Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Not So Grandson

A municipal court judge has been reprimanded by the South Carolina Supreme Court for intervening in a driving while suspended charge against her grandson

 Respondent's grandson was charged with Driving under Suspension, 1st offense. The matter was pending before a magistrate. Respondent contacted the magistrate's office and identified herself as a judge in the telephone conversation. Respondent did not place the call in an attempt to get the charge dismissed but to facilitate her grandson's plea as he was currently incarcerated on other matters...

Respondent asserts she never intended to use her position as a judge to help her grandson and that she was just trying to enable him to plead guilty to the charge. Respondent submits she did not identify herself as a judge in the second letter and that she did not write either letter on court stationary or letterhead.

Respondent since hired a lawyer to represent her grandson and the Driving under Suspension charge was resolved with a plea. Respondent is aware that she should not have used her title in speaking to the magistrate's office and regrets her conduct. Respondent submits she will not repeat her conduct in the future.

The judge admitted the ethical violations. (Mike Frisch)

October 1, 2014 in Bar Discipline & Process, Judicial Ethics and the Courts | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Gang Related

A recent disbarment is summarized in the October 2014 California Bar Journal

In 2013, Markman pleaded no contest to conspiracy to commit a crime and multiple counts of bringing drugs into jail and possession of a controlled substance in jail. Markman also admitted that his offenses were committed for the benefit of, in association with, or at the direction of a criminal street gang.

Markman represented defendant Jorge Zaragoza, an active and admitted member of a criminal street gang. The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Office got word that someone had been smuggling drugs into the North County Correctional Facility where Zaragoza was housed and that Zaragoza had been receiving the drugs during his courthouse visits with Markman.

When Markman walked into the client-attorney interview room to meet with Zaragoza on Oct. 21, 2011, an investigator, deputies and a drug-sniffing dog met him. Markman acknowledged he had a package with him but said he did not know what was in it. Later, after the drug sniffing dog alerted officers to drugs in the package, Markman acknowledged that it might contain cocaine or methamphetamine. He also admitted that his client’s girlfriend had paid him to bring the package to Zaragoza. The package contained 26 small balloons filled with methamphetamine and tar heroin, a chunk of marijuana and three hypodermic syringes.

The following month, an officer working the screening area at Antelope Valley Superior Court was looking at items going through the X-ray machine when he noticed two crack pipes in Markman’s wallet. When confronted, Markman tried to leave the courthouse but the officer detained him. In addition to the pipes, two bindles of crack cocaine were discovered in his wallet.

In mitigation, Markman had no prior record of discipline and entered into a pretrial stipulation with the State Bar.

(Mike Frisch)

October 1, 2014 in Bar Discipline & Process | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Social Insecurity

The West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals has imposed a reprimand and other sanctions on an attorney for ethical violations relating to a fee dispute with his law firm.

The court agreed with its Lawyer Disciplinary Board that only two of the six rule violation charges were proven.

The background

Lawyer White was admitted to the West Virginia Bar in 2005. In 2008, he joined the Hendrickson and Long (“H&L”) law firm in Charleston, West Virginia, as an associate handling social security disability cases. White’s annual compensation of $160,000 from the firm was to be paid half in salary and half in the form of a loan. At the time of his hiring, White understood the fees generated by his social security disability cases would be credited against the loan. However, his employment agreement was silent on this issue.

White later learned that H&L was not crediting the social security disability fees he earned against his loan, and from February 2009 to May 2009, he withheld his incoming social security disability fees from H&L by keeping them in his desk drawer. H&L filed a complaint with the ODC from which this case originated.

The court agreed with the board that Rule 1.15(a) and dishonesty violations were not established

H&L created an ambiguous employment letter that was unclear as to the application of the social security disability fees from White’s cases against his loan. The fact that H&L caused the ambiguity as to whether these fees would be credited against White’s loan is one reason we are not convinced that White violated Rule 1.15(a)...

This Court is satisfied with the Board’s findings that White did not violate Rules 8.4(c) or (d) because he did not convert funds belonging solely to H&L and because he reasonably believed that he had a legitimate claim to the social security disability fees.

