Richard Celler of Morgan & Morgan has a rather unique approach to depositions. Celler was removed from a case by U.S. District Judge Cecilia Altonaga after scheduling depositions at a Dunkin’ Donut shop, appearing in shorts and teeshirts, drawing pictures of male genitalia to mock opposing counsel, and playing video games like Angry Birds during depositions. This case in Miami shows another recent case of a lawyer in Texas who was charged with sanctionable conduct for a bizarre series of emails to opposing counsel concerning the scheduling of depositions. I thought I had been in some heated depositions in my career, but I now feel like a mere piker practicioner.
The order below details the claims against Celler. Cellar had sued a limousine service and corporate officers in the case and routinely made nasty comments to opposing counsel in emails and disparaged opposing counsel in front of his clients. The conduct described simply is beyond belief:
“Mr. Celler . . . drawing photos of — pictures of male genitalia and showing them to Ms. Schulman, describing Mr. Coupal. I told Mr. Coupal after that was occurring and he made mention about it.” (Apr. 2, 2012 Hearing Tr. 17:2–5). Sorci testified that he observed Schulman “laugh[ing] quite a few times” at Celler’s drawings, and that on break Schulman made a comment that “this is typical Richard [Celler], this is what he does at these sort of things.” (Id. 85:5–10). Tinkler further stated that “during Mr. Schatt’s deposition Mr. Celler was playing the game Angry Birds. He admitted it aloud and was bragging that he had just beaten somebody in Minnesota at the game during the deposition.” (Id. 17:6–9). Moreover, Celler would wear a t-shirt and shorts to proceedings to gain “a psychological advantage.” (Id. 17:11–15). Celler chose Dunkin’ Donuts as the site of depositions against Coupal’s wishes.
Ironically, I was just discussing the practice of abuse by lawyers with an associate with whom I practice. I am always taken aback by overly insulting and angry lawyers who seem to use claims of “litigation style” to vent serious personality problems and anger issues. Notably, Schulman (who was also removed from the case with Celler) “made a comment that ‘this is typical Richard [Celler], this is what he does at these sort of things.'” Many such lawyers tell young associates that they berate and harass opposing counsel to get an advantage but that is rarely true. It is an excuse to be a bully and yield to the lawyer’s inherent obnoxious character. The fact that firms tolerate such conduct, often from partners, is a disgrace.
The disqualification of both attorneys in this case was sealed by what the court describes as ex parte contacts.
The court concludes that the entire firm cannot be trusted to act ethically:
It is evident that Celler’s actions with respect to Defendants, and throughout this case, have so damaged the adversarial process that any trial may well be tainted. Furthermore, given the small size of the Morgan & Morgan labor practice, the Court is not convinced that a Chinese wall — and removing solely Celler and Schulman from this case — would have any effectiveness. If there are seven attorneys practicing labor and employment law in Celler’s office as Schulman testified, three of them have already appeared in this case. Up to this point, Celler and Schulman have hardly demonstrated the scrupulousness that would be required to enforce a Chinese wall, and in the words of the Papanicolaou court, the “Court doubts whether any Chinese walls, which are meant to be preemptive, can ever function effectively when erected in response to a motion, and not prior to the arising of the conflict.” Id. at 1087.
The Court finds that the appropriate remedy in this matter is to disqualify the Morgan & Morgan law firm from representation of Plaintiff in this action. In so finding, the Court is influenced by the egregiousness of the Florida Bar Rule violations, and the grave impact Celler’s disparaging acts have had on the attorney-client relationship between Coupal and Defendants.
Richard Celler received his J.D. from University of Miami in 1999. His bio states that “[a]fter having gained the experience and mentality of a wage and hour defense attorney, Mr. Celler began litigating these claims on behalf of employees.” I am not sure what “mentality” means in this context but it appears the wrong mentality for federal practice. The bio also claims that he “has been featured on Fox News, UPN, USA Today, Tampa Tribune, Saint Petersburg Times, The Daily Business Review, and the South Florida Business Review.” He can now add a slew bar journals and ethics reviews.
Here is the order: gov.uscourts.flsd.391539.172.0