Saying “Whatever” To The Judge Is Generally Not An Optimal Trial Strategy

In Kentucky, an attorney is facing jail time for refusing to reveal the name of her client to the court. Attorney Adams represented a minor seeking an abortion in a bypass-proceeding, and in the course of the hearing it was revealed that the girl and her sibling lived in an abusive home. The judge wanted to know the identity of the girl in order to address the abuse:

After 36 years of practice, Amelia “Mikki” Adams faced an attorney’s worst dilemma: Protect the identity of her client — a 17-year-old girl — or comply with a judge’s order to disclose her name.

Adams opted to protect her client, and now she faces six months in jail for contempt of court.

Sounds pretty unjust, no? Although Kentucky has a mandatory child-abuse reporting law — which the judge is relying on in making her demand for the child’s name — U.S. Supreme Court precedent has held that states with laws requiring parental consent for abortion must provide a method by which the minor can anonymously request the court for an exemption. It is unclear which of the laws trumps the other:

“The judge certainly was justified in attempting to deal with the abusive parents,” said Hofstra University law professor Monroe Freedman, an expert on legal ethics who has testified in Kentucky courts. “But the lawyer was unquestionably correct in refusing to divulge the information without making every reasonable effort to appeal the judge’s order.”

On first glance, it sounds like the judge is being extremely unreasonable in holding the attorney in contempt here. … But then, upon reading the transcripts, the real reason for the judge’s harsh stance becomes apparent:

Adams: “ I respectfully decline to give any information that I may have. At this time I have no information. … I do not know anything other than that her initials are “J.J” and that her first name is (redacted). … And she has instructed me to decline giving any information. She is my client. The privilege is hers. It is not mine. … “
[Judge] Karem: “ And how do you know her first name?”
Adams: “ She gave it to me.”
Karem: “ But she didn’t give you her last name?”
Adams: “ She did give me her last name, and I am not going to give it to the court.”
Karem: “ So you do know her last name?”
Adams: “ Yes, I do, and I’m not going to give it to the court.”
Karem: “ That is contrary … to what you told me a few seconds ago, that you didn’t have any other information but her first name.”
Adams: “ I misspoke. I’m sorry.”
Karem: “ At this point I think you need to be quiet.”
Adams: “ Whatever.”
Karem: “Ma’am, you have an attitude.”

Shouldn’t that have at least been “Whatever, your honor”?

While I still respect the attorney and think she made the right call in not revealing her client’s name, I gotta be honest, she kind of deserved to be held in contempt.

-Susan

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