Monday, September 30, 2013
An attorney who filed a petition for reargument in connection with "claims arising out of the bitter dissolution of [his] former law partnership" was fined $2,000 and enjoined from any futher legal action against his former firm by the Rhode Island Supreme Court.
The reargument petition was "insolent and disrespectful in tone, containing baseless allegations of bias, incompetence, and even of ethical violations on the part of the justices of this Court, and as above indicated, this is not the first time he has exhibited such deliberate disregard for the principle of civility."
The court quoted the Supreme Judicial Court of Maine: "Vigorous advocacy cannot be an excuse for unfounded accusations and childish vitriol. Counsel, the court, and the profession deserve better."
Details concerning the underlying dispute may be found in the July 2, 2013 opinion of the court. (Mike Frisch)
The Maryland Court of Appeals has ordered a 30-day suspension of an attorney who lost control of himself in a court proceeding.
The court sanctioned him for
...willfully engaging in offending behavior both within the courtroom, consisting of disrupting proceedings by making multiple attempts to speak to his client during final argument, refusing to keep still or lower his voice, and remaining standing after being advised to be seated, as well as outside the courtroom, in the actual presence of members of the public, consisting of becoming increasingly angry and upset, refusing to heed instructions to remain calm, attemting to reenter the courtroom, engaing in a "door handle tugging match with the arresting officer," and using loud, inappropriate, and profane language in the hallway...
The conduct took place during and after a hearing on a final protection order. The attorney called one of the officers involved a "Nazi."
The court noted rejected a reprimand, as the attorney had been reprimanded in the past. (Mike Frisch)
The New York Appellate Division for the First Judicial Department has imposed a public censure as reciprocal discipline for misconduct sanctioned by the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.
...the Circuit Court found that respondent: (1) improperly joined unrelated quotations of a witness's testimony in his brief so as to give the appearance that he was citing to a continuous stream of testimony; (2) accused the trial judge, without factual witness support, of suppressing evidence; (3) wrongly accused the government of purposely overestimating the anticipated length of the trial in order to defeat his motion to change venue; (4) submitted and relied on a declaration to support the legitimacy of a purported on-line conversation about which he had no personal knowledge; and (5) asserted, without factual support, that two Secret Service Agents involved in the investigation of his client had been terminated for misconduct.
The Fourth Circuit had publicly admonished the attorney. (Mike Frisch)
A recent decision of the Ohio Supreme Court is summarized on the court's web page:
A Sandusky attorney not admitted to the practice of law in Ohio but admitted to the practice of law in the District of Columbia and federal bankruptcy courts in this state is not subject to Ohio disciplinary rules, the Supreme Court of Ohio ruled today.
The unanimous decision, authored by Justice Terrence O’Donnell, rejects the recommendation of the Board of Commissioners on Grievances & Discipline to indefinitely suspend Donald Harris from representing Ohio citizens in the state of Ohio.
Donald Harris is not admitted to the practice of law in the state of Ohio, but as a member of the District of Columbia bar and of the bars of the United States District Court for the Northern and Southern Districts of Ohio, he practices bankruptcy law before federal courts geographically located in this state.
In August 2011, disciplinary counsel filed a complaint against Harris relating to his representation of an Ohio client in bankruptcy proceedings before the United States District Court for the Northern District of Ohio, his establishment of a limited-liability company on behalf of an Ohio client, his assistance to an Ohio client in a mortgage modification, and representations regarding the relationship between an Ohio-licensed attorney and the Donald Harris Law Firm.
The Board of Commissioners on Grievances & Discipline found that Harris had violated the Ohio Rules of Professional Conduct and recommended that he be indefinitely suspended from the practice of law in Ohio.
The Supreme Court, however, determined that the alleged misconduct relating to a client Harris represented in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Northern District of Ohio did not constitute the unauthorized practice of law because he was authorized to practice before that court. The Supreme Court dismissed this matter in deference to the disciplinary authority of the bankruptcy court.
Further, the court held that the Ohio Rules of Professional Conduct, which regulate the conduct of attorneys admitted to the practice of law in Ohio, do not apply to Harris, because he is not admitted to the Ohio bar and never took an oath to abide by the disciplinary rules. As Justice O’Donnell explained: “Harris never took that oath and never agreed to abide by our rules, and we are reluctant to impose our rules of conduct on him and other such attorneys who engage in the practice of law in our state.”
Therefore, the court dismissed the matters relating to his participation in the formation of a limited liability company, his involvement in a modification of a mortgage, and his representations regarding the relationship between himself and other attorneys in the Donald Harris Law Firm and referred them to the Board on the Unauthorized Practice of Law.
