Seattleland: The Attorney Who Got Suspended for Making Animal Sounds
By Rick Anderson Tue., Sep 8 2015 at 05:47PM
The scales of justice tend to tip when Kathryn Abele enters a Seattle courtroom. That’s not just because the Mill Creek attorney is an imposing figure at the litigants’ table. “Here it is,” she tells me. “I’m 6-3, 300 pounds, and loud.”
She’s a heavyweight fighter for the parents and children she represents in her family practice. “I care about my clients,” she says. “I worked hard for them and wanted only the best for them.”
Then again, her supersize court persona can also affect the outcome of cases, including her own, she thinks. Last week, it was mostly Abele’s courthouse demeanor, including bellowing outcries, that persuaded the State Supreme Court to unanimously (9-0) uphold the suspension of her bar license for one year.
Abele—who was appealing two counts of misconduct brought by the State Bar Association in 2013—says she was suspended “because of my personality.” She definitely has one. Among the recent claims against her is her alleged courtroom bullying tactics. She has yelled at judges, mocked their rulings, and said of a King County Court Protection Unit marshal, “Someone should fart in [his] face.”
When judges threatened her with contempt, she sometimes offered theatrical retorts. In one instance, she held her hands as if being handcuffed and fretted aloud, “I’m going to jail. I’m going to jail.” After a recess was called in another hearing, a judge reported, Abele inexplicably screamed so loud it could be heard in other parts of the courthouse.
She also made animal noises in court, a judge claimed. Supreme Court Justice Charles Wiggins, in the court’s written opinion last week, said Snohomish County judge Anita Farris stated that Abele made “loud noises that sounded like an animal being killed.” In her 30 years as an attorney and judge, Farris said, “I have never heard any lawyer make any kind of noise, or do anything, like that before.”
Farris later found Abele in contempt for “your screaming, yelling, jumping up and down in my courtroom, stomping and then stomping out and refusing to represent your client.” Abele asked her what the fine was so she could just pay it and move on.
Abele can’t always hear herself due to internal deafness resulting from a childhood illness, she says. She also suffers from painful arthritic hips. A lawyer friend who considers Abele a good attorney thinks thatsome judges are unaware of her condition.
“I have experienced Kathryn occasionally making a loud outburst in my office,” the attorney says in an e-mail. “This was unrelated to anger or frustration, but rather a product of pain she experiences when she moves. I have observed this when she came in or out of the office, or when shifting her position while sitting. She has typically requested a special chair out of the office to make sitting more comfortable. The noises are loud and can be rather alarming.”
He adds that “I definitely believe that Kathryn’s height and appearance at times can be intimidating for others interacting with her . . . it’s also quite possible that Kathryn is sensitive to this issue and may be especially sensitive to times where she perceives she is being treated differently. This may well result in short-term outbursts.”
Besides violating rules of conduct, Abele was also found by the bar to have made a false report to Seattle police. At the King County Courthouse, she argued with two courtroom marshals and pushed between them to walk away. She spun about and accused one marshal of tripping her, then called 911.
A Seattle police officer reviewed security video and concluded that no one had tripped the attorney. He thought she forced her way between the marshals when she could have easily gone around. No charges were filed. But the Bar Association claimed she knowingly made false or misleading statements to the officer.
“I truly believed I was tripped. I was crying hysterically because I couldn’t believe a [marshal] would do that,” Abele says. “There was a lay witness who testified [at the bar hearing] that he saw the [marshal] stick his leg out to trip me, but the hearing examiner said he wasn’t credible.”
Two attorneys who testified on her behalf contended she was misportrayed by others. But “It didn’t matter,” Abele says. “The bar investigator sent e-mails to the sheriffs in King and Snohomish county after receiving a complaint by an opposing party calling me a Neanderthal. The e-mails asked them to report any issue they had with me. The problem with the request to have people watch me was there was no basis for it” and invited retaliation. “It was, to say, a witch-hunt.”
Now without the license she obtained in 2002, Abele, in her late 50s, will be readmitted once the Bar Association decides she is “fit to practice” again. Meanwhile, she’s asked the high court to reconsider its decision. “I am not bitter,” Abele says, “just very sad.”
I inadvertently stumbled on a "blawg" called Washington Lawyer Defense about legal profession as it relates to disbarment or criminal charges. No author bio or note who is compiling the blog but it is articulate and well written and fairly current. And of course the stories about varying Lawyers who were disbarred for stealing from clients and failing to do their duties regarding reporting money are the standard.
When I google Lawyer disbarred you get a multitude of stories which at times veer on hilarious to disturbing. The Civil Rights Attorney who took his case to our Supreme Court; the Lawyer who dressed as Thomas Jefferson or the missing lawyer who became a Public Defender (which explains a lot right there with that system); The Skimmer Lawyer or the serial problem lawyer who ended up finally being disbarred for having sex with a client - well finally! And the Foreclosure King who lost his head and throne.
The stories or excuses seem to run the gamut from I was depressed, sick, angry or well I am just a Lawyer. So when I remind myself that being educated is not necessarily a statement of intelligence and worth I also remind myself that this group are highly powerful and in turn control and dominate much of our overwhelming cost prohibitive system.
So if I could find a lawyer willing to dress as Thomas Jefferson and throw themselves on the mercy of the court and do so for a reasonable price then hell yes! I am now at the year mark where I have never spoken to my Attorney (and I know this for certain as it was 2 days into the school year last year) and who took over 10K from me and made me sign a 4K promissory note. So please tell me is that legal or just plain wrong? Hear me roar.