Boatwright is Dry-Docked
June 30, 2015 § 10 Comments
The legal travails of Toulman and Grace Boatwright have been chronicled here before.
To bring you up to date, this is the case in which: (1) a chancellor recused before ruling on a R59 motion; (2) the remaining chancellor refused to rule on the motion; (3) there was an appeal; (4) the COA reversed on the basis that the second chancellor should have ruled on the motion; (5) on remand the second chancellor recused, and a special chancellor took up the case and ruled on the R59 motion; (6) Toulman appealed again; (7) five (yes, 5) judges of the COA recused (if you’re counting, that’s seven recusals in this saga); and (8) the COA affirmed in Boatwright v. Boatwright, handed down June 23, 2015.
It seems a shame to draw the curtain closed on this epic, which arose in 2004, more than eleven years ago. (Of course, if cert is granted …)
Judges Carlton, Lee, and Irving would have granted a new trial, which would have kept this case going for perhaps an additional eleven years (optimistically speaking).
In case you’re trying to diagram this: McGehee wrote the prevailing opinion, in which Griffis, and Ishee joined; Carlton, Lee, and Irving dissented. Barnes, Roberts, Maxwell, Fair, and James did not participate. A 3-3 tie is an affirmance.
On the serious side, both the majority opinion, written by Special Judge McGehee, and the dissent, penned by Judge Carlton, address some weighty issues of judicial ethics arising out of the social relationships between attorneys and judges. This particular case came to grief when the chancellor accepted an invitation to go turkey hunting with one of the lawyers involved in the Boatwright litigation while the case was pending. Both opinions discuss the ethical considerations involved and their ramifications.
As with many ethical questions, there are not only murky areas, but different people in good faith can see things differently and draw different conclusions, as was the case here.
What is sometimes difficult to see is where to draw the line. In the Guardianship of McClinton case decided only last February by the COA, the court brushed aside attorney Michael Brown’s argument that the judge had an improper social relationship with another attorney in the case because the judge frequently had lunch with that attorney and they attended college football games together. For those of us here on the ground, it can be hard to draw distinctions so as to arrive at a firm idea of appropriate conduct.
The main thing is for us all to take to heart the serious ethical implications involved in the social interactions between lawyers and judges, and to be sensitive to them. It’s absolutely true that litigants, their families and friends, and passers-by are watching everything we do and drawing their own conclusions.