Wednesday, November 14, 2012
In a single opinion, the Oklahoma Supreme Court imposed discipline on two attorneys. One was suspended for two years and a day; the other for six months.
Justice Kauger concurred and dissented, raising important issues concerning delay:
The initial complaint against the respondent, Casey, was filed on October 24, 2002, alleging misconduct that began as early as 1996, and continued through 2000. A trial panel was assigned and the initial hearing was set for December 23, 2002. On December 10, 2002, the Bar Association requested a continuance, offering no reason, other than the parties needed more time. A continuance was granted. For unknown reasons, the matter lingered until November of 2007, when the parties jointly requested that the matter be held in abeyance. This motion was granted on December 5, 2007. By December of 2010, the Chief Justice's office asked for an explanation as to why the matter had not proceeded. The response was that the parties were attempting to preserve judicial economy!
Even after the matter was finally set for hearing on March 28, 2011, it was reset six times on the request of the respondent. The trial panel members changed twice thoughout this portion of thedelay. Apparently, through the efforts of the respondent, with the help of the Bar Association, the matter was continued by the trial panel and the lawyer was allowed to practice for ten years.
Justice Kauger questions the process that allowed the attorney to practice and delayed sanction for such an extended period of time:
The responsibility of this Court in disciplinary proceedings is not to punish, but rather to inquire into and to gauge a lawyer's continued fitness to practice law, with a purpose of safeguarding the interest of the public, of the courts, and of the legal profession. The nondelegable, constitutional responsibility to regulate the practice and the ethics, licensure, and discipline of legal practitioners is solely vested with this Court. What protection or interest of the public has been guarded in that time? None. What protection or interest of the public will be secured sixteen years after the initial violation? Probably none.