How Not to Behave as an Attorney

On this date in 1983, the Supreme Court decided In re Vincenti, 92 N.J. 591 (1983).  As noted here, this is a morbidly entertaining disciplinary opinion involving a practitioner who was the subject of discipline multiple times.  The Court’s per curiam opinion in this case lays out a virtual catalog of ways in which no reputable attorney should conduct himself or herself.

There is too much to recount fully in this blog post, and readers are strongly urged to read the whole opinion.  A sampling follows.

In a trial proceeding, Vincenti was “frequently sarcastic, disrespectful and irrational, and accused the Court on numerous occasions of, inter alia, collusion with the prosecution, cronyism, racism, permitting the proceedings to have a ‘carnival nature,’conducting a kangaroo court, prejudging the case, conducting a ‘cockamamie charade of witnesses’ and barring defense counsel from effectively participating in the proceedings, conducting a sham hearing, acting outside the law, being caught up in his ‘own little dream world,’ and ex-parte communications with the prosecutor together with other equally outrageous, disrespectful and unsupported charges.”  Vincenti was even foolish enough to put in writing his adverse opinions of the judge.  He wrote a letter to the judge that included this language:

“I wish to extend my sincerest good wishes for your speedy recovery from the obvious breakdown you suffered in chambers yesterday, Tuesday, December 11, 1979….  I must admit, with no small degree of trepidation, that we have no confidence in your rationality vis-a-vis this case. Your activities on the eleventh and throughout the trial clearly demonstrate an irrational predisposition to chastise Mr. D.K. and defense counsel. The cronyism I wrote of in our motion for new trial continues unabated.  You have simply closed your mind to our position and have retreated into a dream world not unlike the somnambulist in that early German classic story at the turn of the century.  How do we make any kind of recommendations to you while you sleep-walk through your judicial duties. How does one get through to you.  Regrettably, we have no faith in your ability to preserve your objectivity herein, for whatever reason(s) I don’t know.”

Vincenti behaved no better toward other counsel.  He told an Assistant Public Defender “to ‘go screw himself’ and ‘fuck off,’ and referred to [that attorney] as ‘asshole,’ ‘schmuck’ and ‘schmuckface.'”  He referred to a female attorney who was nearby but not involved in the case as “‘Miss Wrinkles,’ ‘Miss Bags’ and ‘old bag,’ and stated to her: ‘Shove it up your ass’ and ‘go fuck yourself.'”  While attempting to intimidate a witness in a courthouse hallway, with Vncenti’s secretary taking down what the witness was saying, Vincenti “advised an attorney … who was standing with the witness but not involved in the proceeding to ‘just keep your god damn nose out of my business.’”  The Court then dryly added “His conversation thereafter was peppered with the phrase ‘fuck you.'”  When the Assistant Public Defender asked the secretary whether she was writing all this down, Vincenti charged at him and “pressed a Bic pen into [the Assistant Public Defender’s] chest.”

Later that same day, Vincenti approached the attorney whom he had told to “keep [his] god damn nose out of my business” and demanded his business card so that Vincenti could file an ethics complaint.  When the attorney refused, Vincenti “persisted in his demands in a loud manner, punctuating the demands with questionable phrases, including ‘shmuckface,’ ‘fuck-face’ and ‘shit-head.’  He continued in this manner for some time, adding to his action by poking his finger in [the attorney’s] chest.  Prior to removing himself from the area, respondent intentionally bumped [the attorney] with his stomach and then his shoulder, and thereafter advised [the attorney] that he could take his law firm and ‘shove it up my ass.'”

The result of all this was that the Court suspended Vincenti for one year.  Sadly, Vincenti did not learn any lessons from that.  He repeatedly came before the Court on disciplinary proceedings thereafter, for similar conduct and other wrongdoing.  Ultimately, the Court ordered him disbarred.  In re Vincenti, 152 N.J. 253 (1998) (also recounting his prior history of discipline).  He stands to this day as a model of what not to do as an attorney.