The Delaware Court of Chancery recently had occasion to describe the important norms that lawyers are expected to follow, and the minimum standards of attorney conduct imposed on both Delaware and non-Delaware counsel who enter their appearance in a matter before the Court. See Lendus, LLC v. Goede, C.A. 2018-0233-SG (Del. Ch. Dec. 10, 2018).
This case is noteworthy for a few reasons. In addition to the recitation of basic principles on which the practice of law is based, the decision provides citations to authority and quotable excerpts for use in a brief when issues of attorney conduct arise. The behavior involved in this case was egregious, and it serves as a reminder of the outer limits of conduct that will not be tolerated, for example during depositions and during other interactions among counsel and clients.
This case also serves as a reminder that in Delaware the trial courts do not view themselves–in the first instance–as enforcers of all the rules of professional conduct for lawyers–unless a violation interferes with the administration of justice in the litigation–though they may, as in this case, refer the matter to the Office of Disciplinary Counsel, which is an arm of the Delaware Supreme Court, or the analogous agency in other states when the conduct of an non-Delaware attorney is an issue.
The court begins the opinion by citing another case that exhorts attorneys to: “think twice, three times, four times, perhaps even more” before seeking sanctions against other attorneys for inappropriate conduct. Both parties in this case filed cross-motions for sanctions, but the court found only one of them to be warranted.
The court emphasizes in its introduction that it derives no pleasure in criticizing others because judges understand the “pressures and frustrations of practice.” The court also referred to members of the bench as not being above reproach, with the following phrase: “None of our own eyes being timber-free….” See page 2.
In sum, without dwelling on the embarrassing details, if an attorney’s conduct is truly egregious enough, this decision provides the authority and reasoning to address the problem, especially if that attorney is admitted pro hac vice.