Opposing Counsel in Bad Shape

I recently attended a hearing with a client involving several parties and several attorneys. One of the opposing counsel appeared to be visibly jittery and was sweating. At first, I found it odd the attorney would be so nervous for a hearing but I brushed it off. As the hearing went on, it became painfully apparent that the attorney was either on some kind of narcotic or coming down off a narcotic. The attorney was making outrageous statements, startling and extreme gestures, and even the attorney’s own client once had to urge him to put on the brakes. I am no longer involved in this action and am sincerely concerned for this attorney. It is not only apparent to me that the attorney has a serious problem, but it became clear to me at the hearing that the attorney’s clients are suffering from it. I am in no way involved in any other actions with this attorney and do not know this counselor personally. I have never been a part of the attorney’s firm or wish to be. I don’t want to have this misconstrued as vindictive reporting from the hearing, as my client lost, as it certainly isn’t. However, I don’t feel this attorney should currently be practicing. Would it be ethical to bring this issue up to the BBO?

The dilemma you describe is certainly difficult and without easy answers. Although it may not rise to the point of obligatory reporting along the lines of rule 8.3, we share your uneasiness about the fact that this attorney’s condition may interfere with the interests of his clients. In addition, as a fellow human being, one wishes he could recognize his own predicament and get help.

We would recommend that you begin by calling the BBO Ethics Hotline, which is “open for business” Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays from 2 to 4 pm – 617-728-8750. Your conversation will be kept confidential, on the model of attorney-client communication, but they will ask your name and record the call.

Another approach might come into play if you had a relationship with this lawyer or his friends/colleagues, namely some kind of preventative, treatment-oriented intervention. In preparing for that kind of strategy, our LCL clinicians can be a helpful resource and would glad to assist.

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