Thursday, May 21, 2015

Thomas Jefferson In Hawai'i (He'll Always Have Paris)

An attorney who achieved a measure of notoriety by appearing before the Kansas Supreme Court dressed as Thomas Jefferson was disbarred by that court.

We had the story of the Kansas matter here.

From the opinion

In deciding that disbarment is the appropriate sanction under the circumstances, this court is mindful that one panel member recommended indefinite suspension, while the remaining two recommended disbarment. We also recognize there may be some tension in reconciling the panel's conflict of interest findings with its determination of a lack of selfishness as a mitigating factor.

But in this court's view the essentially uncontroverted findings and conclusions regarding Hawver's previous disciplinary history, his refusal to accept publicly financed resources to aid in his client's defense, and his inexplicable incompetence in handling Cheatham's case in the guilt and penalty phases of the trial are more than sufficient to require disbarment. See ABA Standard 4.51 (disbarment generally appropriate when a lawyer's course of conduct demonstrates "the lawyer does not understand the most fundamental legal doctrines or procedures, and the lawyer's conduct causes injury or potential injury to a client"). We hold that disbarment is the appropriate discipline.

The attorney was recently disbarred as reciprocal discipline in Hawai'i.

Hawver did not submit any arguments as to why a substantially similar discipline should not be imposed upon him in thisjurisdiction, and none clearly appears upon the face of the Kansas record. Therefore, in light of the above and theparticularly grave consequences of incompetent representation in a capital murder case,

IT IS HEREBY ORDERED Respondent Hawver is disbarred from the practice of law in this jurisdiction,

(Mike Frisch)

May 21, 2015 in Bar Discipline & Process | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Run Of The Mill Advice Gets Lawyer Censured

The Colorado Presiding Disciplinary Judge approved a public censure of an attorney for misconduct in two matters.

One is of particular interest

 Uwate was retained to defend an undocumented immigrant against charges for second-degree assault, menacing, and child abuse. The matter proceeded to trial. After all evidence was given to the jury, the jury came back with a question for the judge. The jury’s question made it clear that the jury was about to find the client guilty of at least second-degree assault. In the hallway, Uwate told his client about the jury’s question and reminded him that if he were convicted he would receive at least five years in jail and then be deported. The client was upset. Uwate said to his client, "If you were ever thinking of running, now would be the time to do it." Uwate’s client did not run, and the client was convicted of second-degree assault. Uwate’s comment contravened Colo. RPC 1.2(d) (a lawyer shall not counsel a client to engage in conduct that the lawyer knows is criminal or fraudulent).

(Mike Frisch)

May 21, 2015 in Bar Discipline & Process | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

An Expensive Icemaker

The Colorado Presiding Disciplinary Judge approved a stayed 90-day consent disposition

 Fischer’s misconduct took place during his representation of a client in a contested probate case. Fischer’s client refused to answer opposing counsel’s written discovery requests, contrary to Fischer’s advice. The client was fined $7,500.00, and Fischer paid the sanction himself. By doing so, he violated Colo. RPC 1.8(e) (a lawyer shall not provide financial assistance to a client in connection with a pending or contemplated litigation).

Eventually, the only remaining dispute in the probate case involved an icemaker. The court ordered Fischer’s client to return the icemaker to the decedent’s children, but she returned the wrong icemaker. Although Fischer’s client indicated at a later hearing that she understood which specific icemaker she was required to return, she later claimed confusion about which icemaker was at issue. After the court again clarified which icemaker had to be returned, the client delayed fourteen months before delivering the correct icemaker to the decedent’s children. Nearly $200,000.00 in penalties were assessed against Fischer’s client due to her fourteen-month delay. Fischer urged his client to deliver the correct icemaker during this period, but he also failed at times to adequately communicate with her. He thus violated Colo. RPC 1.4(a)(3) (a lawyer shall keep a client reasonably informed about the status of the matter). He also did not move to withdraw as counsel, even though his client was disobeying a court order.

When Fischer’s client did not pay the assessed penalties, opposing counsel moved for entry of judgment, seeking an award of $231,000.00. Although the motion was served on Fischer, he negligently failed to notify his client of the motion. When Fischer failed to respond to the motion, the court entered judgment against his client. The court e-served Fischer with that order, but he again negligently failed to notify his client. Fischer’s actions deprived his client of the opportunity to challenge the judgment and violated Colo. RPC 1.3 (a lawyer shall act with reasonable diligence and promptness when representing a client).