A sanction was imposed for Rule 1.15(b) and (c) violations that the court stressed did not involve conversion

This case is fundamentally different from those in which a lawyer knowingly misappropriated a third person’s property...

We agree that the following facts should mitigate White’s punishment: the application of social security disability fees against the loan was the subject of a bona fide contract dispute, White had no prior disciplinary record, he lacked experience in the legal profession, and White lacked a dishonest or selfish motive.

(Mike Frisch)

October 1, 2014 in Bar Discipline & Process | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Buck Rogers In The 21st Century

When lawyers sue their former clients for unpaid fees,  the result often is a return volley alleging legal malpractice.

The New York Appellate Division for the First Judicial Department dealt with such a situation in a decision issued yesterday.

The former client

The Dille Family Trust (the Trust), of which defendant is trustee, owned trademarks and copyrights for "Buck Rogers." Two of the Dille family members are beneficiaries of the trust; their grandfather's syndicate had obtained the Buck Rogers trademark and copyrights. The syndicate had hired Philip Nowlan to create comic strips based on the character, and his heirs started cancellation proceedings to terminate the syndicate's trademark rights and obtain the rights for themselves. The beneficiaries of the Trust retained plaintiff law firm to handle intellectual property matters, including the cancellation action.

The trial court erred in part

Contrary to the motion court's conclusion, there was a valid fee agreement between plaintiff and the Trust. The better practice would have been to send the engagement letter to the trustee, rather than only to the beneficiaries. However, the record, including email exchanges between the trustee and plaintiff, shows that the trustee was well aware of and approved of the beneficiaries' authority to act on the Trust's behalf with regard to plaintiff's retainer and representation (see Granato v Granato, 75 AD3d 434 [1st Dept 2010]). It is irrelevant that the original engagement letter was not signed by the client (see 22 NYCRR 1215.1[a]).

While the court found a triable dispute over the bill, the legal malpractice counterclaim failed

Regarding the legal malpractice counterclaim, assuming that plaintiff's conduct, in failing to complete a chain-of-title report or failing to resolve the underlying intellectual property disputes before withdrawing, amounts to negligence, the Trust failed to demonstrate causation. The Trust failed to show how it would have successfully opposed the underlying trademark cancellation proceeding, or would otherwise have protected its intellectual property rights, but for plaintiff's omissions.

In addition, the resulting inability to efficiently market the trademarks is too speculative to constitute the "actual ascertainable damages" required to support the malpractice counterclaim.

Beneficiary Flint Dille's bare allegation that he and plaintiff had agreed to a $25,000 fee cap is unsupported in the engagement letter sent to Dille listing an hourly rate or by anything else in the record, and therefore cannot establish a legal malpractice counterclaim. (citations omitted)

(Mike Frisch)

October 1, 2014 in Billable Hours, Clients | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Murdter, He Wrote (But Not the Briefs)

A District of Columbia Hearing Committee has taken the unusual step of recommending a more severe sanction than that proposed by the Office of Bar Counsel.

The matter involved an experienced attorney (with a private practice and Department of Justice background) who had seriously neglected five appointed criminal appeals. He was removed from each of the cases and held in criminal contempt in two of the cases by the Court of Appeals.

He was sentenced to a stayed jail term and unsupervised probation for the contempts.

The attorney was remorseful for the misconduct and has taken some steps  to avoid future lapses, which he attributed to his focus on pending trials.

Bar Counsel and the attorney agreed that a public censure was appropriate.

However, in light of a recent court decision, the Hearing Committee disagreed

The Court of Appeals very recently addressed very similar conduct in Askew that we are bound to follow. In Askew, the Court held that a respondent’s “substantial and intentional” neglect of a single client in a criminal appellate matter warranted a six-month suspension, with all but sixty days stayed, and a one-year probationary term. In re Askew, App. No. 13-BG-0849, 2014 WL 3744056, at *9 (D.C. July 31, 2014). In Askew, the respondent ignored multiple Court orders to file an appellate brief, and failed to turn over the client’s file to successor counsel in a timely manner, which resulted in additional delay in the case. Id. Additionally, the respondent’s appointment had been previously vacated in at least one other criminal case where she failed to file a brief or otherwise respond to a Court order. Id. at 7. The Court weighed heavily the fact that the respondent was appointed to represent an indigent defendant and that there were no mitigating circumstances that would explain the misconduct.Id. at 6.

