Prominent Delaware lawyer disciplined by state’s Supreme Court

WILMINGTON —A prominent Delaware attorney was ordered Wednesday to take training in professionalism, respect and “the need to refrain generally from inappropriate discussions of a sexual or religious nature … in the course of practicing law.”

That 11-page mandate to Joseph A. Hurley came from the Delaware Supreme Court following two petitions in 2016 detailing allegations of conduct violations toward multiple attorneys and a client, according to court documents. The full order is online at courts.delaware.gov/opinions.

The order directed Mr. Hurley to complete the training program in six months and pay for its costs, and cover costs associated with the ODC’s investigation.

On Friday, Mr. Hurley said he would abide by the conditions and take the program he described as “charm school.

“The Court has said I should do this and I accept it.”

Mr. Hurley said any remarks made reflected a “culture and camaraderie” that has existed within Delaware’s legal community, and future expressions will be tempered to meet what he said are today’s apparent sensibilities.

“My sense of humor got misinterpreted and I will now guide it in a direction that stays away from women and anything that could be misconstrued as sexual harassment,” Mr. Hurley said. “I’m not giving up my humor but am going to re-channel it and future communications won’t touch on genders or anything that could be taken in the wrong manner by others.”

Mr. Hurley was admitted to the Delaware bar in 1970 and has served primarily as a criminal defense attorney.

Mr. Hurley was accused of violating the Delaware Lawyer’ Rules of Professional Conduct board “for making antagonistic, inflammatory and demeaning remarks to and about a former client” in three separate letters and “making disparaging or demeaning remarks to and about four different Deputy Attorneys General in various correspondence to the DAGs and, in one instance, to the Superior Court during the course of Hurley’s representation of several different clients.”

The Associated Press reported that Mr. Hurley made denials in a 23-page written response about what he called “Hurleygate.”

According to the Supreme Court, the board’s determination that he did not know of rules violations and the excuse that his “arrogant and overbearing persona was known to all and appreciated by some” did not translate into acceptable behavior. The attorney should have known better, the Supreme Court ruled and “The record presented supports a finding of knowing misconduct.”

Remarks detailed

According to the order, Mr. Hurley accused a state prosecutor of censorship in 2007 when the Deputy Attorney General “wrote to Hurley and asked him to stop making personal, sexual or disparaging remarks to other DAGs.”

Explaining its determinations, the Supreme referenced a letter Mr. Hurley supposedly sent to a complaining DAG “in which he stated that he used to expose himself to girls using a popcorn box in a movie theater …”

A letter attributed to Mr. Hurley described a female DAG having no “brain wave activity” and, according to the justices, “the letter included crude musings about the DAG’s plans for Valentine’s Day with her husband.”

Another letter allegedly showed Mr. Hurley telling a male DAG, “You are outmanned and outgunned. I am Catholic. You’re not. You’re a young Jewish man, I suspect.”

Later in the letter, according to the order, the attorney told the DAG that he should be “a goat herder in Lebanon”, calling him a “certified (expletive)” and that if the DAG got “anybody to accept his [crackpot ideas as Torah, then I will abide.”

The Supreme Court – including Chief Justice Leo E. Strine Jr. and Justices – Karen L. Valihura, James T. Vaughn Jr. Collins J. Seitz Jr. and Gary F. Traynor – said it disagreed “with the Board’s finding that Hurley’s misconduct was merely negligent” but accepted “recommendation of a public reprimand with conditions in this case.”

Reach staff writer Craig Anderson at canderson@newszap.com

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