June 16, 2009
"I Am Not a Nice Guy"
A summary of a recent Massachusetts bar discipline case:
The respondent was suspended from the practice of law for a period of six months, with three months to serve and three months suspended for a two-year probationary period based on the conduct set forth in a two-count petition for discipline.
The first count involved the respondent’s threat to commit a crime against his wife’s former husband. The respondent’s wife and her former husband had a daughter who was college bound in the fall of 2006. The respondent’s wife and her former husband communicated with each other about their daughter and negotiated how to split the college expenses. On September 11, 2006, following an exchange between the respondent’s wife and her former husband over the college expenses, the respondent called the former husband and left a threatening message for him. In the message, the respondent threatened to “crucify” the former husband, made other threats of physical harm, and stated, “[y]ou have no idea what I’m going to do to you. I am not a nice guy”. On or about September 11, 2006, criminal charges based on these threats were filed against the respondent. On June 25, 2007, following a bench trial in district court, the respondent was convicted of threatening to commit a crime in violation of G. L. c. 275, § 2. The judge sentenced the respondent to a term of probation until December 18, 2007, and ordered him to have no contact with his wife’s former husband or be within twenty yards of him. Threatening to commit a crime is a misdemeanor, and the respondent’s conduct was in violation of Mass. R. Prof. C. 8.4(b) and (h).
The second count involved the respondent’s violation of a restraining order that the respondent’s brother had obtained following an incident between the two brothers. On March 6, 2007, while the respondent’s brother was recuperating at the respondent’s home following knee surgery, he and the respondent got into an argument. The respondent pushed his brother causing him to fall, dislodge his surgical staples, and start bleeding. The brother called 911, and he was transported to the hospital by ambulance. Upon release from the hospital, the brother did not return to the respondent’s home. He went to stay with his former wife and their daughter. On or about March 9, 2007, the brother pro se sought and obtained an abuse prevention order in district court. The order prohibited the respondent from having any contact with his brother or with his brother’s daughter. On March 18, 2007, the respondent called his brother at the home of the brother’s former wife and spoke to his brother’s daughter. The respondent told his niece that he was calling to speak to his brother, and the niece told the respondent that he could not speak to her father. The respondent knew that his brother was staying with his former wife and that it was a violation of the abuse prevention order to call either the brother or his daughter. On or about March 21, 2007, criminal charges based on a violation of the abuse prevention order were filed against the respondent. On August 27, 2007, the respondent admitted to sufficient facts in district court and to violating the abuse prevention order in violation of G. L. c. 209A, § 7. The judge continued the matter without a finding until August 26, 2008 and ordered the respondent to abide by conditions, including attendance at Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meetings and submission to random testing. The respondent’s admission to sufficient facts constitutes a conviction within the meaning of S.J.C. Rule 4:01, § 12(1), and although violation of an abuse prevention order is a misdemeanor, it qualifies as a “serious crime” as defined by S.J.C. Rule 4:01, § 12(3). The respondent’s conduct was in violation of Mass. R. Prof. C. 3.4(c) and 8.4(b), (d), and (h).
The parties stipulated to the petition for discipline and to a recommended sanction. In mitigation, the respondent is an alcoholic and had been drinking heavily during the period in question. Since August 2007, the respondent has maintained his sobriety and has attended AA meetings.
On April 13, 2009, the Board of Bar Overseers voted to recommend to the Supreme Judicial Court that the respondent be suspended from the practice of law for a period of six months, with three months to serve and three months suspended for a two-year probationary period. During the probationary period the respondent agreed to undergo an evaluation by Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers (LCL), to authorize LCL to provide bar counsel with a copy of the evaluation prior to reinstatement under S.J.C. Rule 4:01, § 18(1)(a), and after reinstatement to be monitored by LCL and abide by any recommendations of LCL for a period of two years. The Court so ordered on May 5, 2009.
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After one reads enough of these criminal conduct discipline cases, one comes to realise that there really is no difference between those who qualify as lawyers and those who do not. Both groups have their share of individuals who seem unable to abide by society’s rules. Query, if lawyers are no better or worse than everyone else, why they should face a supra-punishment for criminal behaviour unrelated to their legal practice? Was the judge in the criminal proceeding really unable to properly deal with the matter?
The only redeeming feature of this case seems to be the alcohol addiction. At least the two-year probationary period is clearly intended to protect the public.
Posted by: FixedWing | Jun 17, 2009 2:32:12 PM