Noting some distinguishing factors in both mitigation and aggravation, the Hearing Committee proposes the same sanction ordered in the Askew case.

The case is In re Charles Murdter and can be found at this link.

I only had two cases at Bar Counsel where the proposed sanction of a hearing committee or the Board on Professional Responsibility was more severe than I had sought.

One - In re Elliott Abrams - was infected by national politics. The other - In re Miller - was infected by bar politics.

Neither concern seems to be at play here. (Mike Frisch)

October 1, 2014 in Bar Discipline & Process | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Probation Extended

The Indiana Supreme Court has denied the motion of its Disciplinary Commission to revoke probation of an attorney.

The attorney was suspended for six months and was granted reinstatement on conditions. He fauiled to follow the term, which required a management plan and attorney supervision.

He explained

 Respondent says that he has begun a limited part-time practice with cases accepted with consultation with his Indiana Judges and Lawyers Assistance Program monitor, who has assisted him with time management counseling. Respondent admits that he "mistakenly, and without excuse, thought that he was to make notification if he returned to the full-time practice of law."

Rather, the court extended the period of probation but noted

The Court finds the terms of Respondent's probation, as modified by the parties' agreement, to be unambiguous and his noncompliance to be inexcusable. Nevertheless, under the circumstances, the Court concludes that an extension of Respondent's probation, rather than its revocation, is the more appropriate remedy.

(Mike Frisch)

September 30, 2014 in Bar Discipline & Process | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, September 29, 2014

Former KBI Official Disbarred

The Kansas Supreme Court recently disbarred an attorney convicted of sexual expliotation of a child.

Tokepa Capital-Journal has the details here

Kyle G. Smith, a former administrator with the Kansas Bureau of Investigation, was charged Thursday with sexual exploitation of a child involving a visual medium, according to Shawnee County District Court records.

Smith, who was third in line at the KBI, also was charged with two counts of interference with law enforcement, alleging he tried to destroy evidence on a telephone and on a computer.

In this case, the Kansas sexual exploitation statute defines the offense as "possessing any visual depiction of a child under 18 years of age shown or heard engaging in sexually explicit conduct with intent to arouse or satisfy the sexual desires or appeal to the prurient interest of the offender or any other person." Often that means it is a still photograph.

The exploitation charge and the obstructing charges are felonies.

Smith, a lawyer, has more than three decades of experience in law enforcement and criminal prosecution.

“We are saddened and disappointed that a past employee of the Kansas Bureau of Investigation is alleged to have committed the acts charged today by the Shawnee County district attorney,” KBI Director Kirk Thompson said in a statement Thursday night. “The case is now properly before the courts and, therefore, it would be inappropriate for me or any other member of the agency to comment further at this time.”  reports that he was sentenced to probation and tells how the conduct was discovered

The charge involved an image of a teenage girl engaged in sexually explicit conduct. An email containing the picture was traced to Smith’s KBI account after an agency secretary discovered the image last fall and notified her superiors.

 (Mike Frisch)

September 29, 2014 in Bar Discipline & Process | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Eleven Minutes

An attorney retained in a domestic relations matter violated ethics rules by filing a motion to withdraw from representation eleven minutes before a scheduled hearing regarding change of custody.

An Arkansas Committe on Professional Conduct panel imposed a sanction of a reprimand and fine.

His story

In addition to non-payment of his fee by his client in the Stevens case, in his Response to the Complaint and at hearing Sammons testified that he believed his client to also be impaired by drugs when he met with her about one hour before the hearing and he was in an ethical dilemma as to how to proceed, not wanting to be party to what he perceived would possibly be perjured testimony by his client if she testified. He admitted he did not give the trial judge any hint at court that his client may be impaired. His client testified and attempted to cross-examine the opposing party. Judge Hearnsberger testified she has no reason from what she saw and heard in the hearing to believe Crystal Stevens was impaired during the hearing.

The client had a positive drug test after the hearing.