(Mike Frisch)

 

 

May 21, 2015 in Bar Discipline & Process | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Suspended Attorney Must Pass MPRE

From the New York Appellate Division for the Third Judicial Department

Motion by Edward S. Cooper for an order waiving the requirement that he take and attain a passing score on then Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination as a precondition to his reinstatement to the practice of law (see Matter of Cooper, 124 AD3d 1203 [2015]).

In order to qualify for reinstatement to the practice of law, the rules of this Court require that a suspended or disbarred attorney must take and attain a passing score on the Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination (hereinafter MPRE) subsequent to the entry of the order of suspension or disbarment (see Rules of App Div, 3d Dept [22 NYCRR] § 806.12 [b] [ii]; see also Rules of App Div, 1st Dept [22 NYCRR] § 603.14 [b] [3]; Rules of App Div, 2d Dept [22 NYCRR] § 691.11 [c] [2] [i]; Rules of App Div, 4th Dept [22 NYCRR] § 1022.28 [a] [3]; [b] [3]; see generally Rules of Ct of Appeals [22 NYCRR] § 520.9). The MPRE requirement serves two important purposes: it reemphasizes the importance of ethical conduct to attorneys who have been subjected to serious public discipline, and it also reassures the general public that such attorneys have undergone retraining in the field of professional responsibility.

Upon reading Cooper's notice of motion, counsel's affirmation in support dated March 16, 2015 and Cooper's affidavit in support sworn to March 12, 2015, and upon reading the affidavit in response by Alison M. Coan, Principal Attorney for the Committee on Professional Standards, and having concluded that Cooper has not established good cause for the waiver of theMPRE requirement, it is hereby

ORDERED that the motion is denied.

(Mike Frisch)

 

May 21, 2015 in Bar Discipline & Process | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thrilla In Viera

The ABA Journal has a report on proposed sanctions recommended against a Florida judge by the Judicial Qualifications Commission.

The sanction of a small fine is based on an courthouse hallway confrontation between the judge and a public defender.

The commission found insufficient evidence that the judge punched the public defender in the face but seems to believe that the face was, as they say, punch-worthy

Substantial evidence was offered to the effect that Mr. Weinstock was generally rude, disrespectful, incompetent and a highly unlikeable lawyer.

As to the well-respected judge

Many who observed the June 2, 2014, incident were unable to explain why Judge Murphy became so angry. Judge Murphy’s therapist, Michael Ronsisvalle, testified that Judge Murphy has a strong self-preservation mode that is compulsive, and that, related to his service in the military, Judge Murphy reflects that compulsion onto other people, feeling the undeniable need to protect them, too. In addition to this predisposition to self-preserve and to protect others, Judge Murphy was emotionally affected by the shooting of a defendant in front of the Viera Courthouse just months before the June 2, 2014, incident. Shortly after that, Judge Murphy lost his father. In the three weeks immediately preceding the June 2, 2014 incident, Judge Murphy was away from home for 17 days. The last week of his absence from the Courthouse was spent at a Drug and Veteran’s Court Conference in California. Upon his return to Florida the evening of June 1, 2014, he and his wife hosted guests for a dinner party in their home. Dr. Ronsisvalle described this confluence of events as "a perfect storm" that drained Judge Murphy of emotional energy to cope with Mr. Weinstock on June 2, 2014.

In sum

The altercation between Weinstock and Judge Murphy created a remarkable national embarrassment for not only the judiciary of the State of Florida, but for its citizens as well. Statewide and national newspaper and television media reported the public and violent confrontation between a presiding Judge who actually left the bench after saying he would "beat your ass" in the midst of a judicial proceeding, and the Assistant Public Defender who had defied and disrespected the Judge.

The public defender had "some ownership" of the incident. He has resigned from the public defender's office. (Mike Frisch)

May 21, 2015 in Bar Discipline & Process, Judicial Ethics and the Courts | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

All Or Nothing At All

The District of Columbia Court of Appeals stayed an order of disbarment and imposed a three-year period of probation for misconduct that included reckless or intentional misappropriation.

