Hardball lawyers may be popular in "L.A. Law," but they had better leave their cursing, hostility and "sarcastic commentary" behind when entering U.S. District Judge Clarence Brimmer's jurisdiction.

"We have discerned a trend toward hardball litigation and we want to stop it in its tracks," said Brimmer, the chief federal judge in Wyoming.Brimmer said he issued a decree this week to toughen the ground rules after he became fed up with lawyers who "perceive themselves solely as combatants, or believe they are retained to win at all costs without regard to fundamental principles of justice."

The judge said lawyers have been increasingly abusive to witnesses, defendants, opposing counsel and court personnel, especially during out-of-court depositions.

"This is a new tactic that litigators have been promoting, commonly known as `hardball litigation,' " he said. "We highly disapprove of it as being unprofessional and not worthy of the high standard of conduct we expect of our Bar."

The judge said female court reporters have been subjected to cursing and vile language, which they must transcribe, and "counsel get hostile, angry, shout at each other and often act in ways that professionally demean them," Brimmer said.

Such behavior is rarely seen in his courtroom, he added.

"If it happened in my courtroom, I would punish them for contempt immediately."

According to the judge's decree, "a lawyer should be patient, dignified and courteous in all court proceedings, including depositions, meetings or telephone calls concerning aspects of pending cases."

If lawyers violate the rules, they will be fined.

How much?

"The punishment will fit the crime," Brimmer said.