The attorney also was found in violation of the court order that he proceed as counsel. He stayed for the hearing but did not participate. (Mike Frisch0

September 29, 2014 in Bar Discipline & Process | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

"Wonders Of Indiana"

The Michigan Attorny Discipline Board rejected a hearing panel's conclusion that an attorney failed to report misconduct but otherwise affirmed findings of misconduct and a 90-day suspension in a matter involving vexatious and frivolous litigation.

The Indiana Lawyer reported on the underlying litigation

A federal judge in Hammond has sanctioned two Detroit attorneys who filed what he calls a frivolous claim demonstrating a pattern of misconduct, fining each lawyer and their client in a sharply worded ruling.

 In a 21-page order issued July 31 in Cheryl Janky v. Batistatos, et al., No. 2:07-cv-339, U.S. District Judge Philip P. Simon in the Northern District of Indiana unleashed a written assault against attorneys Gregory Reed and Stephanie L. Hammonds,  attorneys on the case that began almost five years ago as a copyright-infringement suit. They represent Cheryl Janky, an Indiana  woman who'd sued the Lake County Convention and Visitors Bureau about a doo-wop song she wrote and copyrighted called  "Wonders of Indiana," which the bureau used without permission in promotional videos and albums sold at its welcome center. That case culminated with a $100,000 verdict in Janky's favor in 2007; but it wasn't the end of the litigation, and the case resulted in further disputes about procedural issues.

As the District judge on the case, Judge Simon has written about this issue before. In April 2008, he described this as "one of those cases that gives lawyers a bad name," and said what began as a routine copyright-infringement dispute "deteriorated into a nuclear arms race of costly litigation tactics and the worst kind of mean spirited attorney game-playing."

This action came in September 2007 based on claims the defendants made when defending the earlier suit, with Hammonds and  Reed contending that the defenses used previously were frivolous and groundless - despite Magistrate Judge Andrew Rodovich's previous rulings to the contrary.

In the latest sanction ruling, Judge Simon takes note of everything from their "flimsy" and "spurious" arguments that had already been dismissed and found to have been supported by law; grammatical and spelling errors in their filings; and a lengthy history of past sanctions in at least four other cases in the Detroit-based Eastern District of Michigan. He notes they'd been warned before in this case and also been sanctioned on the litigation, as well.

 "Respondents say that this history of sanctions 'does not establish a pattern of litigation misconduct ...'  But a pattern of misconduct is precisely what I see," Judge Simon wrote. "Attorney sanctions are a rare enough event that the presence of even one would be a source of concern. But Reed and Hammonds have been sanctioned on multiple occasions over the past five years, to the point where it almost looks as though they are now flaunting their inappropriate conduct."

 He points out that the attorneys' conduct demonstrates a pattern and proof that they're using redundant claims as a leverage and harassment tactic, as opposed to just overzealous advocacy or a failure to understand pertinent legal concepts.

"Enough is enough. It is apparent that neither side can take the hint, and I am half convinced that both parties are treating matters as a joke," the judge wrote. "But the best medicine will be to just end things. Respondents will  be sanctioned for their bringing of the current lawsuit, pursuant to the Court's Rule 11 powers. It was the filing of the second federal suit that opened Pandora's Box and is the action most in need of court response in order to prevent further conduct."

Judge Simon fined Reed $10,000, Hammonds $5,000, and client Janky $1,000. The judge also prohibited the attorneys from filing any civil complaints on behalf of Janky in the Northern District without posting a $5,000 bond to cover the "high probability" of additional sanctions.

That verdict appeal reached the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, which today issued a separate ruling in Cheryl Janky v.  Lake County Convention and Visitors Bureau, Nos. 07-2350, 07-2762, and 08-1606, that remands the case to the District Court for summary judgment in favor of the bureau. But this appellate decision isn't directly a part of Judge Simon's sanctions, and it's not immediately clear what impact it might have. The appellate ruling does point to various issues  about the counsels' work, particularly unfocused briefs, and a previous $2,500 fine Reed received on the case that he sought to pay off using the verdict money.

Reached by phone this morning, Hammonds told Indiana Lawyer that she needed to more fully review Judge Simon's ruling before making any comments. Reed didn't immediately respond to a message left at his law office.