While the normative sanction for such misconduct is disbarment absent extraordinary circumstances, the court affirmed findings that the violations would not have occurred but for the attorney's dysthymia.

To her credit, respondent admitted that she committed all of the violations, including intentional or reckless misappropriation, she has shown remorse for her misconduct, and she has been substantially rehabilitated as a result of psychotherapy treatment.

The probation is subject to monitoring and

Should respondent violate the terms of her probation or commit any additional violation of the Rules of Professional Conduct, she will be subject to revocation of her probation and face disbarment.

In D.C., what is referred to as Kersey-style mitigation is a pretty much all-or-nothing proposition. Either you establish mitigation and get a fully-stayed sanction or you don't and get the full dose of discipline.

This is in part my legacy as I represented Bar Counsel in the Kersey case. (Mike Frisch)

May 21, 2015 in Bar Discipline & Process | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Moral Turpitude Or Fee Dispute?

A stayed one year suspension with 90 days of actual suspension was recommended by the California State Bar Court Review Department in a matter where the issue was whether the conduct involved a "fee dispute" or something worse.

The primary issue before us is whether Aldon Louis Bolanos’s improper handling of client monies constituted misappropriation involving moral turpitude or a fee dispute. After a three-day trial, the hearing judge dismissed the moral turpitude charge, characterizing the case as "a fee dispute that got out of control." Giving great weight to the hearing judge’s factual findings, we agree.

Bolanos represented Victoria McCarthy and co-plaintiff Katherine Schmitt in their employment discrimination lawsuit against R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Company (Reynolds). The relationship between McCarthy and Bolanos deteriorated following her settlement on appeal with Reynolds. McCarthy filed a legal malpractice lawsuit against Bolanos and, ultimately, a State Bar complaint.

The hearing judge found that Bolanos committed misconduct when he: (1) represented clients with a potential conflict without their informed written consent; (2) failed to notify McCarthy promptly of the receipt of settlement funds; (3) improperly withdrew disputed funds from his client trust account (CTA); and (4) failed to promptly return McCarthy’s file at her request. Finding significant aggravation and significant mitigation, the hearing judge recommended discipline, including a 90-day actual suspension...

Balancing the serious aggravation with the significant mitigation, we agree with the hearing judge that a one-year suspension, stayed, a 90-day actual suspension, and a one-year probation period is appropriate discipline under the standards and the applicable case law.

The majority

Contrary to our colleague’s dissent, we have not "fashioned a defense to the moral turpitude charge" that would permit attorneys to unilaterally take their fees based on a belief in their entitlement to them. Rather, we have deferred to the hearing judge’s credibility determination, as we must under our rules and Supreme Court precedent, that Bolanos acted without moral turpitude when he held disputed fees outside of his CTA during the brief pendency of the dispute, given his ignorance of the governing rule and his honest belief that the fee modification was unenforceable.

As set forth in her detailed decision, the hearing judge found Bolanos’s conduct to be an example of aggravated mishandling of disputed fees based on a totality of the facts.

The dissent would impose "more significant discipline" for intentional misappropriation

the record in the instant matter belies Bolanos’s assertion that at the time he took the settlement funds from his CTA, he held an honest good faith belief that his agreement to reduce his fee was unenforceable. By his own admission, he took the additional fee: (1) before he advised McCarthy he was reneging on their agreement; (2) without telling her he had removed the funds; (3) without telling her he had co-signed her name to the settlement check; and (4) without even telling her he had received the funds. I thus find his after-the-fact assertion that he took the fees in reliance on the advice of an unnamed attorney, who told him that his agreement to reduce his fees was unenforceable, is pretextual at best.

The District of Columbia Court of Appeals reached a similar conclusion (albeit without reference to moral turpitude) in this 1997 decision. (Mike Frisch) 

May 21, 2015 in Bar Discipline & Process | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Suspension For Forcible Touching Convictions

An attorney convicted of five counts of forcible touching has been suspended for one year and until further order by the New York Appellate Division for the Second Judicial Department.

