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A Denver, Colo., lawyer was suspended and ordered to undergo sensitivity training after calling a judge a “gay fat fag” in an email to his clients.
Robert E. Abrams was given a three-month suspension from practicing law after a disciplinary judge found he had violated Colorado’s Rules of Professional Conduct.
However, the suspension was stayed pending completion of an 18-month probationary period, in which Abrams must attend an ethics school and eight hours of cultural awareness and sensitivity training.
Abrams made the comments about Judge Phillip Douglass in an email to a married couple he was representing in a construction contract lawsuit, according to court documents.
After attending a case management conference, in which Abrams accused Douglass of being “brash and arrogant and condescending,” the couple emailed Abrams to ask why he had waived a jury trial.
Abrams responded: “[We] don’t want to be yelled at by this judge for two days in front of the jury.”
When they asked what had happened to cause such animosity between Abrams and Douglass, he replied, “The judge hates me. It happens, it’s not the first time. I probably remind him of someone who beat him up [when he] was a fat kid and now that he’s a big fat judge he gets even w/ the bullies. Maybe he just hates Jews, who knows?”
Asked for further information about the case, Abrams called Douglass “Fatso” and said, “The judge is a gay, fat, fag, now it’s out there.”
However, at his disciplinary hearing, Abrams argued that his use of “fag” wasn’t intended to be homophobic, but to imply that Douglass was a weakling.
“[T]hat’s how the bullies talked to the weaklings when I grew up,” he claimed, adding that he used weakling, gay, and fag interchangeably with “homo” during his youth.
“All of these insults describe a sissy, not a ‘sex preference,’ [Abrams]
claimed,” according to the disciplinary report. “He also insisted that he never used the term at any other time during the representation.”
Abrams “emphatically denied” that he has anti-LGBTQ bias, according to the report, and said he agreed to the hearing “to clear my name that I’m not a bigot.”
He argued that being a close cousin to a gay man and having provided corporate counsel to Denver’s largest LGBTQ nightclub, Tracks, proved he wasn’t a bigot.
However, the disciplinary hearing argued that those same factors meant he was “well aware” of the change in the meaning of “fag” at the time he used it.
As such, Abrams was found to have violated a disciplinary rule barring lawyers from engaging in conduct that might engender bias while representing someone, the American Bar Association’s ABA Journal reports.
Judge William R. Lucero, who presided over Abrams’ hearing, wrote, ” In his private life, Respondent is free to speak in whatever manner he chooses. When representing clients, however, Respondent must put aside the schoolyard code of conduct and adhere to professional standards.”
“[L]awyers’ words and deeds reflect on the values and ideals of today’s legal profession,” Lucero continued. “Lawyers are also officers of the court, so their conduct signals to clients the quality of justice and the measure of fairness that can be expected from the legal system as a whole.
“That system is meant to serve all and dispense justice equally, without regard to race, gender, religion, national origin, disability, age, sexual orientation, or socioeconomic status; when lawyers represent that system, their conduct must give effect to those principles.”
Speaking to the ABA Journal, Abrams said he was appealing Lucero’s ruling, calling it political correctness and arguing that his comment didn’t show anti-gay bias.
“In my opinion, there was absolutely no clear and convincing evidence from the exhibits at trial that I exhibited any bias whatsoever,” Abrams said. “The whole thing is just obnoxiously political correctness.”
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