The sanction here was imposed on attorney Reed. (Mike Frisch)

September 29, 2014 in Bar Discipline & Process | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Bonusgate Disbarment

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has disbarred an attorney convicted of criminal conspiracy and other offenses.

The attorney served as chief of staff to the Democratic minority whip of the state House of Represeentatives. The misconduct was the subject of widespread publicity in a scheme known as Bonusgate.

Pennlive reported on the conviction

Jeff Foreman, one-time chief of staff to former state House Democratic Minority Whip Mike Veon, was sentenced this afternoon to 11-1/2 to 23 months in the Dauphin County Prison for his admitted role in the Bonusgate scandal.

Judge Richard A. Lewis imposed that sentence on Foreman, 59, of Harrisburg, after defense attorney Royce Morris argued for a probation term.

Lewis ordered Foreman to serve 3 years of probation after completing his prison term. He also ordered Foreman to pay $6,000 in fines and $28,695 in restitution, the amount Foreman received in illegal bonuses for campaign work.

Foreman had pleaded guilty to felony charges of conflict of interest, theft and conspiracy in the scheme by leaders of the House Democratic Caucus to use $1.3 million in taxpayer money to pay staffers for campaign work. He testified for the attorney general's office during the trial of Veon and other Bonusgate defendants earlier this year.    

Lewis agreed with Morris that Foreman had a sterling record of professional and community service before the scandal and had cooperated fully with prosecutors.

However, the judge said he couldn't overlook the fact that Foreman was part of the inner circle that concocted the Bonusgate scheme.

Foreman, who surrendered his law license and has forfeited his state pension, told Lewis that he already has suffered dire harm to his community and professional reputations. "I'm disappointed in myself and the mistakes I made," Foreman said. "My problems are of my own making."

Lewis ordered Foreman to begin serving his sentence at the prison work-release center on  Jan. 4. Chief Deputy Attorney General Frank Fina said he is satisfied with the penalty Lewis imposed.  

Foreman's ex-boss, Veon, is serving a 6-to-14-year state prison term, the most severe sentence yet imposed on a Bonusgate defendant.

(Mike Frisch)

September 29, 2014 in Bar Discipline & Process | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Quantum Physics

The New Jersey Supreme Court has rejected the proposed three-month suspension of its Disciplinary Review Board and publicly censured an attorney.

The attorney had a prior disciplinary record and had defaulted on the charges. The DRB denied his motion to vacate the default.

The misconduct involved his failure to safeguard funds and a conflict of interest in a phony real estate transaction. The transaction itself led to criminal charges against the participants but not the attorney.

The court does not explain its decision to ratchet down the sanction other than to say that "censure is the appropriate quantum of discipline for respondent's unethical conduct." (Mike Frisch)

September 29, 2014 in Bar Discipline & Process | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, September 26, 2014

No Sanction For Web Page Specialization Claim

An attorney who had claimed a specialty in maritime personal injury and death cases on his web page has been absolved of ethics charges by the Louisiana Supreme Court.

Notably, the investigation into the web page was the result of a google search by disciplinary counsel initiated in an unrelated matter.

The court overturned a reprimand ordered by the Attorney Disciplinary Board, concluding thatthe attorney did not have a "culpable state mind." Further, the conduct created no harm to the public.

Thus, the court held that the claim of specialization did not "rise to the level of sanctionable conduct." (Mike Frisch)

September 26, 2014 in Bar Discipline & Process | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

DA Candidate Disqualified Over Tax Issue

A candidate for Orleans Parish District Attorney was held to be disqualified from seeking the office by the Louisiana Supreme Court.

The problem involved his certification that he had filed tax returns for several years.

The court majority found that he had failed to rebut the prima facie case against him.

Chief Justice Johnson dissented and would find that the ccase for disqualification had been rebutted.

Details here from the Times-Picayune. (Mike Frisch)

September 26, 2014 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Practice Pointer: No Drug Deals With Clients

A North Carolina attorney who purchased prescription pain medication from a criminal client has been charged with ethics violations.

The attorney pleaded guilty to the felony offense of  knowingly maintaining a vehicle resprted to by persons using controlled substances.