In determining an appropriate measure of discipline to impose, we note, as the Special Referee did, that the respondent "apologize[d] for taking up everybody's time and resources." Further, the respondent testified that in the 2½ years since the acts that gave rise to his conviction—which acts all occurred within a short period of time—he has thought "a great deal" about what he did, has taken responsibility for his actions, and is "truly very sorry for the harm [that he] inflicted." Significantly, the Special Referee reported that the respondent is 33 years old; that this was his first and only conviction; that the conviction—which was a misdemeanor—resulted in neither incarceration nor sex offender registration; and that the subject conduct involved neither clients nor coworkers. Moreover, the Special Referee noted the respondent's testimony that he began receiving treatment for his "impulsive issues" before his sentencing, and that he has had no behavioral issues since the underlying issues occurred. The respondent's participation in outpatient sexual behavior rehabilitation was documented and, at the time of the hearing, he was expected to begin "relapse prevention supportive therapy."

Above the Law reported on the case of the so-called Gentleman Groper.

Details here from The Gothamist. (Mike Fr isch)

May 20, 2015 in Bar Discipline & Process | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

The Wrath Of God And A Lawyer

An attorney who, among other things, harassed his former clients in his effort to collect fees has been suspended for 90 days by the Minnesota Supreme Court.

The court quoted one letter at length

You are merely trying to escape your financial obligation to me. And unless you and your wife never again maintain any type of business or personal account in this country, I will get my money from you. You have mistaken my kindness for weakness. I did not get to where I am today allowing people, like you, to “punk me.” Perhaps you need to be taught a lesson in life. . . . So unless you want me to own all of your future earnings in your shipping business, or at least most of it, you will start by telephoning my brother and telling him that you were wrong about me “messing you up,” and I am demanding this of you. And if I as much as hear from any other source that you have said any negative thing about me, my firm and your very difficult case, I will come after you with “hell and brimstone.” But please do not forget that after you answer to me, you will also answer to God, the Father, who sees all the evil that men do. What I am saying to you is you will additionally suffer divine justice because this is sheer evil and wickedness.

Also

The referee also concluded that Igbanugo violated Minn. R. Prof. Conduct 8.4(d) by improperly disclosing that K.A. smoked marijuana during the hearing on the collection lawsuit...

By its nature, revealing a client confidence is prejudicial to the administration of justice because it undermines trust in the legal profession and the lawyer-client relationship.

The court agreed with the referee that suspension was appropriate

Based on the unique facts of this case, the serious nature of Igbanugo’s misconduct and the harm his conduct caused to his clients, to the public, and to the legal profession, in addition to the aggravating factors found by the referee, we see no reason to deviate from the referee’s recommendation.

(Mike Frisch)

May 20, 2015 in Bar Discipline & Process | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

No "Sovereign Citizen" Defense To Unauthorized Practice

The Ohio Supreme Court has enjoined the unauthorized practice of a non-attorney

Relator’s evidence demonstrates that Brown filed multiple documents in three separate cases in the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas and that in some of those documents, she identified herself as attorney-in-fact for the plaintiff.

The three cases involved the interests of one person. The trial courts had found that the conduct amounted to unauthorized practice.

The court agreed

The board found that relator proved by a preponderance of the evidence that Brown had engaged in the unauthorized practice of law. Relator has proved that Brown prepared for others legal documents that were then filed in the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas and also appeared at a pretrial conference on behalf of another. Therefore, we agree that she engaged in the unauthorized practice of law.

The court also found that a civil penalty was appropriate for the third instance

But noting that Brown filed a complaint and petition for emergency injunction in the Marinpietri matter after she had been clearly admonished by two Cuyahoga Court of Common Pleas Court judges for her unauthorized practice of law, and that she claimed she had the right to file the lawsuit as a “sovereign citizen,” the board recommends that we impose a $5,000 civil penalty with respect to Count 3.

The court imposed a $7,000 fine. (Mike Frisch)

May 20, 2015 in Bar Discipline & Process | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Podiatrist - Attorney Gets the Boot

The Indiana Supreme Court has imposed a suspension of at least four years of an attorney who engaged in criminal conduct in connection with his service as elected county clerk

Respondent’s convictions resulted from his use of federal funds to pay himself impermissible bonuses in connection with work he performed in his capacity as the elected Clerk of Lake County, Indiana.