The ourt concluded that any sanctions against a non-Ohio-admitted attorney would be "ineffective and meaningless." (Mike Frisch)
An attorney who engaged in misconduct while and after working as an associate at several law firms has consented to a 30-month suspension, which was imposed by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.
According to the Disciplinary Board
...there are no cases that have precisely the amalgamation of misconduct presented here: improper solicitation of potential clients; mishandling of law firm funds; signing an attorney's name to the back of settlement checks; frivolous litigation; and neglect of client matters. Respondents's misconduct merits, at a minimum, public discipline.
Respondent's relentless litigation directed at pressuring his prior employers into sharing funds with Respondent, callous disregard for the administration of justice, and receipt of court-ordered sanctions for his litigious conduct [is compared to prior cases for sanction purposes]
...In the final analysis, most of Respondent's misconduct is inter-related and encompasses differnt permutations of Respondent's ongoing efforts to obtain funds from his former employer to which Respondent was not entitled....consistent with precedent, a thirty-month suspension is the appropriate quantum of discipline to be imposed to protect the public and the courts, as well as to deter other attorneys from engaging in similar misconduct upon acrimoniously departing from a law firm.
The attorney was admitted in 2002 and was employed by three firms over a two-year period. (Mike Frisch)
The Massachusetts Board of Bar Overseers has imposed a public reprimand of the general counsel of a California software company who practiced out of a satellite office located in Massachusetts.
The attorney had been suspended for non-payment of annual fees in 2010. He had sent the bar dues invoice to his company (which had paid the prior year) but did not follow up to ensure that it had been paid.
He had engaged in practice during the period of administrative suspension and failed to take steps to obtain reinstatement until 2012.
The father was on either inactive or retired status when he prepared a lease between parents and their son. He also assisted in probating estates.
According to the bar summary, he "did not appreciate that he could not perform occasional legal services for clients while on inactive or retired status."
The daughter assisted in the father's unauthorized practice. (Mike Frisch)
Sunday, September 29, 2013
The Illinois Lawyer reports on recent sanctions imposed by the Illinois Supreme Court.
[The attorney], who was licensed in 2009, was suspended for 90 days. While enrolled in an LLM program at John Marshall Law School, she plagiarized a substantial portion of a final paper submitted in furtherance of her degree. After she was informed that she faced possible discipline at the law school, she applied to the DePaul University College of Law LLM program but did not inform DePaul that she was facing possible discipline at John Marshall. The suspension is effective on October 16, 2013.
[The attorney], who was licensed in 2006, was disbarred on consent. He pled guilty in federal court of a murder-for-hire scheme and was sentenced to a 102-month prison term. [He] agreed to pay $20,000 to an undercover agent to kill his girlfriend's ex-husband. He was suspended on an interim basis on November 15, 2011.
McHenry County Blog has details about the murder-for-hire case. (Mike Frisch)
Saturday, September 28, 2013
The Virginia State Bar Disciplinary Board has posted its recent order in the matter involving blogging attorney Horace Hunter.
The board ordered a public admonition with terms. The terms require that the following be posted on the attorney's web page:
Case results depend upon a variety of factors unique to each case. Case results do not guarantee or predict a similar result in any future case.
When the disclaimer is posted, the matter will be closed. (Mike Frisch)
A public defender who engaged in ethical misconduct during the course of representing a convicted murderer in post-conviction proceedings was suspended for two years by the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals.
The attorney had information that a person incarcerated in Texas had confessed to the crime. She went to visit him and took a deposition in which he admitted the offense. However, she omitted information (contained in notes) that the Texas inmate knew her client, which the client had denied.
The use of the deposition violated her duty of candor to the tribunal.
Further, the attorney and the Texas inmate became "pen pals." They engaged in a personal correspondence that, when it ended, led the inmate to become angry and recant the confession.
The relationship was found to create a conflict of interest.
The Charleston Gazette had this report on the disciplinary hearing.
The Exponent Telegram reported that the attorney resigned her position as an assistant attorney general after the court ordered her suspension. (Mike Frisch)
Thursday, September 26, 2013
The Maryland Court of Appeals has disbarred an attorney who accepted a fee of $20,000 to file a habeas corpus petition on behalf of an inmate incarcerated in Lewisburg Penitentiary.
The attorney placed the fee in a personal account, failed to perform the services or refund the fee, charged an excessive fee and ignored the disciplinary process.
An Illinois Hearing Board has recommended a public censure of an attorney who was found to have engaged in commingling and conversion, but not dishonesty, in connection with a payment made by the client to compensate another attorney.
