Thursday, July 26, 2007

Inherent Authority

A lawyer represented a client in two breach of contract cases against The Christian Coalition of America, Inc. A key issue in the first case was whether a written agreement (which neither side had produced) contained an arbitration clause. On cross, the lawyer's client testified that he had located the agreement and given it to the lawyer. The lawyer immediately nonsuited the case, which then went to arbitration. The judge "strongly reprimanded" the lawyer for not disclosing that the document had been located and "contained the very arbitration provision he had previously denied existed."  The court imposed monetary sanctions against the lawyer and his client.

The lawyer filed the second suit while the arbitration was pending. A motion to disqualify the lawyer on conflicts grounds was filed. The lawyer did not appear, the motion was granted, and the lawyer was directed to show cause why his license to practice in the Circuit Court should not be revoked. The lawyer then sent an email to the Coalition stating that their counsel was "certainly demonically empowered" and that the sanctions award was "an absurd decision from a whacko judge, whom I believe was bribed." After a hearing, the lawyer's license to practice in the circuit court was revoked.

On appeal, the Virginia Supreme Court affirmed the revocation, holding that the circuit court had inherent authority to revoke the license to practice before it, which did not amount to a revocation of the attorney's Virginia license. The lawyer also had been provided adequate notice of the alleged misconduct.

As a matter of disciplinary procedure, it is noteworthy that the circuit court order did not operate to suspend the attorney's Virginia license. The order referred the matter of potential bar discipline to the Virginia State Board (i.e. disciplinary counsel) and to the Supreme Court for possible reciprocal revocation. Presumably the attorney would be permitted to contest action against his Virginia license before losing his bar privileges. He is, however, barred from practice in Arlington County.

(Mike Frisch)

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