On sanction

The parties cite no facts in aggravation. The Court, however, finds in aggravation that Respondent was an elected official who betrayed the public trust and violated both his oath of office and the oath of attorneys. The parties cite the following facts in mitigation: (1) Respondent’s lack of prior discipline; (2) Respondent’s cooperation with the Commission’s investigation and prompt reporting of criminal charges against him; and (3) Respondent’s repayment with interest of the monies in question prior to the filing of criminal charges against him.

He  must petition for reinstatement after serving the term of suspension.

NWI.com reported that he was sentenced to 18 months.

Senior U.S. District Court Judge James Moody asked himself out loud, why did Philpot, an intelligent, well-trained man familiar with the proper workings of local government commit his crime, and concluded that the evidence pointed to "arrogance, greed and a warped sense of entitlement."

Philpot, 55, a podiatrist and attorney, served 10 years as Lake County coroner and six years as county clerk between 1992 and 2012.

 (Mike Frisch)

May 19, 2015 in Bar Discipline & Process | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Moving Towards Transparency?

I can now begin the process of stepping down from my soap box.

The District of Columbia Board on Professional Responsibility has, for the first time ever, made available on line an annual report of its activities for 2014.

Kudos to the Board for finally heeding the pleas of myself and others and recognizing the need for some level of transparency and accountability.

At first blush, this report looks to be quite informative. It provides a comparative look at the case load going back to 2010.  

One serious shortcoming is that, so far as I can tell, there is no information provided about how long investigations, prosecutions and contested disciplinary matters actually take.

Without that critical piece of information, as we Biblical scholars like to say, the rest is commentary. (Mike Frisch)

May 19, 2015 in Bar Discipline & Process | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Judicial Campaign "Misquote" Sanctionable

The Illinois Review Board has rejected a First Amendment challenge and recommended a censure of a judicial candidate for statements made in the campaign.

In 2012, Respondent ran for the office of Circuit  Judge in the 20th Judicial Circuit. His opponent was Associate Judge  Vincent J. Lopinot. At first he planned to run a positive campaign. However, he  learned that Judge Lopinot's campaign was allegedly considering turning to  negative tactics by publishing an article against Respondent about a prior  charge of an "offensive battery". Respondent had read the Seventh Circuit  opinion in Woidtke v. St. Clair County, id. He then, along with  his campaign manager, decided to respond by sending out a flyer that contained  the following language:

Rodney Woidtke spent 12 years in prison for a murder HE DID NOT COMMIT. (Source: People v. Woidtke, No. 5-99-0331, 5th District, 26 April  2000)

Because ?.

Supervising Public Defender VINCENT J. LOPINOT and his Assistant, Brian  Trentman, "were NEGLIGENT in the representation of Mr. Woidtke in a 1989  criminal proceeding that resulted in his wrongful conviction of  murder of Audrey Cardenas." (Source: Woidtke v. St. Clair County, St. Clair  County Public Defenders Office, Brian K. Trentman and Vincent Lopinot, No.  02-4223, May 2003)

Next to the above statement, Respondent placed a  picture of Lopinot with the word "NEGLIGENT" in white with a red background  underneath the picture. Respondent sent the flyer to 75,000 to 100,000 people.  Despite the mailing of the flyer, Respondent lost the election to Judge Lopinot.

The above language was taken from the Seventh  Circuit opinion but was not an accurate quotation. The opinion actually read in  the opening paragraphs of the opinion, "In Count I, Mr. Woidtke alleged that  Attorney Trentman and his supervisor, Attorney Judge Lopinot, had been negligent  in their representation of Mr. Woidtke in a 1989 criminal proceeding that  resulted in his conviction." Respondent does not deny that he misquoted the  Seventh Circuit opinion.

The Board

We conclude that the Hearing Board's finding that  Respondent intentionally made the false statement in the flyer is not against  the manifest weight of the evidence. Respondent admitted that he assisted in  designing and writing the contents of the mailer and that he approved its design  and contents. Respondent admitted at hearing that he reviewed the various court  opinions regarding the Woidtke matter prior to completing the mailer. He did not  act in haste. The Hearing Board rejected Respondent's testimony that he believed  the mailer accurately quoted the Seventh Circuit opinion as "incredible and  false." Respondent had no objective information from which he could have  concluded that Lopinot supervised Trentman in regard to the Woidtke case. The  Hearing Board, who had the benefit of listening to the witnesses, concluded  Respondent deliberately and intentionally changed the language of the quotation  to create a false impression. The evidence supports this finding.

