A Lawyer, A Judge and Black Privilege

It is difficult for me to understand why U.S. District Court Judge Jeffrey Meyer thought it necessary to refer attorney Josephine Miller for professional discipline. It's even harder for me to comprehend why Miller thinks she can prevail in the brand new federal lawsuit she filed to prohibit disciplinary officials from policing her conduct. The entire drama – no, make that melodrama – is an unnecessary spectacle.

Miller, who is African American, filed a federal complaint against the Bridgeport Board of Education, among other municipal entities. She alleged that the city had an unlawful pattern and practice of not retaining black lawyers to represent city officials. In particular, the city refused to pay her, although it had previously paid a white counterpart, for providing legal service to the same person.

The problem with this claim is that it simply isn't true, and Miller knew it, according to Meyer. The city had paid at least two African-American lawyers for legal services during the precise period that Miller was not paid.

Meyer sanctioned Miller $1,500 when he dismissed the discrimination claim, concluding she made allegations she knew to be untrue. He then referred the matter for discipline, although why the matter ended up in the state grievance system, and not the federal grievance system, is one of the jurisdictional anomalies that make the law more of an art than a science.

Attorney Miller claims she corrected the matter, but grievance officials disagree. A decision on the judge's referral is pending.

If you know Josephine Miller, you know she is not a quitter. So she upped the ante by filing another claim, this one also in federal court, seeking to enjoin grievance officials from reviewing the claim against her. She claims she's being punished for raising discrimination claims.

Neither Miller nor Meyer look good here.

The judge had the means, and chose to use them, to punish Miller for filing a frivolous pleading. Just why he thought it necessary to launch an attack on her law license is unclear. Does the jurist really believe she poses a threat to the public, or that she is unfit to practice law?

I wanted to defend Miller when I first heard about this. But the more I look at her claim for injunctive relief against grievance counsel, the more I wonder whether the judge might not have a legitimate concern about her.

From a distance, it looks increasingly as though Miller is less a black professional than a professional person of color. She's overplaying the race card, and looks less like a principled civil rights warrior than a drowning woman grasping at straws. She's not Rosa Parks on a bus; she's an officer of the court, trained in the rules of court and law.

Lawyers are officers of the court. We shed certain freedoms and acquire others when we swear an oath to uphold the law. The right to bring suit on behalf of others bears with it the responsibility to do so according to law.

The politics of race are growing rancid again in this country. A certain edginess rejects what a white man says about a colleague on the other side of the color line. I will be accused, perhaps, of "white privilege" here, and told to be quiet, and let a sister whose struggled with the burden of her skin speak a larger truth.

The rhetoric just doesn't work – it amounts to a form of black privilege, or exceptionalism. You don't earn a right to opt out of the disciplinary process based on the type of claims you pursue. The suggestion is ludicrous.

It is regrettable that Meyer thought it necessary to salt Miller's wound. The fine he levied was in itself extraordinary, and should have been sanction enough.

Miller, however, is pouring fuel on a ridiculous fire, a fire than can consume her, and her reputation. We're paid as advocates to counsel others on what claims are worth pursuing, and how best to pursue them. At a minimum, Miller is proving the truth of the maxim that a lawyer representing herself has a fool for a client.

At it's worst? I don't want to go there, not yet. I don't even want to think it. I respect her work and have stood beside her in court. I hope to be able to do so again. 

Read more: http://www.ctlawtribune.com/id=1202737896203/Norm-Pattis-Judge-Lawyer-Both-Look-Bad-in-RaceBased-Controversy#ixzz3mb29ZdPM


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