Thursday, April 5, 2007
The appalling disregard for the integrity of the legal profession by the District of Columbia's Board on Professional Responsibility is once again on display. The D.C. Court of Appeals has remanded the case of In re Brian Godette (April 5, 2007). Godette took a fee from a client who was incarcerated at the time of the complaint and abandoned the case. Despite proof that he was aware of the complaint and ensuing charges, he failed to participate in the disciplinary proceedings in any manner. A hearing committee found, at least by implication, that he had evaded service of the disciplinary charges. The Board rejected that finding and recommended a 30 day suspension with no requirement that Godette prove fitness to practice prior to reinstatement. Bar Counsel filed an exception.
The court, over a dissent, rejected the Board's proposed sanction, stating that "it is not the function of the Board... to create hypothetical excuses for [the accused lawyer]." This referred to the Board's speculation that the noises heard from inside the lawyer's home when service was attempted could have been from a minor or "for aught we know, an animal." The court was a little more concerned than its Board about a complete disregard of the duty of a lawyer to cooperate with the disciplinary process.
Unfortunately, as mentioned above, the court remanded the case, which is my experience is a utter waste of time. The Board is ordered to consider whether the evidence established that Godette deliberately evaded service of the charges (there were seven attempts to serve him). I have never seen a remand to the Board that did anything but delay the imposition of sanction and allow them to create a new excuse/explanation for why leniency is appropriate.
When will there be a sufficient public outrage over the actions of the Board (which should be rechristened the Board on Lawyer Forgiveness) to get the court to restructure the disciplinary system to actually focus on protection of the public? It can't be soon enough. (Mike Frisch)