The Board found that recent U.S. Supreme Court precedent supported its First Amendment position

Respondent argues that Rules 8.2(a), 8.2(b) and  8.4(c) are unconstitutional as applied to his conduct. He contends that his  statements constitute political speech and are protected by the First Amendment  even if the statements are knowingly false. We disagree. Respondent has failed  to direct our attention to any cases which have concluded that all statements  made during a judicial, or any other, election, regardless of their truth or  falsity, are protected speech under the First Amendment to the United States  Constitution or any State Constitution.

The United States Supreme Court has never ruled  Rules 8.2(a), 8.2(b) or 8.4(c) unconstitutional. Similarly, the United States Supreme Court has never held that knowingly  false statements by a judicial candidate against an opponent have First  Amendment protection. Even in the most recent case cited by Respondent, United States v. Alvarez, 567 U.S. ___, 132 S.Ct. 2537 (2012), the  Supreme Court pointed out that there are situations in which knowingly or  recklessly made false statements are not protected under the First Amendment,  citing Garrison v. Louisiana, 379 U.S. 64 (1964) where an appellate  district attorney was convicted of defamation for making disparaging statements  about the judiciary. See also, Williams-Yulee v. The Florida Bar, 575  U.S. ___ (2015)(Court found that a Florida rule prohibiting judicial candidates  from personally soliciting campaign contributions did  not violate the First Amendment given the State's interest in preserving the  integrity of the judiciary).

(Mike Frisch)

May 19, 2015 in Bar Discipline & Process, Judicial Ethics and the Courts | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Ignorance May Not Be Bliss In Post Conviction Proceeding

The South Carolina Court of Appeals affirmed the denial of post conviction relief in a  trafficking in methamphetamine case on rather interesting grounds. 

The court found that the attorney had an actual conflict of interest but concluded that his credible testimony that he had failed to recognize the conflict meant that it had not affected his representation

,,,counsel should have recognized the conflict and even if he did not, the conflict could have made Gonzales less inclined to tell trial counsel he had information about Perez. However, all of the case law indicates the conflict must have adversely affected trial counsel's performance. Gonzales cannot show this without showing trial counsel recognized the conflict. Because we are bound by the PCR court's finding trial counsel's testimony credible that he did not recognize the conflict, we must find trial counsel's conflict did not adversely affect his performance. Although Shurling later procured a deal for Gonzales on another charge in turn for his testimony against Perez, because trial counsel did not know of the conflict, we cannot find the conflict was the reason he did not pursue a deal in the methamphetamine trafficking case in return for information about Perez.

Justice Short dissented

I respectfully dissent. I find Gonzales has shown the conflict of interest adversely affected trial counsel's representation. Although I find credible trial counsel's testimony that he zealously represented Gonzales, I find his failure to timely recognize the conflict of interest adversely affected his performance. Trial counsel portrayed Gonzales as a "very young person" unable to make responsible decisions, which should have more timely heightened counsel's awareness to the possibility of a conflict of interest. In light of the government officials' testimony of the far more favorable treatment Gonzales could have obtained, I find the conflict of interest adversely affected trial counsel's performance.

(Mike Frisch)

May 19, 2015 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Never Again

The Ohio Supreme Court did not simply deny an application for bar admission on character and fitness grounds. 

The court permanently barred any future application.

The applicant was born and received his legal education in Israel and obtained an LLM from Michigan State.

During the investigation into Wahidy’s character and fitness to practice law, the bar-admissions committee discovered that he had failed to disclose a number of significant facts regarding his past that he was required to disclose on his registration application, including his 1995 divorce, a foreclosure action, the insolvency of his failed business, a personal-injury action, charges of aggravated menacing and criminal damaging, and multiple jobs he had held. At the panel hearing, Wahidy admitted that he had signed his registration application and certified that his answers were complete and true, even though he knew they were not.

The court rejected the applicant's various explanations for the disclosure lapses and also took into account his failure to deal with debt.

