Kenneth Heller has earned the reputation as “New York’s most obnoxious lawyer” and his record is hardly improving. A New York appellate court has upheld a finding of contempt and sentence (30-day in prison and $10,000 fine) after Heller refused to turn over his files in a wrongful death case.
The dispute centers on a maritime wrongful death action where Heller represented Ruby Emanuel. Heller succeeded in securing a $25 million, which was overturned on appeal. The widow hired a new attorney who asked Heller for the files since the other records had been destroyed in the 9-11 attack on the World Trade Center. He refused.
Heller was disbarred in 2004 at the age of 75. It was a rare disbarment order and was viewed in large part as the result of Heller’s being unbelievable obnoxious. The court cited his “reprehensible behavior” and “utter contempt for the judicial system.”
This behavior “included screaming at, threatening and disparaging judges, adversaries and experts, intentionally defying court rulings, and disrupting and thwarting proper legal process through both physical and verbal aggression.” His conduct did not improve in the Emanuel case when he appeared before the court to answer for his failure to turn over the files. When Judge Howard Silver walked by, Heller yelled “Kiss my tuchis!” and then called the attorney who replaced Heller a “Schmuck!”
For any of my law students reading this, such verbal attacks are not generally viewed as effective advocacy. Indeed, outside of a literary quote, tuchis rarely appears in standard argument.
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