November 18, 2010
The West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals has rejected a hearing panel subcommittee's recommendation that ethics charges against an attorney defending a black lung case be dismissed. The court found that the attorney's conduct involved altering evidence in an attempt tp perpetrate a fraud on a tribunal. The court imposed a one-year suspension with conditions.
The attorney had arranged for a medical exam of the claimant. He removed a summary from the doctor's report and submitted the remaining portions to opposing counsel and the tribunal considering the matter. The court concluded:
[The attorney] has conceded that he purposefully removed the narrative portion of [the doctor's] report before providing the report to [the] ALJ...and [opposing counsel, thus, the absence of the narrative report in the document provided to [them] was clearly not due to inadvertence or mistake. Furthermore, insofar as we have found that the withheld portion of the report had evidentiary value, we have little difficulty concluding that [the attorney's] conduct was deceitful, dishonest, a misrepresentation, and prejudicial to the administration of justice, and thus, amounted to a violation of Rules 8.4(c) and (d).
The court rejected the contention that the disciplinary complaint (which was filed by a federal district court) was untimely under the rule that requires a complainant to bring a matter to disciplinary counsel's attention within two years after the complainant knows or should know of the basis to complain. (Mike Frisch)
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