In sum

we adopt the board’s recommendation to disapprove Wahidy’s pending registration application. Based on Wahidy’s complete lack of candor throughout the admissions process, however, we order that Wahidy be forever precluded from reapplying for the privilege of practicing law in this state.

Justices O'Donnell and French would deny admission but permit a future application. (Mike Frisch)

May 19, 2015 in Bar Discipline & Process | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, May 18, 2015

Fifty Seven Years

The New Jersey Supreme Court agreed with its Disciplinary Review Board that dismissal of charges that an attorney failed to set forth a fee agreement with a client was appropriate.

The DRB

Respondent, who has been practicing for fifty-seven years, represented Feman, as a favor to a mutual friend. At oral argument before us, respondent asserted that he had spent fifty to sixty hours on this pro bono matter, that he never intended to charge her a fee, that he successfully negotiated a favorable real estate contract for her, and that he sent the email to her in an attempt to persuade her not to cancel the contract. Under the circumstances, we find no clear and convincing evidence that respondent violated RPC 1.5(b) and determine to dismiss the complaint.

The attorney had been reprimanded and censured in the past.

The 2001 reprimand involved negligent misappropriation ans other misconduct.

The 2006 censure was for "drafting a client’s will that left the entire residuary estate to himself."

(Mike Frisch)

May 18, 2015 in Bar Discipline & Process | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

"Just Teasing?"

An attorney's second affidavit to resign from the Bar was accepted by the Oklahoma Supreme Court.

The affidavit conceded

In late October or early November of 2012, respondent agreed to represent Client against a felony charge of being a fugitive from justice; they agreed for payment to consist of a retainer of $1500. On November 16, 2012, respondent entered his appearance for Client in her criminal case. Later that month, in their first in-person meeting, respondent sought payment of the retainer; Client instead asked for money to feed her children. Then Respondent asked her if they could get into his car "so I can do whatever I want to you." Client refused, but during the final handshake, respondent pulled Client toward him and made unwelcome sexual contact with her. Client reported respondent's conduct to the Norman Police Department on November 29, 2012. Along with respondent's actions during the initial in-person meeting, Client also informed the police that respondent had been texting her to inquire about kissing her 13-year-old and 17-year-old daughters in exchange for discounted legal fees.

On January 24, 2013, the district court dismissed Client's criminal charges as the time for the warrant to arrive from Texas had expired. Respondent received a copy of the dismissal, but did not inform Client of the district court's action. On February 3, 2013, respondent began texting Client again to inquire about paying his legal fees. Respondent suggested by text message to Client that she could pay for the legal services by sending him nude pictures of her and pictures of her teenage daughters. When Client asked if he was asking for nude pictures of her daughters, he responded, "Whatever u think will make me smile lol." Respondent then sent Client an explicit picture of himself. Respondent later sent a text message to Client suggesting that he should come to Client's home to take the pictures.

Client reported all of respondent's additional communications to a detective with the Norman Police Department, who asked her to contact the Garvin County Sheriff's Office. On the evening of February 3rd, a deputy with the sheriff's office began to text respondent from Client's phone with Client's permission. In response to the deputy's texts, respondent propositioned Client, asking her to wait for him in the nude along with her teenage daughters. Respondent offered his legal services for free in exchange for a sexual encounter with Client and her daughters. Respondent then called Client by phone and agreed to waive all legal fees in return for sexual favors. The next day, respondent persisted with more text messages, prefacing the conversation by stating that he was drunk the night before and he was "just teasing," but then immediately asking what Client would do for him if her case were dismissed. At no point did respondent inform Client that her criminal case had been dismissed.

The attorney pleaded guilty to misdemeanors charges. Tulsa World reported that he was sentenced to probation. (Mike Frisch)

May 18, 2015 in Bar Discipline & Process | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Bar Admission Denied In Louisiana

The Louisiana Supreme Court denied reconsideration of an application for bar admission without opinion.