The State Bar charges allege that the drug transactions and false statements to police involved professional misconduct.

The attorney has been suspended on an interim basis as a result of the conviction. (Mike Frisch)

September 26, 2014 in Bar Discipline & Process | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

STAND And Deliver Legal Services

An unauthorized practice decision of the Ohio Supreme Court is described by Kathleen Maloney

A Lorain County non-lawyer and his corporation engaged in the unauthorized practice of law by providing legal advice to individuals facing criminal charges, according to an Ohio Supreme Court decision today.

The court directed King Ayettey Zubaidah and STAND, Inc., to stop practicing law and ordered them to pay a civil penalty of $20,000 for their involvement in four legal matters.

Zubaidah formed STAND (Striving Towards a New Day!) in 2008 after his experience with the justice system in the 1980s when he was convicted on a drug charge and sentenced to five years probation. STAND’s mission was “to help change the unfair and partial treatment against minorities in the judicial system.”

In each of the four cases brought before the Board on the Unauthorized Practice of Law (UPL), the defendant or a parent of the defendant asked for Zubaidah’s guidance during the criminal case and signed an agreement with STAND, which stated that the organization would assist them. No payment was required. Family members testified that Zubaidah did not claim to be an attorney and they knew he was not one.

In one matter, Isaiah Harris faced several charges in three different cases in 2008 involving the same victim. The court appointed a lawyer to represent him. Harris also signed an agreement with STAND.

The three cases were combined, and before Harris’ trial Zubaidah sent a letter to the judge indicating he had in-depth knowledge about the facts in the case and defending Harris’ actions.

In the midst of trial, Harris’ lawyer negotiated a plea deal for a four-year prison term. Zubaidah attended the trial, but his involvement was disputed. Harris’ lawyer claimed that Zubaidah advised Harris not to accept the deal. Harris rejected the offer and was later convicted and sentenced to 23 years, 6 months in prison.

In the other cases, Zubaidah sent letters to the judges asking for lower bonds, citing cases, and making legal arguments, though indicating that he was not an attorney.

In today’s per curiam opinion, the court noted that an individual who negotiates legal claims for another person and provides legal advice – even without charge and even when stating that he is not an attorney – is practicing law.

While a non-attorney who sends a character-reference letter for someone to a judge is not engaging in the unauthorized practice of law, the court stated that when a letter shifts to advocating specific legal positions for that person, the unauthorized practice of law occurs.

“[D]espite the laudable desire to seek reform in the criminal system, such a desire cannot be realized by legally advising and advocating on behalf of a criminal defendant without violating our prohibition against the unauthorized practice of law,” the opinion stated.

“Zubaidah’s actions extended beyond the permissible conduct of endorsing a person’s character, advocating a social issue generally, advancing personal interests, or providing nonlegal advice to a family member. Despite Zubaidah’s good intentions and intermittent disclaimers, his conduct shows a pattern of advocating legal positions on behalf of defendants and providing legal advice to those defendants, leading to serious consequences for the STAND clients who trusted him.”

The court pointed out that Zubaidah held himself out as “an advocate with legal expertise,” his agreements implied that he had specialized knowledge of the legal system, and his letters to judges “cited case law, raised legal issues, and asked for legal results.”

Adopting the UPL board’s recommendation, the court determined that a $5,000 penalty for each violation was reasonable.

The court’s majority included Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor and Justices Terrence O’Donnell, Judith Ann Lanzinger, Sharon L. Kennedy, and Judith L. French. Justices Paul E. Pfeifer and William M. O’Neill concurred in part and dissented in part.

While Justices Pfeifer and O’Neill agree that Zubaidah engaged in the unauthorized practice of law, they would instead impose $1,000 for each violation, for a total penalty of $4,000.

2013-0072. Lorain Cty. Bar Assn. v. Zubaidah, Slip Opinion No. 2014-Ohio-4060.

(Mike Frisch)

September 26, 2014 in Current Affairs, Hot Topics | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Sex Crime Conviction Leads To Bar Charges

An attorney convicted of criminal sexual assault and sexual abuse has been charged with ethical violations as a result by the Illinois Administrator.

