Thursday, October 22, 2009

Getting Reciprocal Discipline Right

The District of Columbia Court of Appeals has rejected a recommendation of Bar Counsel and the Board on Professional Responsibility to increase a Massachusetts public reprimand to a 30 day suspension. The misconduct found in Massachusetts involved mishandling of a political asylum matter. After new counsel was retained, the client was deported.

In the D.C. reciprocal matter, Bar Counsel initially sought a 60 day suspension, contending that the record established serious prejudice the client. The attorney pointed out that there was no prejudice finding in Massachusetts. The Court: "We agree with [the attorney." Further, the court concluded that a non-suspensory sanction was within the range of possible outcomes in an original matter. The court instructed the board to reprimand the attorney.

I handled the vast majority of D.C. reciprocal matters for over a decade. My motto was always "The Bar Counsel that lives by the upward departure dies by the downward departure." The court gets it right here. It is also noteworthy that the attorney has been on inactive status since 1999 and thus has no D.C. clients. What point would be made with a meaningless 30 day suspension in a jurisdiction where he has not practiced in a decade? (Mike Frisch)

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