Friday, October 29, 2010

Georgetown Law Seeks Externship Director

A job posting just announced at Georgetown:

Georgetown University Law Center is seeking to hire a Externship Director.  We are looking for a person with both administrative and teaching skills who can build and grow an excellent program.  The Externship Director will be responsible for all aspects of the program, including: assisting students in finding appropriate placements; ensuring the quality of student placements; designing and teaching "bookend" classes at the beginning and end of the semester in which students define their learning goals and then reflect on whether they have achieved them; and holding individual student reflection sessions throughout the semester.  The Externship Director will be supervised by the Associate Dean for Clinical Programs and Experiential Learning; because this is not a faculty position, there is no scholarship requirement.  Teaching experience and familiarity with public interest, non-profit and/or governmental entities are desirable.   Please send a resume and cover letter to Associate Dean Deborah Epstein, epstein@law.georgetown.edu.  Applications must be received by November 12th, 2010.   

(Mike Frisch)

October 29, 2010 in Teaching & Curriculum | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Half-Baked Settlement Lands Judge In Hot Water

The New York Commission on Judicial Conduct (as it regularly does) has sanctioned a non-attorney judge for his involvement in a matter that took place on premises that he owned. The property was rented to Nana's Bakery and Cafe (the tenant was named Cook, not Baker) for $750 per month. Ms. Cook was $2,500 in arrears in payments due to the judge at the time of the events described below.

A bakery employee was a social acquaintance of the judge. The judge received a warrant seeking an arrest of the employee on petit larceny charges (involving theft from Nana's). The judge involved himself in settlement attempts that resulted in a payment to Ms. Cook. Ms. Cook paid the judge rent arrearages.

 The judge acknowledged that his intervention was inappropriate. The commission imposed a censure. (Mike Frisch)

October 29, 2010 in Judicial Ethics and the Courts | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

The More Appropriate Sanction

The Iowa Supreme Court has rejected a three-year suspension proposed by its Attorney Disciplinary Board and Grievance Commission and revoked the license of an attorney admitted in 1990. The disciplinary complaint alleged nine counts of ethics violations.

The attorney had represented a client who was subject to an involuntary guardianship and conservatorship. A criminal charge was filed against the client's daughter alleging neglect of the client. The attorney represented the daughter and was disqualified for a concurrent conflict of interest. The attorney was later found in contempt for her contacts with the daughter after the disqualification order was entered.

The court found that a stipulation that the attorney made "unduly critical allegations" about a probate matter did not establish an ethical violation without a further stipulation that her claims were false. The stipulation was sufficent to establish misappropriation and neglect of a client matter.

The court found that the violations established by the stipulation made revocation the "more appropriate" sanction. (Mike Frisch)

October 29, 2010 in Bar Discipline & Process | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, October 28, 2010

No Reason To Suspend

The New York Appellate Division for the First Judicial Department affirmed findings of misconduct involving neglect of immigration matters but reduced the referee's proposed six-month suspension to a public censure. The court found mitigating factors that warranted a non-suspensory sanction:

...the only issue is that of the appropriate sanction to impose. In mitigation, respondent submitted evidence of his reputation in the legal community, his high rate of success (90-95% of cases won on the trial and appellate levels), his dedication to his clients and their satisfaction with his services, the nature of his practice, primarily work with immigrants and asylum seekers, his advocacy on behalf of victims of female genital mutilation (FGM) and his work to have FGM recognized as a basis for seeking asylum, and the notable changes respondent instituted in response to an admonition, including implementation of a computerized calendar system, staff training, and a reduction in caseload, which were designed to, and succeeded in, preventing recurrences of neglect. While nine instances of neglect over a two-year period is not insignificant, the neglect constituted only a small percentage of the 5,000-6,000 cases handled by respondent's office. Further, respondent has fully cooperated with the proceedings, admitted the majority of the charges and factual allegations, and claims to have since made restitution to the affected clients.

We find that under the circumstances, public censure, rather than suspension, is the appropriate sanction.

The prior admonition was not considered to be an aggravating factor because the misconduct found here took place before the admonition had been issued. (Mike Frisch)

October 28, 2010 in Bar Discipline & Process | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Judge May Not Advocate For Grandson Of Friend

The (very active) Florida Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee has opined on the following issue:

ISSUE

Can a judge write a letter to another judge to advocate a drug program or testify before that other judge to explain the drug program that can be used as an alternative to incarceration, in a case involving a relative of the requesting judges' friend?

ANSWER: No.

