A Floridian attorney received a “slap on the hand” for pretending to gag while a jailhouse informant was questioned.
A Floridian attorney has been reprimanded with a “slap on the hand” for pretending to gag while a jailhouse informant was questioned about knowledge involving her murder client. Assistant Public Defender Elizabeth Ramsey of Palm Beach County was scolded via a civil procedure, rare for such issues in a Florida courtroom, which are typically handled by the Florida Bar. Normally, complaints are filed directly with the Bar and reviewed by other attorneys. Judge Peter Blanc decided instead to place Ramsey on probation for the gesture made in December 2015. Ramsey is said to be a well-respected attorney who works in the major crimes division, overseeing many homicide cases.
Ramsey believed the informant was being untruthful after he stated her client had confessed to murder while behind bars. She had intended the gagging motion, in which she stuck her finger down her throat, to demonstrate in a nonverbal way her skepticism. The gesture was meant to be made directly to her client during the testimony.
Blanc decided to place the attorney on the one-year probation, which was seen by some as a “slap on the hand”, rather than take it up with the Bar because he felt Ramsey’s clients were still in need of her services. She has also been ordered to take ethics classes and write an apology letter to the filing judge, recently retired Circuit Judge Jack Schramm Cox.
The attorney could have endured much harsher consequences for her actions, including suspension of her law license or even disbarment, which the prosecutor continued to pursue, stating Ramsey hadn’t shown any remorse. The judge disagreed, believing she had certainly learned her lesson and reminding the court the sanction will follow Ramsey and inevitably damage her reputation.
Ramsey also played transcribed conversations between the informant and his daughter during the hearing. Judge Cox claimed Ramsey undermined the justice system by doing so, calling to question its credibility and subsequently raising questions about her fitness as a lawyer. The filing, which included this grievance in addition to the gag complaint, indicated Ramsey had violated the Florida Bar’s rule that attorneys should not “knowingly or through callous indifference disparage, humiliate and attempt to intimidate” witnesses. Cox claimed Ramsey’s decision to play the tapes violated an order banning anyone from using transcribed jailhouse calls made by a witness in a homicide case.
Blanc presided over both issues presented in a December 2nd trial. He found there to be no “clear and convincing evidence” that Ramsey meant to humiliate the witness by playing the call, so this charged was ultimately dismissed. However, he found Ramsey to be in “clear violation” with regard to the gagging motion, which he described as inappropriate and disrespectful, indicating the behavior would not be tolerated nor condoned by the court.
Ramsey’s case has been referenced by other attorneys to demonstrate professionalism in the courtroom. Public Defender Cary Haughwout is one such lawyer who uses the probation “slap on the hand” as a cautionary example to those who visit her. Haughwout says Ramsey is a great lawyer, however, and she’s never questioned her respect of the justice system. Ramsey hasn’t thought about whether she’ll appeal her sentence. She has been practicing for 26 years and does not intend to leave her position.