Justice Weimer concurred and assigned reasons 

While I hesitate to concur and thereby draw further attention to this unfortunate situation, as respectfully as I can say it, the assumption should not be made that admission was denied solely due to past substance abuse. This case is not analogous to others in which conditional admission has been granted following a demonstrated period of recovery. Certainly, the record of substance abuse is extensive and gives one pause when reviewing this application. However, recent indications are that the substance abuse has been eradicated from the applicant’s present life, which is commendable. Furthermore, the recognition and support the applicant has received from members of the legal community are also encouraging indicators. If one views this application only from the standpoint of the applicant’s ongoing recovery from substance abuse, however, the full picture does not emerge. What distinguishes this case from others in which conditional admission has been granted is the applicant’s extensive criminal record. I readily recognize there may be an interrelationship between the applicant’s substance abuse and multiple DUI convictions. However, at the risk of stating the obvious, multiple instances of criminal conduct endangering the safety of the public stand separate and apart from substance abuse and can not be disregarded...

As a result of this “damning” criminal record, distinguishing this matter from others dealing solely with substance abuse is straightforward. Thus, there is no inconsistency or arbitrariness in the court’s present denial of admission.

Justice Crichton, joined by Justice Knoll, dissented

After the Committee on Bar Admissions and the applicant filed a joint petition for conditional admission, this Court appointed a Commissioner to conduct a hearing into the issues surrounding the character and fitness of this petitioner. The Commissioner recommended we grant conditional admission after hearing all the evidence. The evidence presented to the commissioner was persuasive, but I found two letters to be particularly compelling. One letter was from a federal magistrate judge for whom petitioner formerly clerked, and the other was written by the federal district judge who presently employs petitioner as a law clerk. These letters demonstrate in a convincing fashion that petitioner has the strong support of the judges, both of whom are aware of petitioner’s history and the challenges he faces.

The dissenting justices would conditionally admit the applicant. (Mike Frisch)

May 16, 2015 in Bar Discipline & Process | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, May 15, 2015

God's Plan

The Leaf-Chronicle has this recent story on the conviction of two Clarksville Tennessee attorneys

After nearly 15 hours of deliberation Monday and Tuesday, jurors in the Carrie Gasaway/Fletcher Long extortion trial returned a verdict of guilty.

The jury notified court officers at 3:10 p.m. Tuesday that they had reached verdict for both attorneys after a seven-day trial at the Montgomery County Courts Center.

Long said after the verdict that he honors the jury’s decision, and he is considering changing his profession because it is “too stressful.”

“God has a plan for me, but it’s not to practice law,” he said. “... I think I have some marketable skills.”

Gasaway and Long, two well-known local attorneys, were convicted of trying to extort $50,000 from a client, Michelle Langlois, who hired them to attend the reading of her father’s will in October 2010. The crime is a Class D felony with a sentencing range of two to 12 years with a maximum fine of $5,000.

Attorney Long had handled some high-profile criminal cases

Long has been involved as a defense counsel in two high-profile Middle Tennessee criminal cases. As recently as April, Long was representing Jason Autry, a co-defendant in the kidnapping and slaying of Holly Bobo, a notorious West Tennessee crime.

Long also represented one of four former Vanderbilt University football players accused of raping an unconscious female student in 2013. Long argued at trial in January that his client Brandon Vandenburg did not participate in the rape and was not responsible, but a jury returned a guilty verdict.

In the local trial, the jury did not affix a fine to the convictions, and Judge Paul Summers, who was brought in from another district to hear the case, said a sentencing date will be set within the next 45 days.

 (Mike Frisch)

May 15, 2015 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

The Shadow

The Cranston (Rhode Island) Patch has this recent report on criminal charges against a judge

A Cranston Municipal Court Judge and lawyer was arrested by East Greenwich Police on Monday for an alleged domestic altercation in their town.

Thomas Ricci, 51, was arraigned today in Third Division District Court on charges of domestic simple assault and domestic disorderly conduct and released on personal recognizance, court records show.

NBC10 reported Ricci beat and strangled the woman after she confronted him over text messages she found on his phone.

Ricci has served as Senior Associate Judge in Cranston Municipal Court since 2007.

He has also served on the Rhode Island Supreme Court Disciplinary Board, the state Coastal Resource Management Council and Warwick’s Judicial Selection Committee.

He is due to return to court on June 5 for a pretrial conference.

For those interested in recent cases of Rhode Island attorney discipline, GoLocalProv has this article titled Booze, Bribes, And Conspiracy. (Mike Frisch)

May 15, 2015 in Bar Discipline & Process, Judicial Ethics and the Courts | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)