Tuesday, November 29, 2005

In Re Koven (Cal. Ct. App. - Nov. 22, 2005)

Okay, everyone. Mellow out. Say your mantra. Assume the lotus pose. Breathe in. Breathe out. Relax.

That's my overall reaction to this case. For everyone involved. From the relevant attorney who's conduct was at issue -- Debra Koven -- to the relevant Justices on the Court of Appeal (Justices Gilbert, Yegan, and Perren).

Ms. Koven first. That part's easy. Whoa, Nelly. You just gotta read the opinion, which recites at length the various things she said in her brief. To say that Ms. Koven insults the court is an understatement. A big, big, big understatement. There's about a dozen pages of superfun stuff in the opinion that's a fun fun read. The overall reaction to which has got to be: "What were you thinking?!" Accusing the Court of Appeals of having the "fix" in?! Goodness sakes. And you've got to read 'em yourself to believe the twenty or so other allegations she makes. Oh boy.

Anyway, the Court of Appeal holds her in contempt. Even though Debra apologizes and basically throws herself on the mercy of the court. Now, they don't punish her much: They fine her a couple of grand, and refer the matter to the State Bar. But they also publish the opinion. Which -- particularly when combined with the other penalties -- is certainly punishment enough. Not undue punishment, mind you. But enough.

Just one more thing, though. The Court of Appeal itself has got to mellow out as well. I'm not referring to the punishment they impose, which seems reasonable (even though an argument could well be made that there was no reason to affirmatively find Ms. Koven in actual contempt in light of her apology). Rather, my view is that the language that the Justices employ in their opinion is way too defensive, a bit excessive, and way too touchy. So Koven calls you incompetent and thinks the fix is in? Big deal. It's not the end of the world. We're all adults here. They're just words. Sticks and stones, remember?

My strong sense is that I would have had much, much thicker skin than is demonstrated by Justices Gilbert, Yegan, and Perren, who jointly author the opinion. Just because you wear black robes doesn't mean that you are immune from critique. Sure, the particular language here was contemptuous, and rightly punished. But let's not get too high and mighty. People -- even attorneys -- get excited, and use words they shouldn't. We'll punish them for that. But when we do so, we should perhaps also remember that the attacks on us probably get our gander up as well. So perhaps we should mellow out as well. Which is my -- very slight -- critique of the opinion here.

Take a look at it and see if you agree.

P.S. - Debra Koven is a Western State graduate who joined the Bar in 1990. Here's her registered address, which is in Brentwood. I feel a bit bad for her. But she surely brought it upon herself. Sorry about that, Debra.