FACTS

The inquiring judge's friend [sic] grandson has a criminal case pending before another judge in the same jurisdiction.  The inquiring judge asks if it would be proper for the judge to either write a letter to the presiding judge advocating a drug program which may be used as an alternative to incarceration or, if subpoenaed, appear before the presiding judge to explain the program.

The reasoning:

The conduct contemplated by the inquiry seeks to place the judge as a witness to explain a drug treatment program to the presiding judge.  There appear to be no unusual circum-stances, like an absence of other qualified witnesses, that would make the appearance of the judge necessary to explain the drug program.  Therefore, the demands of justice do not require the judge's appearance.  The committee assumes that there are other witnesses that the defendant could summon to testify and explain the program to the presiding judge.  The only other reason why a person might want to use the testimony of this judge then would be to use the prestige of the judicial office to advocate the use of this program and  to be able to use the position of this judge as a colleague to further the defendant's cause and not be sentenced to jail.

The committee is of the opinion that this contemplated conduct will violate Canons 2A and B, 3B(9) and 4A in that the testimony on behalf of the judge's friend's grandson will lend the prestige of the judicial office to advance the private interests of others; the appearance as a witness by the judge will erode public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary; will be perceived as testimony seeking to affect the out-come of the sentencing proceeding; will cast doubt on the judge's capacity to act impartially as a judge; and undermine the judge's independence, integrity or impartially. Therefore, the inquiring judge should not appear as a witness before the presiding judge.

(Mike Frisch)

October 28, 2010 in Judicial Ethics and the Courts | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Get Real

The Minnesota Supreme Court has accepted a joint recommendation for discipline and imposed a suspension for a minimum of one year. The attorney was the chief executive officer of two title companies. He admitted that his companies had 

failed to record more than 3,000 mortgages on real estate transactions, failed to make more than $1.321 million in mortgages payoffs to prior lenders with funds entrusted to the title companies for that purpose, and failed to remit more than $196,000 in title insurance premiums to title insurers.

The attorney consented to the revocation of his Minnesota real estate broker's license, real estate closer's license, and insurance producer's license. He stipulated to the entry of judgments that total over $6.3 million.  (Mike Frisch)

October 28, 2010 in Bar Discipline & Process | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Do It Yourself

The web page of the Massachusetts Board of Bar Overseers has a summary of a reprimand of an attorney who practiced while under an administrative suspension for his failure to pay Bar dues. The summary notes that the conduct was not intentional, as the attorney gave a check and the registration materials to his spouse to make the payment. It did not get done. (Mike Frisch)

October 28, 2010 in Bar Discipline & Process | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Left At The Scene

A Colorado attorney who left the scene after his car struck a bicycle-riding public defender has been suspended for three years based on his conditional admission of misconduct.

Law News Colorado reported:

...a lawyer from Evergreen, on Thursday pled guilty to to vehicular assault, leaving the scene of an accident causing serious bodily injury and one count of child abuse .

The charges stemmed from an August arrest after [he] hit [a] Jefferson County public defender... who was riding his bike along the Evergreen Parkway ramp to eastbound I-70. [The attorney] was driving drunk in the hit-and-run accident with his three children, 11-year-old twins and an 8-year-old, in the vehicle.

The Denver District Attorney’s Office is handling the case because of the victim’s status as a public defender. [The attorney] is scheduled to be sentenced on April 9 at 8 a.m. in Jefferson County Court, Division E. He will be facing nine years in prison upon sentencing.

TheDenverChannel.com noted that, although the attorney left the scene, a key piece of evidence had been left behind: his front license plate.

The victim's story is told by State Bill Colorado here. (Mike Frisch)

October 27, 2010 in Bar Discipline & Process | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Fee Arbitration Decision Enforced Against Former Client

A law firm filed suit against a former client for unpaid fees. The client responded with counterclaims of malpractice. The matter was stayed while the Bar's fee arbitration process went forward. The client lost fee arbitration and the law firm secured summary judgment ijn light of the resolution of the fee arbitratiobn. The client appealed.

The Maine Supreme Court agreed with the trial court that the fee arbitration result was entitled to res judicata effect in the litigation, rejecting the contention that the fee arbitrators acted outside of the spoce of their authority. (Mike Frisch)

October 27, 2010 in Clients | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

No Spirit, No Excellence

An opinion from the Florida Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee:

ISSUE

Whether a judge may accept the “Spirit of Excellence” Government Leader of the Year Award from an organization whose purpose is to provide business training and networking opportunities for women, where the award will be presented at a ceremony not advertised as a fundraiser but at which event expenses will be paid by the sale of tickets to the event and by congratulatory, business or personal ads in an event publication and where the organization will conduct a raffle to raise money for a scholarship fund.

