Thursday, April 26, 2007
The D.C. Court of Appeals issued an opinion today that demonstrates how the applicable standard of review impacts on the outcome of attorney discipline cases. The matter involved two lawyers, one prosecuted in Maryland, the other in the District of Columbia, for a course of conduct where lawyer Wiggins advised lawyer Pennington that it was ethically permissible to deceive her clients after the clients' claim had been dismissed.
Pennington was disbarred for her deceitful conduct in Maryland. The D.C. Board recommended a 30 day suspension with automatic reinstatement as reciprocal discipline. The court rejected this incomprehensible leniency and ordered a two-year suspension with fitness. The court (and not for the first time,see linked cases here and here) took the Board to task because it "re-characterized the misconduct in a manner forbidden [by the reciprocal discipline rules]." In essence, the Board improperly imposed its own de novo judgment of the misconduct and ignored or obscured the central findings of Maryland's highest court.
As to Wiggins, the court accepted the lenient recommendation of a 60 day suspension with 30 days stayed in favor of probation and completion of a CLE ethics course. Citing the rule that makes the Board's proposed sanction presumptively correct "although the matter is not free from difficulty", the court deferred to the Board's judgment.
Once again, it's good to be a dishonest lawyer in the District of Columbia, with the sympathetic understanding of the "Board on Professional Responsibility." (Mike Frisch)