Thursday, July 16, 2009

Cash In Paper Bag Fee Leads To Disbarment

An interesting case from the Washington Supreme Court concluded that disbarment was the appropriate sanction in a matter involving a felony conviction for willful failure to file a currency report. The attorney ("respondent") was asked by a (now former) lawyer to represent a defendant in a drug conspiracy. The former lawyer represented the interests of the defendant's superior in the conspiracy chain of command. Respondent received two $10,000 unreported cash payments from the former lawyer. One payment was left in a court chambers where they both served as judges pro tempore; the other in a parking lot. The client that Respondent purported to represent was a cooperating witness, a fact of which respondent was unaware. The former lawyer later was busted and cooperated against the respondent in the criminal investigation. The underlying facts are pretty ugly, with respondent actively selling out his client for the benefit of the former lawyer's client.

A hearing officer had recommended a three-year suspension. The Disciplinary Board favored disbarment. A dissent concludes that willful failure to file does not involve active deception and thus does not involve dishonesty. The dissenting justice would suspend rather than disbar. (Mike Frisch)

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