The Supreme Court has quoted the adage that “a lawyer who represents himself has a fool for a client.” Kay v. Ehrler, 499 U.S. 432, 437 (1991). But Earle Partington’s pro se appearance before the D.C. Circuit this morning disproved that adage. His case was a loser no matter who argued it. It would have been foolish for him to pay another lawyer to tilt at the windmill rather than playing the role of Don Quixote himself for free.
Mr. Partington’s case arises from his indefinite suspension from practice before naval courts and boards – a disciplinary measure meted out by Vice Admiral Houck arising from a brief that Mr. Partington filed at NMCCA in a case in which he had also been the trial defense counsel. NMCCA determined that the brief included “clear misrepresentations of the record.” As a result of his indefinite suspension from naval courts, he was later suspended from practice in Hawai’i for 30 days and by CAAF for a year. In the matter of Earle A. Partington, 69 M.J. 408 (C.A.A.F. 2010). Mr. Partington brought suit in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia challenging his suspension by the Judge Advocate General of the Navy, as well as by CAAF. The district court granted judgment for the defendants, Partington v. Houck, 840 F. Supp. 2d 236 (D.D.C. 2012), leading to today’s oral argument in the D.C. Circuit.
The argument would feature ruminations on CAAF’s historic nicknames, a fashion faux pas, and an assault on uniformed military defense counsel followed by a judicial endorsement of their zealousness. The argument didn’t feature any reason to doubt the case’s outcome: a loss for Mr. Partington.
Mr. Partington began by asking for leave to appear on his own behalf because his counsel was involved in a political corruption trial in Massachusetts. Chief Judge Sentelle observed that Mr. Partington’s brief was also signed by a Virginia attorney (Charlie Gittins). Mr. Partington replied that the Virginia attorney was also out of town and that it had never been contemplated that he would argue the case.