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Racism in the Courtroom: How Would You React?

April 29, 2010

What in the world do IP laws have to do with terrorism?

NASABA has sent a letter to Chief Judge David Folsom of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Texas, demanding that attorney Nelson J. Roach be referred to the State Bar of Texas for disciplinary action regarding this statement, which he made in closing arguments for an intellectual property case:

Remember what Dr. Hausman, the Defendants’ expert told you would happen if we disregarded intellectual property rights? That we’d end up like India and Egypt where people don’t invent things. Instead, they go around talking about ways they hate America and ways they want to fly airplanes into our buildings.”

This post on Legal Ethics Forum links to a PDF of NASABA’s letter, which states that Texas Disciplinary Rule of Conduct 5.08 forbids discriminatory statements based on race or national origin. It also points out, using the court’s transcript, that Dr. Hausman said nothing of the sort. In fact, he spoke of his study of intellectual property law in Egypt and India, and stated that India has increased IP protections in order to encourage its inventors to create at a higher rate. (The 4/14 update to this post on the IP blog The Prior’s Art further explains how grossly Dr. Hausman was misquoted.)

According to the Legal Ethics Forum post, Indian-American attorney P. Anthony Sammi was present when the statement was made, but made no objection. Why? According to the author of the post, David McGowan, “Doing so would draw attention to the comments; it also would risk leading the jury to believe defense counsel is in court to defend people who don’t invent things and hate America rather than to defend their clients.”

The State Bar of Michigan’s blog also recognizes the difficult position Mr. Sammi was put in. General Patent Corporation even suggests that Mr. Roach’s appeal to the jury’s racism could be the reason why his client won their case. If this is true, the problem is even more serious.

What do you think? Do statements like this warrant discipline from the local bar association? What is the best action to take in such a case? Have you ever been present when an attorney said something like this? If so, how did you respond?

Please join the conversation here. You can also be a part of the solution by attending the NASABA Convention 2010.

Image: / CC BY 2.0
4 Comments leave one →
  1. April 29, 2010 8:38 pm

    Thank you, NASABA leadership for your strong stand in this situation. The rant is wrong on so many levels–as you point out in your letter. As a member I appreciate that you took the high road in pointing out to the judge the problems from a legal standpoint. I’m looking forward to seeing updates about what kind of response NASABA gets to the letter.

  2. Anita Harkess permalink
    May 3, 2010 6:59 am

    Thanks for reading and commenting, Neeti. We will keep you informed as this story unfolds. Corporate Counsel has just posted this article:

    It includes more from NASABA President Sonjui Kumar on why this issue is important. It also has Nelson Roach, the attorney who made the inflammatory statement, explaining what he meant to say, as well as a longer transcript of his closing arguments, which put his statements about Egypt and India in context.


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