Miami-Dade County

Grown-up lawyer disbarred for throwing paper, kicking tables and talking about boogers

A pattern of behavior some would call childish got a 54-year-old Miami Lakes lawyer disbarred.

According to documents in Robert Ratiner's discipline cases, he's thrown paper and wadded-up stickers at opposing counsel, tried to intimidate a witness by threatening her with jail time, kicked a table leg repeatedly and so loudly during a hearing that the judge ended the hearing, ignored judicial time limits for closing arguments, and made comments such as "can you remove that large booger hanging from your nose?"

Ratiner, a University of Miami law school graduate, joined the Florida Bar in 1990. All the pertinent behavior problems occurred while representing Claire Sidran in a lawsuit against E.I. DuPont De Nemours & Co., Inc.

The Referee's report on the first of these disciplinary matters, from a May 2007 deposition of Deborah Naylor, recommended Ratiner's disbarment.

"My recommendation of disbarment stems from the multiple acts of misconduct and the severity of each act," wrote the Referee. During four hours of testimony before the Referee, "not once did (Ratiner) express remorse for any of his multiple acts of misconduct."

Instead, the Referee wrote, Ratiner blamed Naylor, DuPont, DuPont's counsel, the court and the Florida Bar. The state Supreme Court went for a 60-day suspension and public reprimand.

Ratiner, at one point, "proceeded to forcefully lean over the deposition table, lambast (opposing counsel) Mr. (Thomas) Sherouse in a tirade, while proceeding to tear up the evidence sticker, wad it up and flick or toss it in the direction of Mr. Sherouse."

When Sherouse asked Ratiner to stop spitting tobacco juice and allowing it to dribble out of his mouth because it unsettled Naylor, Ratiner replied, "Sir, can you remove that large booger from your nose?"

During a break in the questioning, with Naylor out of the room, Sherouse asked Ratiner to end the tobacco chewing and spitting. Ratiner came back with, "I wish the witness would quit scratching her crotch."

Naylor told the Referee she could hear Ratiner and described the deposition as "by far the worst experience of my life, both professional and personal."

Ratiner's behavior moved a court reporter to say during a deposition, "I can't work like this!" and Ratiner's own consultant to tell him, "Take a Xanax."

Ratiner also couldn't play nicely with opposing counsel Bonnie Daboll and co-counsel Lea Souza-Rasile in 2009. The Referee's report on incidents that ended in Ratiner being put in timeout for three years said he called Souza-Rasile a "dominatrix" and told her "you must enjoy dominating people."

An argument over a document's index led to this confrontation: "Mr. Ratiner attempted to grab the document from underneath Daboll's right hand, and then immediately reached across her body and grabbed the papers which she had in her left hand. As Daboll attempted to hold on to the documents, she stated, 'Don't grab [sic] ever again.' Mr. Ratiner continued to attempt to forcibly take the papers from Daboll, causing a security guard ... to come across the room and intervene."

The Referee's report on Robert Ratiner's most recent case, from 2011, included Judge Amy Steele Donner reprimanding him for "wrinkling and throwing" documents after seeing him do it four or five times and ignoring her time limits on closing arguments by saying he'd take as long as he needed.

The Supreme Court noted Donner "described Ratiner’s behavior at trial as 'awful, that he was not respectful to the court or obeyed orders, and that she was appalled.’ ” Moreover, Judge Donner testified that Ratiner’s behavior “had been totally disruptive, that he was a ‘bully’ and that she called the Bar about Respondent’s behavior.” "

This time, the Referee recommended a three-year suspension to start when Ratiner's current three-year timeout finished in October. But, like a parent out of patience, the state Supreme Court agreed with the Florida Bar that it has had enough.

The court quoted Standard 8.1, a disbarment standard based on a poor discipline record, as reading, “Disbarment is appropriate when a lawyer . . . has been suspended for the same or similar misconduct, and intentionally engages in further similar acts of misconduct.”

And, the Supreme Court wrote, "Ratiner’s intentional and egregious misconduct continues to demonstrate an attitude that is wholly inconsistent with professional standards, and there is no indication that he is willing to follow the professional ethics of the legal profession."