A San Diego attorney filed suit Tuesday against the State Bar after he was threatened with discipline for calling the ruling of a female judge in one of his cases “succubustic,” among other put-downs.
Benjamin Pavone invoked the insult — referring to a succubus, a mythological demon in female form that seduces men in their sleep — in an appellate brief after a San Diego Superior Court commissioner denied him almost $147,000 in attorney fees, according to documents filed in Los Angeles federal court.
In the brief filed with the Fourth District Court of Appeal, Pavone also called the judge’s order “disgraceful” and accused her of “intentional” error. The panel rejected the appeal and referred Pavone to the bar for possible discipline, finding that many of the words and phrases in the notice of appeal “have no place in a court filing.”
The bar began a disciplinary process, alleging that Pavone impugned “the honesty, motivation, integrity, or competence of the trial court judicial officer,” and accused him of manifesting gender bias with the “succubustic” insult.
A message to the State Bar seeking comment was not immediately answered.
According to rules of conduct, disrespectful statements made in court filings are grounds for attorney discipline or contempt.
In his lawsuit, Pavone alleges that his constitutional rights to freedom of speech and due process were trampled under the threat of discipline, and that the requirement that attorneys maintain respect for the court and its officers is unconstitutionally vague and unenforceable.
“The State Bar argues that the ruling reflects a personal gender attack on the commissioner, although the language employed says nothing at all about her personally,” Pavone wrote in his lawsuit. “Rather, plaintiff used a colorful (or caustic, depending on one’s viewpoint) metaphor to criticize a court ruling.”
The suit also contends that the bar’s “attempt to muzzle constitutionally-protected freedom of thought and speech under the guise of characterizing such commentary as `disrespectful’ — perhaps the singularly most vague word in the English language.”
–City News Service
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