Wednesday, May 13, 2009

No Mitigation For Self-Suspension

The Oklahoma Supreme Court imposed a twelve month suspension of a relatively inexperienced attorney who had falsified billing and travel records, resulting in client payments in excess of the appropriate amounts. The attorney explained:

...[the attorney] stated that she did not dispute any facts in the grievance, that she takes full responsibility for her improper actions, and that she wanted to provide background information for a better understanding of her situation. [She] explained that she is a perfectionist with high expectations of herself and that she encountered various stress-generating circumstances during the time she made false billing and travel claims to the Paul Law Firm. Those stressful circumstances included her job as an associate attorney, her children (a kindergartner and an infant), her family's need to change residences (move to a larger residence), her husband's unexpected loss of employment, and her need for personal time.

The court determined that a significant suspension was required:

There are a myriad of disciplinary cases involving patterns of misrepresentation and deceit, but none directly on point. In many cases we have suspended the lawyer for misrepresentation, often for two years and a day where there is a pattern of deceit. Here, the PRT recommended a twelve-month suspension to begin in November of 2008 and the Bar Association suggested a six-month to twelve-month suspension to begin February 1, 2008. Under the circumstances in this case, we think a twelve-month suspension with no retroactive application is sufficient to deter [her] and other lawyers from similar misconduct in the future and to accomplish the goals of discipline. Accordingly, [the attorney's] license to practice law shall be suspended for a period of twelve months from the date this opinion becomes final.

The court rejected the attorney's asserted voluntary self-suspension as a basis to mitigate the otherwise appropriate sanction. (Mike Frisch)

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I am always very impressed with the disciplinary opinions that come out of the Oklahoma Supreme Court. They are always logical and well reasoned.

This lawyer, like many, pursued the path of admission and remorse. I found it interesting that the court was having none of that. They pointed out that she claimed that it was simply a “judgment in error” (which I assume to be an opinion in error) and that she has so far failed to repay the excess billings. From this, they conclude that her remorse is not genuine.

So if there is a lesson from this case, it is that if you are going to grovel and beg for mercy, then you had best make sure that you cover all of your bases.

The other interesting point I noted was the Judge Kauger concurring opinion which read in full: “Regardless of what we call it, “self-withdrawal” from the practice of law has been, and remains today, a mitigating factor in the consideration of discipline.” How can Judge Kauger claim that “self-withdrawal” remains a mitigating consideration when seven of his colleagues have just ruled that it is not? Yet another little tiff on the Oklahoma Supreme Court bench?


Posted by: FixedWing | May 13, 2009 5:29:47 PM

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