Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Stipulated Sanction Questioned

In a bar discipline case involving allegations of improper closing argument by defense counsel, the Arizona Disciplinary Commission imposed the agreed-upon discipline of censure, one year of probation and three hours of CLE in the area of criminal law.  Four commissioners opposed the sanction as overly harsh:

in sanctioning the [attorney] for the conduct in this matter this commissioner is concerned that we are piece-mealing a litigant's words during what could only be considered the most contentious type of litigation, trial for first degree murder, for what we are assuming is unethical, as conceded by [the attorney], though was arguably justified argument by a properly zealous attorney representing her client.

The alleged offending comments were, the dissent notes, "an isolated incident in...a noteworthy career" and the Bar should have offered diversion.

An attorney charged with ethical violations may feel a great deal of pressure to accept a stipulated, non-suspensory sanction. We posted another Arizona decision  yesterday where no misconduct was found, but only after a hearing officer and the commission had heard and rejected all charges. It takes courage (and costs money and emotional energy) to fight rather than stipulate to charges of misconduct even if you believe that you will be vindicated in the end. (Mike Frisch)

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Based on the limited information, I don't think it was very harsh. Censure and probation shouldn't cause a criminal defense lawyer too much trouble (defendants are more interested in outcomes), and the CLE requirement is nothing. Surely, Arizona already requires attorneys to attend a certain amount of CLE per year anyway.

Posted by: Jodie Hill | Feb 11, 2009 2:28:29 PM

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