The petition alleges

On or about August 7, 2012, Kelsey E. ("K.E."), a Minnesota resident, was in her hotel room at the W Hotel in Chicago. She had left the door to her hotel room ajar for a friend that she was expecting to arrive. At approximately 2:00 am, Respondent entered K.E.'s hotel room, without permission. Respondent proceeded to push K.E. down on the bed and forcibly hold her down. He fondled her breasts with his hands and mouth. He also vaginally penetrated her by force with his fingers. K.E. was able to kick Respondent off of her. Respondent told K.E. he would be back and then left K.E.'s hotel room. Thereafter, K.E. called the friend she had been expecting and reported the assault. The friend called the Chicago Police and notified hotel security. As K.E. was speaking with Chicago Police officers about the assault, Respondent was seen walking in the hotel hallway on the same floor as K.E.'s room. K.E. identified Respondent as her perpetrator and Respondent was arrested in the hotel.

His trial testimony was reported by the Chicago Tribune

Prosecutors allege that Bergamino, who lived in a condominium building next door to the hotel, took advantage of the fact that the woman left her hotel door propped open for a male friend, sexually assaulting her in the room.

But Bergamino testified he met the woman earlier that night when he made a self-deprecating joke after tripping over a “construction barricade” as the two walked near each other on Ontario Street. They talked for a few more minutes, he testified, and she gave him her room number after he told her his apartment number.

He went to a pub and drank three scotches and a beer, said Bergamino, who admitted he was drunk when he knocked on the door at the woman’s hotel room.

“She opened the door, said ‘Hi’ and led me in,” Bergamino testified. He said they kissed and touched on a bed but did not have sex.

Bergamino denied forcing himself on the woman.

“No, nothing of that sort at all. It was a very consensual engagement, interaction,” he testified.

The Tribune also reported that he was sentenced to a total of six years in prison. (Mike Frisch)

September 25, 2014 in Bar Discipline & Process | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Disbarred For Fraud On Japanese Client: Attorney Used Funds For Comic Books And Sports Memorabilia

A felony conviction has resulted in automatic disbarment of an attorney by the New York Appellate Division for the First Judicial Department.

The court noted a prior disciplinary matter

...this Court suspended respondent from the practice of law for two years, and until further order of this Court, for his use of obscene, insulting, and threatening language in correspondence addressed to, among others, his former wife and her matrimonial attorneys, and his filing of a meritless federal lawsuit against his former wife, her attorneys, various judges, and others (see 78 AD3d 9 [1st Dept 2010]). To date, respondent has not applied for reinstatement.

The disbarable crime

Respondent's conviction stemmed from his employment with Tadano, a Japanese crane manufacturer. In January 2009, Tadano hired respondent to be the head of its legal affairs and human resources department. Respondent was responsible for contracting with outside law firms to handle Tadano's litigation and for approving payments for legal services. According to Tadano, respondent never informed the company of his suspension from the practice of law in New York.

In April 2011, respondent filed documents with the Texas Secretary of State to form a Texas corporation, Maio & Cardenas, LLC, a fictitious law firm for which respondent was listed as the registered agent and managing member. From approximately May 2011 to May 2012, respondent caused Tadano to issue checks totaling $9,329,546 to Maio & Cardenas for legal services it never performed. Respondent deposited the checks into an account he controlled and then used the funds to purchase, among other things, artwork, collectible comic books and sports memorabilia. Tadano terminated respondent's employment after learning of his fraudulent conduct.

More from Chron

When authorities raided Anthony Chiofalo's home and storage units after he was accused of embezzling more than  $9 million from his employer, they found hundreds of valuable items including a baseball signed by Babe Ruth, a first edition Playboy and the first ever Batman comic book, worth about $900,000.

"He had sports memorabilia and very expensive comic books, that are like bearer bonds because they're hard to trace," said Bryan Vaclavik, a financial fraud consultant. "I think he was buying comic books as an investment and we are trying to locate each and every one of those comic books."

