This post is one of a series on logical fallacies that I have faced in South Carolina appeals. This one covers the ad hominem fallacy in which one attacks the message by personally attacking the messenger.
This unfortunately occurs. For example, the South Carolina Supreme Court suspended a lawyer who handled a zoning dispute for a church. The lawyer said that the Town Manager had “no brains” and likened him to pagans who crucified Christ. In re White, 391 S.C. 581, 707 S.E.2d 411 (2011).
In another case, the South Carolina Supreme Court upheld the civility oath against challenges that the oath was unconstitutionally vague and overbroad.This oath requires lawyers to pledge, “To opposing parties and their counsel, I pledge fairness, integrity, and civility, not only in court, but also in all written and oral communications.” The Court concluded that the State has an interest in prohibiting lawyers from attacking each other personally because such conduct compromises the integrity of the judicial process and undermines a lawyer’s ability to objectively represent his or her client. In re Anonymous Member of the South Carolina Bar, 392 S.C. 328, 709 S.E.2d 633 (2011).
Such personal attacks may also be counterproductive. Chief Judge Toal in her treatise advises that attorneys should not engage in personal attacks: “When attorneys vilify their opponents or otherwise show disrespect, they succeed only in losing the respect of the court. No matter how ludicrous the opponent’s arguments may be, they should be addressed on the merits, and the opposing party or counsel should not be attacked personally.”
How do you counter personal attacks without getting mired in the muck? Tip 72 in Bryan A,. Garner’s book, The Winning Brief, suggests the deflating opener. He cites a brief in which a former Fifth Circuit Judge began a reply brief by counting and quoting the invectives used against him, describing the “prodigious flow of pejoratives” as a “diatribe” that “would be embarrassing in a barroom, let alone this Court.” The author then quickly moved to the merits.
How do you deal with opposing counsel’s personal attacks? Please leave a reply or reach me at www.attorneyroberthill.com.