Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Corporate Counsel Engaged in Unauthorized Practice For 27 Years

A lawyer was admitted in Kansas in 1973. He left Kansas in 1976 without providing the bar with a forwarding address, moving to Oklahoma to work for Phillips Petroleum. Kansas suspended him for failure to pay bar dues, but the lack of a forwarding address preventing him from getting actual notice of the suspension. He then moved to Ohio in 1979 and was suspended by Oklahoma in 1980 for failure to pay dues. He registered as an in-house Ohio counsel and eventually became Vice President and Assistant General Counsel of Dana Corporation. He had failed to properly maintain his Ohio in-house counsel registration after 1995.

The fact he was not licensed in good standing anywhere came to light after he was "contacted by a reporter who was writing a story for a national law publication about corporate counsels for large United States companies who were not licensed to practice law." He contended that he then realized he might have a problem. He self-reported to the Ohio bar and entered into a consent agreement admitting unauthorized practice. He then sought reinstatement in Oklahoma.

The Oklahoma Supreme Court found that he "engaged in the unauthorized practice of law for 27 years and that his conduct encompassed misrepresentation." The court ordered that he remain suspended until April 10, 2008 and pay costs and back bar dues totalling almost $6,000. The court's reasoning:

"Here, while working for the corporation, DeBacker [the attorney] never stepped foot in a courtroom to represent the corporation, nor does it appear the corporation was injured by the fact that he was not licensed. In addition to attending continuing legal education, DeBacker presented numerous letters recommending reinstatement from attorneys who have known DeBacker for many years and who had first hand knowledge of his legal skills, character, and competence. We are convinced that DeBacker has meet his overall burden of proof by clear and convincing evidence that he should be reinstated. However, we are persuaded by previous cases that some form of discipline should be imposed for his misrepresentations and unauthorized practice of law. Considering that the misrepresentations were neglectful, but not intentional, and that he voluntarily withdrew from practicing law on April 10, 2007, and self-reported to the Ohio Supreme Court, his reinstatement will be deferred until April 10, 2008, which results in a one-year suspension from the practice of law."

Here is a link to an article about the situation from the Toledo Blade. (Mike Frisch)

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