June 22 — A prosecutor got a 30-day suspension of his law license from the Delaware Supreme Court June 10 after he convinced an officer to pull a gun on a colleague in a workroom at the county courthouse as a practical joke ( In re Gelof, 2016 BL 185517, Del., No. 143, 2016, 6/10/16 ).
The incident led to a criminal investigation and cost court personnel hours of extra work, and it could have ended in serious injury or death, the professional responsibility board said in its report. The court approved the board's report and imposed the sanction it recommended without adding any comments of its own.
The decision is a reminder that even light-hearted pranks can sometimes be a bad idea for lawyers, especially attorneys in a position of public trust, and especially stunts involving the courthouse or guns.
It was a running joke among Adam D. Gelof's colleagues that he gagged at the smell of hard-boiled eggs. One day in a courthouse workroom, another prosecutor made a point of eating eggs over Gelof's files—which made everyone there laugh, including Gelof.
Gelof then convinced the court's chief of security to go into the workroom, draw his gun, point it at the other prosecutor and say “Gelof says keep the eggs away from the files.”
The prank nearly backfired because another officer happened to be in the room and almost pulled his own weapon in response before hearing laughter and realizing it was a joke.
That officer then reported the incident. On top of many other consequences, a disciplinary proceeding resulted.
Gelof admitted that he violated Rule 3.5(d) of the Delaware Lawyers' Rules of Professional Conduct, which prohibits lawyers from engaging in “undignified or discourteous conduct that is degrading to a tribunal,” as well as Rule 8.4(d), which prohibits conduct prejudicial to the system of justice.
Some Delaware lawyers have received only a public reprimand for conduct that's degrading to a tribunal or harmful to justice, the board acknowledged.
It decided, however, that Gelof's “ill-conceived prank” warranted a suspension. He intentionally created a potentially dangerous situation that could have resulted in injury or even death, and the consequences of the practical joke diverted resources away from the administration of justice, the report said.
The board said a court administrator had to take over the chief of security's duties because he was put on leave, and she spent more than 50 hours in meetings, calls and hearings about the incident. Moreover, the police spent 85-90 hours on the criminal investigation into the incident, and Gelof's two-month suspension from his job burdened other prosecutors with more work, the board said.
According to the board, Gelof apologized to everyone, cooperated in the disciplinary proceeding and presented uncontroverted evidence of good character. The incident also led to job-related penalties for him.
But those factors were far outweighed by Gelof's substantial experience in the practice of law, including nearly 20 years as a prosecutor, the board found in deciding on a suspension. The board said it limited the recommended suspension to 30 days in light of the mitigating factors.
Justices Randy J. Holland, Karen L. Valihura and James T. Vaughn Jr. heard the case.
Chief Disciplinary Counsel Jennifer-Kate Aaronson, Wilmington, Del., represented her office. Charles Slanina of Finger & Slanina LLC, Hockessin, Del., represented Gelof.
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Copyright © 2016 American Bar Association and The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
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