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March 2019 - Certified Stupidity

by Richard W. Millar, Jr.

“Road rage,” according to Dictionary.com, means “violent anger caused by the stress and frustration involved in driving a motor vehicle in difficult conditions.”

“Robitus,” while not officially recognized as a word by those folks who write dictionaries, is slang to describe the personality transfer from humility to arrogance that happens to some upon the simple act of donning a judicial robe.

So what happens when you conjoin the two? The first thing you get is “robe rage.”

The second thing you get is this column.

The phrase “robe rage” arose in proceedings in Cook County, Illinois, a venue which is beginning to bully its way to the forefront of column material.

It all started with a deposition in a case entitled Green v. American Freedom Insurance Co., et al. A lawyer identified in a disciplinary complaint only as K.H., a woman, took the deposition of the plaintiff, one William Green. Mr. Green was represented, again according to disciplinary complaint, by Charles A. Cohn. The principal issue apparently was whether the defendant was required to provide insurance coverage for Mr. Green following a car accident.

K.H. asked Mr. Green a question about whether his employer provided a vehicle for use during his work. The deponent said the question was vague and Mr. Cohn jumped in saying it was “ridiculous, just ridiculous,” and instructed him not to answer. Ms. H. then asked Mr. Green if he would answer and he said “no,” which caused her to say to the reporter: “Certify the question.” That relatively innocuous request brought a rejoinder from Mr. Cohn: “Okay. Then certify your own stupidity at this point.”

I am guessing that was directed to Ms. H. rather than the reporter, which also occurred to her, as she said: “I’m not going to sit here and take insults from you.”

Mr. Cohn then used what some might call the “trickle-down insult defense,” and said, again according to the disciplinary complaint:

“At this point in time, a man who insults on a daily basis everybody he has done business with has now been elected President of the United States. The standards have changed. I’ll say what I want.”

In another exchange, Ms. H. asked the plaintiff if he had received any invoices concerning the attorney’s time, which led to a “don’t waste your breath” objection that I have not seen judicially recognized, at least in California. Again, Ms. H. asked to certify the question which brought forth:

“Motions for sanctions: Indicate that on the record. I’m going to get sanctions against your firm like you wouldn’t believe, bitch.”

At this point, it is probably fair to say that a motion to compel was inevitable.

As was the result.

At the hearing, Mr. Cohn said that he would have apologized, but Judge Valderrama who was hearing the motion, “flew into a rage of his own . . . about what was said in the deposition.” He added that the judge’s “temper” called the impartiality of the hearing into question.

While Judge Valderamma [sic] had made some favorable rulings to the plaintiff regarding other defendants in this case in the past, in light of recent events, and particularly the “robe rage incident” . . . it is unclear to this counsel whether the client . . . will now suffer because of the anger this court holds against his counsel.

Calling out a judge for “robe rage” might make a good media sound bite, but to make that claim in court to the judge you are accusing is not likely to result in anything good happening.

So now, Mr. Cohn is up before the Hearing Board of the Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission charged with using means with no other purpose than to embarrass or delay a third person and false or reckless statements about a judge. While it is too soon to know what the Commission will decide, it is not too soon to observe that,

Stupidity can be certified.

Richard W. Millar, Jr. is Of Counsel with the firm of Friedman Stroffe & Gerard in Irvine. He can be reached at rmillar@fsglawyers.com.