He said there are still comic books missing that are worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. Chiofalo, 51, of Spring, appeared Monday in a Harris County court for the first time

Court records show that Chiofalo had hundreds of sports memorabilia collectibles including a boxing robe worn by Muhammad Ali, a signed first edition of Mario Puzo's novel, "The Godfather," and a baseball helmet signed by Pete Rose. Authorities also recovered dozens of signed posters and scores of baseball cards.

(Mike Frisch)

September 25, 2014 in Bar Discipline & Process | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

No Second Bite Where Attorney Defaults In Bar Case

The District of Columbia Court of Appeals has imposed the reciprocal discipline of disbarment based on the attorney's disbarment in North Carolina.

The attorney had contended in the D.C. proceeding that he was denied due process in North Carolina and that there were infirmities in the proof of misconduct.

The problem was that he had failed to participate in the North Carolina proceedings

The problem with all these arguments is that respondent may not elect to forgo his disciplinary hearing [in North Carolina] and then complain that certain evidence should have been presented there...While evidence or arguments about what respondent alleges was [his contract paralegal] Driscoll‟s responsibility (for what he refers to as the "train wreck" at his firm) might have affected the Hearing Commission‟s conclusions about the degree of respondent‟s culpability, this was evidence respondent was free to advance at the hearing. Instead, the evidence at the disciplinary hearing was effectively uncontested, and we have no reason "not to respect [the] decision" of the Hearing Commission. (citation omitted)

In reciprocal proceedings, the attorney must show by clear and convincing evidence that an exception to the rule mandating identical sanction has been met.

The court here concluded that the attorney failed to do so. (Mike Frisch)

September 25, 2014 in Bar Discipline & Process | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

"Learned Helplessness" A Mitigating Factor

Last month, the District of Columbia ordered identical reciprocal discipline of a three-month suspension and probation in a matter from Massachusetts.

The Massachusetts proceeding raised the issue of the impact of the attorney's previously undiagnosed "learned helplessness."

Associate Justice Lenk rejected Bar counsel's contention regarding the impact of the attorney's mental health issues for sanction purposes. Bar counsel argued that the Board of Bar Overseers had

erred in considering the respondent's mental illness in mitigation, as the respondent is only in the beginning stages of treatment. Bar counsel appears to challenge any view of a respondent's mental illness as an appropriate factor in mitigation unless the .. respondent can show, essentially, that the course of treatment is at an end and the treatment has been successful.

The court rejected that view.

The imposition of a period of immediate suspension serves to protect he public perception of the integrity of the courts and the bar, even though imposition of a sanction where the misconduct arises from a disability is unlikely to have a deterrent effect on other lawyers. The relatively short period of immediate suspension incorporates the board's determination that the misconduct occurred as a result of the respondent's mental illness, and is unlikely to recur with treatment; thus the cause of the misconduct is a substantial factor in mitigation.

(Mike Frisch)

September 25, 2014 in Bar Discipline & Process | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

An Unexpected Client Leads To A Second Suspension

Practicing while serving a disciplinary suspension got an attorney suspended again for a year by the New York Appellate Division for the Second Judicial Department.

The circumstances were not entirely unsympathetic

...the respondent testified at the disciplinary hearing that he had anticipated a suspension in connection with the prior disciplinary proceeding, he had started to wind down his practice, and he already had begun training for a new line of work. The respondent admitted that he knowingly appeared for a client on May 18, 2012, after the effective date of his suspension. The respondent asserted that he had formerly represented the client, and the client unexpectedly notified him that she was coming from abroad for an appearance in Family Court. The respondent tried to arrange for another attorney to handle the court appearance, but was unsuccessful. So as to avoid the trip being a waste for the client, whom the respondent knew was of little means, the respondent appeared on her behalf under the belief that a settlement had been reached and all that was needed was for the court to so-order it. As it turned out, on the day of the appearance, the matter had to be adjourned and nothing of substance occurred.In determining the appropriate measure of discipline to impose, we have taken into consideration the aforementioned mitigating circumstances, including the fact that the respondent did not act for personal gain, and the solitary nature of his misconduct. The respondent, nonetheless, knowingly violated this Court's opinion and order dated April 3, 2012. Under these circumstances, the respondent is suspended from the practice of law for a period of one year.

(Mike Frisch)

September 25, 2014 in Bar Discipline & Process | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)