  'I just buried my mother, and I took that pretty hard,' he said.

On the day DuBose issued her contempt order, Aug. 26, Boone -- who had triple-bypass surgery in February, 2007 -- went to the hospital with chest pains. Boone, said he did not return to the office until Wednesday, and did not know about the Aug. 25 hearing.

'I take care of my business, but I’m a sole practitioner," he said. 'I would have been there if I knew.'  Meanwhile, [Judge] DuBose postponed Le’s case until October and appointed a new lawyer to represent him. Boone said Le has refused to talk to the new attorney."
Lawyers are licensed by your State Bar, but to practice in federal court requires special admission. 

I doubt that this is Mr. Boone's first go round in the "missed" hearing business.  He must have a track record to motivate Judge DuBose to bring the gavel down on his federal court practice.  But I can assure you there is no worse feeling in the pit of your stomach than to miss any scheduled court hearing--let alone a federal court proceeding.

There are a number of lawyers in and around OurState who are notoriously late for court, in fact a friend of mine has a vanity plate: L84CRT.  Some lawyers are so openly late for certain sorts of administrative hearings that others adjust their schedules in anticipation of the late arrival of opposing counsel.  I was always amazed at the brazenness of these habits, thinking that the alienation doubtlessly experienced by the administrative law judges had to effect outcomes for their clients. I don't like the message you send to your client and colleagues by customarily being late. 


  1. BL, Being late to court was a continuing habit for me. Now that I am clean, I see how disrespectful it is, making everyone wait just because I overbooked my docket or just because I thought I was a self-important big shot. It was selfish. The final straw was when I stumbled into appeals court a half hour late for an oral argument, I couldn't call because my cell phone was dead. I looked like a total idiot and got a bar complaint out of it.

  2. This is quite curious, since most federal district judges seem to prefer to keep parties at a distance, considering motions only from written briefs, without any oral hearing at all.

  3. Thanks for the observations, in my career, my experience did not mirror yours. When I was in federal court, the Judges did set and conduct hearings and conferences regularly--I think primarily as a spur to settlement. I know I talked about the legendary Judge John Monomaniacal (visually a cross between Mr. Clean and Aristotle Onasis)--famous for calling lawyers up and suggesting that they missed or were late for hearings that they may or may not have been late for...and other intimidation tactics. I had a wrongful death case in front of him removed to federal court on Erisa pre-emption because I stumbled into health care law involving a health insurance "gate keeper" that we alleged committed med mal. In any event I was astounded at Judge Monomaniacal's manner with lawyers, I should say--I'm marked for life.