ANSWER: No.

Reasoning:

We have opined repeatedly that judges may not participate in fundraisers where the event’s purpose is not law-related.  See Fla. JEAC Op. 09-07 (judge may not receive award at fundraiser for organization that is mainly involved in education programs because event would not concern the law, the legal system or the administration of justice, and the funds raised would not be used for law related purpose); Fla. JEAC Op. 08-22 (judge may not appear as “dignitary guest” in fund-raising ballet, sponsored by ballet company organized as charitable organization, and allow company to use judge’s name and title to advertise event); Fla. JEAC Op. 03-16 (judge may not participate in voluntary bar association’s fundraising event by providing goods for sale or auction, performing skit, displaying talent, being a model, or otherwise performing at event); Fla. JEAC Op. 01-09 (judge may not participate as featured speaker at fundraising roast of prominent local figure); Fla. JEAC Op. 00-31 (judge may not act as chairperson of kickoff event for fundraising organization); Fla. JEAC Op. 99-15 (judge may not be guest speaker at college alumni banquet, when banquet is main fund-raiser for alumni club); Fla. JEAC Op. 98-32 (judge may not participate in charity fashion show by announcing winning tickets and describing items won); Fla. JEAC Op. 90-20 (judge may not participate as guest of honor at charitably-funded institution’s dinner where patrons may purchase journal advertisements dedicated to the judge, and distribution of journal is one of institution’s main fundraising activities); and Fla. JEAC Op. 90-12 (judge may not serve as chairman of golf tournament, even though judge would neither participate in solicitation of funds nor be identified as judge in materials associated with tournament, where entity sponsoring tournament is nonprofit organization which raises funds to support sports activities).

In Fla. JEAC 99-09 the Committee advised a judge that she could not receive an award and be inducted into a County Women’s Hall of Fame at an annual luncheon where program advertisements had been sold to raise funds for the sponsoring organization.  We noted that while the luncheon itself was not a fundraiser, the organization’s “major source of income [was] through advertising in the program,” which was a souvenir journal in which the public could purchase ads congratulating the inductee(s).  Thus, the ultimate purpose of the luncheon was to raise funds for the organization.

In conclusion, the fact that the sponsoring organization does not bill an event as a fundraiser is not dispositive.  If the event has the characteristics of a fundraiser, it must be considered as such, labels notwithstanding.  Further, as a practical matter, whether the event will realize a profit is unknowable in advance, and so the likelihood of a profit cannot be used to determine if the event is intended to be a fundraiser.

A dissenting view, in part reprinted here;

While the organization will conduct a raffle at the event to raise money for a scholarship fund, this appears to be an incidental activity and not a substantial part of the event.  Thus, the minority does not perceive that the conduct of the raffle transforms the event into a fund-raising activity.  The minority is aware that a number of civic and charitable organizations, including Rotary clubs and churches, conduct raffles as an incidental part of a meeting or event. The raffle at the subject awards dinner does not appear to be a major part of the purpose of the event, based upon the judge’s inquiry. Thus, it does not convert this event to a fundraiser in the opinion of the minority.

(Mike Frisch)

October 27, 2010 in Judicial Ethics and the Courts | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Looking For Mr. C.

A three-judge court in Virginia has accepted an agreed disposition in a case where the attorney had represented a client in a contested, fault-based divorce.

At a hearing on custody and support, a witness (hereinafter "Mr. C.") testified that the attorney's client was a prostitute. He knew this because he was a client of hers for eight months. He also testified that he spoke to two other clients who had paid for sex with her.

The attorney's client was stripped of custody and lost her spousal support award.

The attorney then sent a letter to the wife of Mr. C. Attached was a copy of Mr. C.'s testimony. The letter

stated that [the attorney] simply did not understand "why a person would falsely claim that he visited a prostitute six or eight times" if it was not true.

The letter also asked for her help in locating Mr. C.

The court imposed a public reprimand without terms for violation of rules relating to respect for the rights of third parties and fairness to opposing parties and counsel. (Mike Frisch)

October 26, 2010 in Bar Discipline & Process | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, October 25, 2010

Hard Drives

The former Commonwealth's Attorney for Floyd County, Virginia has agreed to a public reprimand with terms for disabling computer software (the hard drives) from three office computers as he was leaving his service the office. Two of the hard drives were too be used by the incoming Commonwealth's Attorney. 

The attorney used public funds to purchase three new hard drives and asserted that he had destroyed the three that he had removed. He claimed that he was attempting to upgrade the three office computers. He did not save any of the removed information.

