“A detailed order will issue,” according to the minutes of Monday’s hearing. But I think we have enough details already to conclude that the outcome will not be at all good for Christopher Hook. As you may recall, Mr. Hook was criticized recently for his use of profanity in emails to opposing counsel. Hook defended his conduct, although he did concede that he might, arguably, in the view of some, have acted somewhat unprofessionally when he told opposing counsel to, for example, “eat a bowl of dicks.” See “‘Perhaps Some of the Language “Crossed the Line” of Civility‘” (Dec. 9, 2019) (quoting from Hook’s brief).
This hearing would likely not have gone well for Hook under any circumstances, but it was especially unfortunate for him that it was before U.S. District Judge Otis D. Wright II, whose resumé also includes prior service as a Marine Corps sergeant, deputy sheriff, and deputy attorney general. Given these facts, together with Hook’s conduct and his fairly lackadaisical response to the judge’s order to show cause why he shouldn’t be sanctioned, only a truly superhuman performance at the hearing could have averted disaster.
Such performances generally do not begin by being late to the hearing.
From the minutes:
Case called, appearances made. No appearance by Mr. Hook. During discussions with counsel, Mr. Hook finally arrives to court at 1:37 p.m. The Court speaks with Mr. Hook about his lateness to the hearing and his unprofessional nature as stated on the record.
“The Court speaks with Mr. Hook” about these things doesn’t quite capture what occurred, according to reports by The Recorder and Law360. But first, I want to mention that “arrives to court” isn’t quite accurate. Because Hook was in court, and apparently got there on time. But he was just sitting in the gallery and didn’t come forward when the hearing started. Only at 1:37 p.m., after the matter had been called, his nonpresence noted, and statements made by his clients’ new lawyers, did Hook announce himself.
“At that point, Hook stood up from the courtroom audience,” noted the ABA Journal. Judge Wright “appeared angry,” the report says—most likely an understatement—and wondered what Hook had been doing (or not doing) for those seven minutes. “‘Were you hiding?’ Wright asked. ‘Were you waiting to make a fashionable entrance?'”
It strikes me that in any list of things you’d prefer a judge not say during a hearing, “were you hiding” would have to be near the top.
The real question, though, may be: Why did he come out of hiding? Because presented with a target, Judge Wright then proceeded to deliver some other statements that would also be contenders for the top of any such list. Here are a few:
- “You did go to law school, right?”
- “You have been acting like a gangster.”
- “You’re going to write a check” (i.e. pay sanctions).
- “Tell you what, slick, this profession doesn’t need you.”
- “Shut up. I want you to resign.”
- “I am going to do what I can to remove you from this profession.”
According to the report, Judge Wright also “slammed his fists” on the bench at least twice. So, again, “the Court speaks with Mr. Hook” doesn’t quite capture what seems to have occurred.
The “law school” comment was in response to one of Hook’s (bad) arguments, specifically the one that he could not be sanctioned or disciplined for his words because they were fully protected by the First Amendment. But while it is true that the phrase “eat a bowl of dicks” came up several times during the Constitutional Convention, there’s no evidence it was during the debate over the Bill of Rights. Also probably unwise was Hook’s continued insistence at the hearing that the emails in question had not been properly authenticated. “This is not the day to be cute,” Judge Wright responded. “And I am not the guy.”
Those are also candidates for the list, though not above “were you hiding” or “tell you what, slick, this profession doesn’t need you.” Those have to be in the top five, in my view.
The judge cannot, of course, force Hook to resign from the profession, but he can make a referral to the State Bar for further prosecution of the matter. It could conceivably disbar Hook, but a suspension of some kind seems much more likely. That’s assuming it agrees Hook’s statements might, perhaps, have “crossed the line” of civility, but that seems likely to me.