Avoiding Offensive Trial Tactics
Opinion rules that a lawyer should avoid offensive trial tactics and treat others with courtesy by attempting to ascertain the reason for the opposing party's failure to respond to a notice of hearing where there has been no prior lack of diligence or responsiveness on the part of opposing counsel.
Attorney A, who represents the defendant in a civil matter, did not receive the notice of hearing from opposing counsel, Attorney X, because Attorney A's address had changed. At the civil district court calendar call for the first day of the session, when hearing dates are set, Attorney A did not appear nor did his client. Attorney X asked the court to set the matter for trial at the earliest possible date. The case was set for trial two days later. Neither the judge nor Attorney X inquired as to whether Attorney A had received the notice of hearing nor did they attempt to ascertain whether Attorney A was prevented from appearing at the calendar call by an emergency or otherwise. Attorney L, who was at the calendar call on an unrelated matter and who is not associated with either Attorney A or Attorney X, subsequently advised Attorney A of the trial date. Under these circumstances, before asking the court to set the case for trial, must Attorney X verify that the notice of hearing was actually received and that there was no emergency or other problem preventing the appearance of Attorney A or his client at the calendar call?
No, Attorney X is not required to verify that the notice of hearing was actually received by the opposing lawyer. However, Rule 7.1(a)(1) of the Rules of Professional Conduct provides that a lawyer does not violate the duty to zealously represent a client
...by acceding to reasonable requests by opposing counsel which do not prejudice the rights of his client, by being punctual in fulfilling all professional commitments, by avoiding offensive tactics, or by treating with courtesy and consideration all persons involved in the legal process.
Avoiding offensive tactics and treating others with courtesy includes not taking advantage of the opposing party or the opposing counsel's failure to respond to a notice of hearing when there has been no prior lack of diligence or responsiveness on the part of the opposing counsel. Under these circumstances, as a matter of professionalism, Attorney X should make a reasonable effort to ascertain Attorney A's whereabouts or the reason for his absence before asking the judge to schedule the hearing at the earliest possible date.
Does the court have a duty to verify that Attorney A has received notice of the hearing?
Judges are subject to the Code of Judicial Conduct and the regulation of the Judicial Standards Commission. Therefore, no opinion is expressed to the ethical duty of a judge in this situation.
Do the other lawyers at the calendar call have a responsibility to verify that Attorney A has received notice of the hearing or that there was no emergency or other problem preventing Attorney A's appearance at the hearing?
No. However, as a matter of professionalism, lawyers are encouraged to treat other practitioners with courtesy and to assist other practitioners in meeting the duty of competent representation.