When the new Commonwealth's attorney took office, she was unable to access information on the office computers. She had the computers evaluated by experts, leading to charges of petit larceny and disabling computer software against the attorney. A special prosecutor handled the case, which resulted in a dismissal and expungement in exchange for a payment as reimbursement for the software. The attorney also was required to do community service.

The reprimand reflects that the conduct was disruptive to the transition to the new Commonwealth's Attorney and to the administration of justice.

Some details here from the Blue Ridge Muse. (Mike Frisch)

October 25, 2010 in Bar Discipline & Process | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Rutgers Clinic Subject To Open Records Act

The New Jersey Appellate Division has reversed a trial court decision that the Rutgers Environmental Law Clinic was not subject to the state's Open Public Records Act ("OPRA").

The plaintiffs had sought documents relating to the clinic's finances and its representation of two private citizens' groups that were opposing the proposed development of an outlet mall.

The court here concluded that the trial court erred in exempting the clinic from OPRA and remanded to the trial court for a determination whether specific documents are exempt from disclosure under the definition of "public records." The trial court also must determine if records should be disclosed under a common lasw right to access. (Mike Frisch)

October 25, 2010 in Current Affairs, Teaching & Curriculum | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Power Of Attorney

From the web page of the Ohio Supreme Court:

The Supreme Court of Ohio’s Board of Commissioners on Grievances & Discipline has issued an advisory opinion addressing a lawyer’s use of a contingent fee agreement in which a client grants a power of attorney to the lawyer as to all aspects of a legal matter.

Opinion 2010-6 notes the “ethical risks” that exist with a power of attorney granting a lawyer authority to make all decisions and execute all documents that the lawyer deems necessary in a client’s contingent fee matter. It also states that “in the absence of extraordinary circumstances, the practice is unethical for the lawyer and shortchanges the client’s role in legal representation.”

The opinion finds that “such use of a broad power of attorney in a contingent fee agreement contravenes Prof. Cond. Rule 1.2(a) by improperly allocating all of the authority regarding the representation from the client to the lawyer and disregards Prof. Cond. Rule 1.4(a) by eliminating required communication by the lawyer to the client.”

The opinion further notes that “a lawyer’s contingent fee representation of a client in a civil matter requires skillful communication. A lawyer must communicate effectively to understand the client’s objectives of representation, explain settlement offers, reach agreement to settlement terms, obtain necessary client signatures, and disburse settlement proceeds. Such communication is a time honored legal skills, but is a time laden process.”

A copy of the opinion is available at: http://www.supremecourt.ohio.gov/Boards/BOC/Advisory_Opinions/2010//op_10-006.doc.

(Mike Frisch)

October 25, 2010 in Clients, Professional Responsibility | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Proposed Sanction Upped For "Channeling" Attorney

The Arizona Disciplinary Commission has affirmed findings of misconduct against an attorney who had "channeled" a client's deceased wife but increased a hearing officer's proposed suspension from six months and one day to one year. Both recommendations propose that reinstatement be followed by two years probation.

Our coverage of the hearing officer's report highlights the unusual facts:

The hearing officer has recommended a six month and one day suspension of an attorney who, while in an intimate relationship with a client involving his late wife's estate, "claimed to be able to convey the thoughts of the deceased wife to the client." The attorney also was charged with falsely denying in a bar proceeding that "she had  ever 'channeled' the thoughts of a deceased person to a client."

The attorney met the client while taking ballroom dancing lessons from him. She was retained to handle his divorce, but that representation terminated upon the wife's suicide. The attorney channeled the wife for three years, until she and the client stopped dancing together and parted ways.

The State Bar had sought disbarment. (Mike Frisch)

October 23, 2010 in Bar Discipline & Process | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Stealing From Blind Vendor Draws Censure

The New Jersey Disciplinary Review Board has ordered a censure of an attorney admitted in 1974. The attorney was employed by the state Department of Human Services ("DHS"). He was observed stealing items from a DHS refreshment vendor. The police were advised of the behavior and installed a surveillance camera.

Fourteen times over a five week period, the attorney was "observed taking various food and/or beverage items from the refreshment vendor, without paying for the items. The vendor was a blind operator for the Commission for the Blind and Visually impaired Enterprise Program."

The attorney was not criminally prosecuted and had no record of bar discipline. As part of a settlement, he paid the vendor $1,200. He is listed as "retired" with the Bar and it was not clear in the record whether he had ever actively practiced law.

The sanction was imposed notwithstanding the board's expressed view that the offenses were "particularly repugnant" because the attorney took advantage of the vendor's blindness.

