March 31, 2008
From Hollywood To Interim Suspension
The en banc Mississippi Supreme Court suspended Circuit Court Judge Bobby B. DeLaughter pending resolution of charges filed by the Commission on Judicial Performance based on two complaints alleging improper ex parte communications. The court states that "[n]o inference of any final determination should be drawn from the temporary suspension ordered herein." The judge is best known for his prosecution of Byron de la Beckwith for the murder of Medgar Evers, made into the movie Ghosts of Mississippi. (Mike Frisch)
Third Party Guarantee
A law firm entered into an agreement with a third party to guarantee payment of a client's legal bills. The firm agreed to release the client from further liability in exchange for a $5,000 payment. The firm then sued on the guarantee. The New York Appellate Division for the Second Judicial Department reversed the trial court's grant of summary judgment for the third party: "[T]he plaintiff's reservation of rights clause contained in the stipulation [with the client] did not absolve the defendant of his obligation under the guarantee...there are triable issues of fact concerning the reasonable value of services rendered by the plaintiff to [the client]." (Mike Frisch)
No Reciprocal Suspension
In a reciprocal discipline matter from Ohio where the attorney had been suspended for failing to file a registration statement and complete CLE obligations, the New York Appellate Division for the Second Judicial Department declined to suspend and ordered a public censure. The court deemed a non-suspensory sanction appropriate notwithstanding the attorney's default in the matter.
In D.C., where there are no post-admission CLE requirements, we would report these Ohio orders and take no further action as the misconduct was not misconduct under District of Columbia ethics rules.
In an unrelated matter, the court reduced a two-year New Jersey suspension to 18 months, as had been recommended by a Special Master. The attorney had claimed a violation of due process, because "the [New Jersey] OAE delayed filing a complaint for eight years during which time [the client] died, thus depriving him of a principal witness who could have exonerated him..." and that "at the age of fifty he is not easily employable and that the imposition of reciprocal discipline ' will economically devastate [his] family and lead [them] into bankruptcy. ' " The court took into account as series of mitigating factors in imposing discipline. (Mike Frisch)
Federal Conviction, State Disbarment
The New York Appellate Division for the Second Judicial Department ordered disbarment of an attorney who had pleaded guilty to one court of possession of child pornography in the Southern District of New York. Automatic disbarment was deemed appropriate because the elements of the federal offense are "essentially similar" to a class E felony under state law. The court looked to the circumstances of the offense by examining the admissions made in connection with the guilty plea in reaching its conclusion. (Mike Frisch)
More Than Spellcheck
The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court affirmed a contempt finding made by a single justice that a suspended lawyer engaged in unauthorized practice by drafting a series of pleadings and related documents in a domestic case:
"Kafkas argues on appeal, as he testified before the single justice,
that he was merely helping his acquaintance with his spelling and
grammar. However, the single justice did not so find. There is no
indication that he credited this testimony. Indeed, to the contrary,
the single justice specifically found that Kafkas had become 'engaged
as lawyer for another in a new matter,' and that his work 'constituted
the practice of law' as well as paralegal work. Similarly, while Kafkas
argues that he did not wilfully disobey the suspension order, the
single justice found that he did. None of the single justice's findings
has been shown to be clearly erroneous."
The case is Matter of Kafkas, decided March 28, 2007. (Mike Frisch)