Monday, November 2, 2009
The Review Department of the State Bar Court of California recently opined on the "progressive discipline" provision of the bar sanction standards. The attorney was admitted in 1976 and had been previously suspended for four months for making misrepresentations. Under the standard at issue, the attorney must receive a stiffer sanction for a second offense unless the earlier suspension was so remote and minimal that a greater sanction would be "manifestly unjust." Both the State Bar and the attorney appealed from a proposed public reproval by the hearing judge.
The Review Department recommends a stayed two-year suspension with an actual period of suspension for 150 days and probationary conditions. The attorney had "significant experience representing landlords in unlawful detainer actions...his office typically filed about 60 to 70 unlawful detainer actions monthly." He signed a false verification that his clients were absent from LA County. The hearing officer found that the falsity arose from "gross neglect" rather than intentional dishonesty and the Review Department affirmed that conclusion. The attorney also failed to update his address with the State Bar for 28 months.
The Review Department found that the prior misconduct and the attorney's efforts at "dishonesty and concealment" were aggravating factors. The prior discipline (twelve years ago) was not "so remote as to devalue it to the extent that the hearing judge did." The present conduct is serious and warrants application of the progressive discipline standard. (Mike Frisch)