Friday, August 3, 2018

Shout Out to Jeff Chiow: Disrespect in Legal Writing — Against the Law, Unethical, Unhelpful

As I review various legal documents, now public records, prepared by Jeff Chiow on behalf of his clients Bob Malm and Grace Episcopal Church, I am struck by the consistent lack of professionalism in the tone, tenor, and content of Jeff’s writing. This is a troubling reflection on Jeff, on his law firm, and on his clients.

Inter alia, Jeff falsely refers to “harassment,” knowing full well that nothing he has pleaded, or that I have done, meets the legal definition. He also refers to this case as one involving, “domestic terrorism” and refers to nonexistent events and places; the list goes on. At the same time, the angry, hostile tone and diction of his documents has drawn the attention of multiple individuals, and not in a good way.

For the record, such conduct is unethical and improper. It also is ineffective advocacy, and a surefire warning to courts and other judicial authorities that there are problems with the relevant party’s underlying case.

Consider the 2009 Virginia State Bar publication, “Have  You Made  A Last-ditch, Desperate, and Disingenuous  Attempt to Subvert the Legal Process  Today?,” available here. In sidebar, the author recommends: “leave the anger out of your court documents …it’s against the law, and … it absolutely does not work.”

The author goes on to review the legal and practical issues with such conduct, noting that the Virginia Code itself is implicated (emphasis added):
More recently, the Supreme Court of Virginia upheld sanctions imposed by a circuit court for the use of contemptuous language in a pleading. The Court agreed that a pleading containing such language was filed for an improper purpose within the meaning of Code §8.01-271.1(iii). It stated that  “[c]ontemptuous language and distorted representations in a pleading never serve a proper purpose.”4 In both cases, the Supreme Court of Virginia reminded practitioners that Code §8.07-271.1(iii)  “is designed to ensure dignity and decorum in the judicial process,” and that it  “deters abuse of the legal process and fosters and promotes public confidence and respect for the rule of law.”5
Suffice it to say, “Dignity and decorum in the legal process,” are not the first thoughts to come to mind when considering Jeff Chiow’s representation of his clients.

It may be that Jeff hopes to intimidate me. If that’s his goal, I note only that lack of professionalism and courtesy reflects solely on Jeff and his skills as an attorney. It accomplishes nothing else.