Anyone think censure is a tad light?  (Mike Frisch)

October 21, 2010 in Bar Discipline & Process | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

L though Z

The New York Appellate Division has issued an order suspending attorneys (with last names from L to Z) for failure to file the required biennial registration statement:

The attorneys in question have been duly notified of their noncompliance and given an opportunity to cure their default. The Office of Court Administration mailed each of the defaulting attorneys a biennial registration form to their last known home address, a second notice to their last known business address, and a final notice to their home address. Attorneys who remained in default following these three notices were referred to the Disciplinary Committee. On October 31, 2008, this Court published notice in the New York Law Journal that the Disciplinary Committee would institute an omnibus disciplinary proceeding seeking immediate suspension from the practice of law against those attorneys who did not cure their default by November 24, 2008. Thereafter, a list of approximately 1700 attorneys who failed to submit satisfactory proof of registration and payment of fees was forwarded to the Committee. The Committee then filed its motion for service by publication of the notice of petition to suspend.

Pursuant to the order of this Court entered May 27, 2010, which provided for service of the petition to suspend by publication in the New York Law Journal for five consecutive days, a list of the defaulting attorneys along with their last known business addresses or in the absence of a business address, the home address of the defaulting attorney, was so published commencing June 8, 2010. A notice was also posted on the Court's website. The order further provided that attorneys on the default list may submit proof from the Office of Court Administration that they are in compliance with all the registration requirements (including payment of registration fees), and an explanation of their failure to respond to previous notifications of default, within thirty (30) days of the return date of the Notice of Petition, or they would be subject to a further order of the Court immediately suspending them from the practice of law in the State of New York.

The attorneys who remain in noncompliance with Judiciary Law § 468-a despite the notification process described above are the subject of the Committee's instant motion to suspend. No opposition has been filed.

Accordingly, due to the continued failure to comply with the statute, petitioner's motion to suspend such attorneys shall be granted to the extent of suspending those attorneys whose names are enumerated in the attached schedule from the practice of law in the State of New York, effective immediately.

(Mike Frisch)

October 21, 2010 in Bar Discipline & Process | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Attorney Suspended For Shoplifting

A former public defender has been suspended in Tennessee as a result of a criminal conviction. WMCtv.com reports that the offense involved shoplifting $1,300 worth of jewelry from Macy's.

The web page of the Tennessee Board of Professional Responsibility indicates that the state Supreme Court imposed an interim suspension pending resolution of disciplinary proceedings brought as a result of the criminal matter. (Mike Frisch)

October 21, 2010 in Bar Discipline & Process | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

"A Mess" Of Trouble

The career threatening danger when an attorney misappropriates entrusted funds is on display in a recent recommendation  for disbarment from the New Jersey Disciplinary Review Board.

The matter came to the Bar's attention as a result of two escrow account overdraft notices. The attorney responded that his account records "were a mess" and that he was depositing $10,000 into the account to cover shortfalls. The Bar investigator considered the deposit to be "red flag" and continued to probe, with predictable results.

The board rejected the attorney's suggestion that he was only temporarily embezzling and had replaced the missing funds as a basis to avoid the ultimate sanction. (Mike Frisch)

October 21, 2010 in Bar Discipline & Process | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Checking Out

The web page of the Ohio Supreme Court reports:

The Supreme Court of Ohio today indefinitely suspended the law license of [a] Cincinnati attorney...for misconduct that resulted in his convictions on three counts of felony theft.

In a 7-0 per curiam opinion, the Court adopted findings by the Board of Commissioners on Grievances & Discipline that [the attorney] engaged in a scheme in which he deposited checks drawn on bank accounts that had been closed or accounts with insufficient funds into other bank accounts, and then made cash withdrawals from the latter, artificially inflated accounts. These transactions resulted in losses of $5,809 to Fifth Third Bank, $11,804 to U.S. Bank, and $4,459 to Huntington Bank.

[The attorney] entered guilty pleas to three counts of theft, felonies of the 5th degree. He was sentenced to three years of community control and ordered to pay restitution to the banks he had defrauded. His law license has been under an interim suspension since the Supreme Court was notified of his felony convictions in February 2009. 

In today’s decision, the Court unanimously accepted the disciplinary board’s conclusions that [his] conduct violated the rules of professional conduct that prohibit an attorney from engaging in illegal acts that adversely reflect on his honesty or trustworthiness; and require attorneys to respond to a demand for information from a disciplinary authority and to report their own rule violations to disciplinary authorities.

The court's opinion is linked here. (Mike Frisch)

October 21, 2010 in Bar Discipline & Process | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)