Thursday, July 12, 2007

A Bad Day

A few weeks ago I posted a bar discipline decision from the District of Columbia Court Of Appeals and indicated my approval of the court's application of common sense to a case involving the regulation of its Bar. Two actions of the court today cause me concern about the direction in which we are headed.

First, and of particular importance, the court promulgated proposed revisions to its rules of enforcement in response to proposals submitted by the Bar's Board of Governors. Some of the revisions are quite useful, in particular the streamlining of the process of handling reciprocal discipline matters. Unfortunately, the proposal for consent dispositions (see Section 12) requires a virtual four-step process--approval of the agreed disposition by an attorney who sits on a hearing committee followed by review of a full hearing committee (in effect a mini trial), the Board on Professional Responsibility and then the court. It can break down anywhere along the way if there are any glitches and can't be used for cases of first impression, whatever that means. A sensible Bar Counsel would never waste time trying to achieve a consent under the rule--it is easier and faster to try the case. Prediction: there will be no consent dispositions in D. C. bar cases, which is what the bar committee that studied the issue really wanted all along. Efficiency and prompt resolution of charges be damned.

Second, the court reinstated an attorney disbarred in 1998 for an income tax evasion conviction. The board found the attorney had made "significant efforts over the past several years to reach an agreement with the IRS" although it appears that no restitution has been paid. No big deal-- all he has to do is submit a restitution plan in 30 days and semi-annual proof of payment until it is paid in full. No indication of what the consequences will be if he fails to do so, as he has for almost a decade. I must say that I am not in favor of the "reinstate now, pay later" approach adopted here. Disclosure: I handled the disbarment. (Mike Frisch)

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