It’s really not a good look when a federal judge calls your behavior “unacceptable, deplorable.” But that’s exactly what happened to Taylor English partner Nathan A. White who was benchslapped by federal Judge Max O. Cogburn Jr. over his interaction with opposing counsel L. Michelle Gessner.
Gessner filed a motion seeking sanctions for the way White treated her. As reported by the ABA Journal, Gessner described a disturbing courtroom confrontation on February 28th, after jurors for the first phase of the trial were dismissed and court was in recess:
“Suddenly, and without warning or provocation,” White spoke to Gessner “very loudly and in a condescending tone,” asking her whether she was aware which defendants were represented by Dancy, the sanctions motion says. After Gessner responded that she was aware, White “exploded” and began yelling, the motion says.
“You are a f- – -ing piece of s- – – worthless human!” White allegedly said. “You know that?! You are a worthless human!”
Gessner said she responded that White doesn’t get to speak to her like that, and if he can’t speak to her with respect, he should not say anything at all.
Gessner left to gather her belongings from the attorney room and then returned to the courtroom. She asked the court clerk and the court reporter whether there was an audio or video recording of what had happened. Gessner said White was an officer of the court, and his behavior was unacceptable, according to the motion.
“At this point, Mr. White rushed up to Ms. Gessner and got within inches of her face, pointing his finger, close enough to strike her,” the motion says. He allegedly screamed, “I don’t care if it was recorded, you are a worthless f- – -ing piece of s- – -! You called me a liar yesterday!”
Gessner said she stood her ground.
Judge Cogburn found White “did, in fact, use vulgar language against Ms. Gessner, approached her in an antagonistic manner, and otherwise acted towards Ms. Gessner in the manner she described in her motion.” And it is “undisputable” that White “engaged in multiple types of inexcusable professional misconduct by verbally attacking opposing counsel in the courtroom and in the presence of court staff and the court security officer.” Meanwhile Gessner, “at all times acted professionally during the verbal altercation.”
Congburn wrote, “Behavior such as this is unacceptable, deplorable, and not justified under any circumstances.”
White said he’d recently been admitted to the hospital for a medical issue and was stressed at the time of the incident.
Cogburn admonished White, writing, “His conduct was unprofessional, egregious, and unacceptable for an officer of the court.” But Judge Cogburn declined to impose sanctions, saying, “The court trusts that Mr. White’s conduct was an anomaly and therefore will not take further action today.”
Kathryn Rubino is a Senior Editor at Above the Law, host of The Jabot podcast, and co-host of Thinking Like A Lawyer. AtL tipsters are the best, so please connect with her. Feel free to email her with any tips, questions, or comments and follow her on Twitter @Kathryn1 or Mastodon @[email protected]