Monday, February 28, 2011

"Unique And Crucial Position"

The Georgia Supreme Court has disbarred a former superior court judge who pled guilty to honest services fraud conspiracy in federal court. He had served as a judge for 27 years. The court rejected a special master's recommendation of a three-year suspension:

It hardly bears stating that a judge occupies a unique and crucial position of power, trust and responsibility in our society. We cannot rightfully expect members of the public to respect the law and remain confident in the integrity and impartiality of our judiciary where judges themselves do not respect and follow the law. No matter how one looks at this case, [his] felony conviction deals a serious blow to the public's confidence in the legal system...

Details from AJC.com. (Mike Frisch)

February 28, 2011 in Judicial Ethics and the Courts | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Repeat Offender

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court suspended an attorney for two years for practicing while serving a six-month suspension.

The reason for the prior suspension?

He had practiced law while suspended for failure to comply with CLE obligations. This matter involved practice while serving the six-month suspension.

The attorney met with a person (and his family) who was facing criminal drug charges. The suspended attorney provided legal advice and was paid $3,000 (which he split with another attorney without advising the client). The attorney then went with the client to surrender to authorities  and to the preliminary arraignment, where he sat in the gallery rather than at counsel's table.

The client was asked to sign a document and turned to the attorney. He signed after the attorney nodded in approval. The judge noticed. When questioned by the judge, the attorney admitted that he was suspended.

The client retained new counsel and sought a full fee refund. The attorney did not promptly return the fee, which was late paid by the attorney who had received half of the $3,000. (Mike Frisch)

February 28, 2011 in Bar Discipline & Process | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Reprimand For Rape Shield Law Violation

The Vermont Professional Responsibility Board has publicly reprimanded an attorney admitted in 2005. The attorney represented a criminal defendant through a contract with the public defender. The case involved charges of aggravated sexual assault and domestic assault. The attorney sought to introduce evidence of past sexual acts of the victim:

In the week prior to the trial...the court made several specific pre-trial rulings that prohibited the defense from referring to the complaining witness’ sexual behavior.  On the first day of the trial, before the jury came in, Respondent asked that the court reconsider the rulings.  The request was denied, and the court noted that these rulings had been made on at least three prior occasions.        On Respondent’s cross-examination of Detective Tyler Kinney, one of the State’s witnesses, Respondent asked the detective if he had learned during his investigation that the complainant had had sex with three other men.  The court sustained the State’s objection to the question.  The court then excused the jury and told Respondent that he was in direct contempt of the earlier rulings.  The court later granted the State’s motion for mistrial.

            Respondent stipulated that his disobedience of the court order was knowing.  The trial court found that his conduct “was an intentional violation of the court’s pre-trial rulings and the Vermont Rape Shield Law.”  The court found him directly in contempt and fined him $2000.00, the cost of drawing the jury and one day of trial.  Respondent appealed to the Vermont Supreme Court.  The Supreme Court affirmed the trial judge’s ruling in rather strong language. “Counsel’s conduct is particularly egregious given the purpose of the rape-shield law. . . .  Under no circumstances could counsel have reasonably believed that his question about the victim’s sexual encounters in 2006 was appropriate, and the court’s finding that he willfully violated its prior rulings is amply supported by the evidence.  The only purpose of this question was to intentionally prejudice the jury, and the court correctly characterized counsel’s conduct as calculated and outrageous.  It acted well within its discretion in finding [him] in contempt.”

The board found that mitigating factors made suspension inappropriate notwithstanding the attorney's knowing disobedience of a court order. (Mike Frisch)

February 27, 2011 in Bar Discipline & Process | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)