The board expressed some concerns about its proposed sanction:
Although we are somewhat troubled by Respondent's attitude that he has been unfairly burdened by this disciplinary process, we believe censure is the appropriate sanction. We are encouraged Respondent has taken steps to improve communication with his clients and has made changes to his office procedures. He stated he added more assistants and has required his staff to take "CLE classes." We believe Respondent would similarly benefit from additional instruction and require him to take the course offered by the Illinois Professional Responsibility Institute.
Accordingly, after considering the nature of the Respondent's misconduct, the evidence in mitigation and aggravation, and the precedent discussed above, we recommend that the Respondent...be censured and be required to complete the Illinois Professional Responsibility Institute course within one year of the Court's final order in this matter.
The New Jersey Supreme Court has imposed a suspension of six months and until further court order in a matter involving gross neglect of five client matters.
The Disciplinary Review Board was unpersuaded that it was all the fault of the attorney's partner, who also has been suspended for ethics violations:
Over and over in these matters, we heard of Tunney and of his malfeasance. Respondent laid responsibility for the improprieties at his partner's feet, blaming Tunney for misrepresenting to him the work he had done on these cases and his communications with the clients. That may well have happened. Howver, in four of the five cases, these grievants were respondent's clients. The ultimate responsibility for the handling of their cases was his. in the fifth case...[a]t best, the responsibility was shared. Particularly, knowing Tunney's prior disciplinary history and his proclivity toward neglecting client matters, respondent should have been more pro-active and verified the truth of what Tunney was telling him. Respondent's contention that he should have been able to trust his law partner was misplaced, in light of his partner's past misdeeds.
The DRB also did not accept the attorney's claim that the fault lay with the U.S. Mail:
...despite those known [mail delivery] difficulties, he took no inititive to ascertain the status of his clients' cases, to their detriment."
The attorney had been censured twice prior to this sanction for similar misconduct. (Mike Frisch)
Wednesday, September 25, 2013
An attorney who was disbarred in Georgia as a result of his guilty plea to seven misdemeanors was reciprocally disbarred by the South Carolina Supreme Court.
The Georgia opinion describes the conduct, which involving smuggling contraband into a jail facility:
...jails and correctional facilities can be dangerous and violent places—they often house, after all, dangerous and violent individuals—even with the best of security measures and protocols. And the introduction of contraband into such a facility tends to undermine those security measures and protocols. As a deputy sheriff explained in these proceedings, “any type of contraband, any things that are restricted from an inmate standpoint can further create problems on the floor,” and secreting contraband into a jail “would definitely break down the security or integrity of the internal security structure.” Accordingly, these crimes also necessarily reflect a disregard for the security of the jail and the safety of those who work, or are incarcerated, in it.
In this case, Jones acted deceitfully, dishonestly, in breach of his trust as an attorney, and in a way that threatened the security of the Richmond County Jail. When Jones smuggled contraband to his client, he secreted the contraband and passed it covertly to his client. He did so knowing that it was against the rules of the jail and with the understanding that he could be making matters worse for his client, if the client were found in possession of the contraband. When Jones himself was caught, he lied to law enforcement and disclaimed any knowledge of the contraband. On at least one occasion, Jones passed contraband to his client without even knowing the nature of the contraband. And Jones smuggled contraband to his client on ten separate occasions. All these things reflect dishonesty, amount to an obstruction of the administration of justice, and in light of the dangers that they posed for his client, other inmates, and the jailers, involve a disregard for the safety of others.
An attorney who purchased cocaine from a client he was defending in a criminal case was disbarred by the Oklahoma Supreme Court.
The attorney had sought lesser discipline based on proferred mitigation that, among other things, he had cooperated with criminal authorities and had only used cocaine to keep him awake and attentive to his high-caseload practice.
The court did not buy this:
This Court does not agree that all the factors proposed by [the attorney] are mitigating. [His] cooperation in the government's case was compelled by the plea agreement. While [he] contends he did not intend to personally gain from his wrongful acts, the evidence reveals he was accepting the cocaine as a reduction of his fee for services rendered in his representation of his client. For a member of the bar to knowingly participate in a criminal enterprise with a client while representing the client in ongoing criminal matters offsets many of the Respondent's claims of mitigation. The effect of such intentional acts on the legal profession as a whole cannot be overly minimized. His clients in the present matter actively assisted the authorities in the development of the criminal case against the Respondent.
Possession of cocaine is a felony in Oklahoma. (Mike Frisch)
Tuesday, September 24, 2013
The Michigan Attorney Discipline Board has concluded that a two-year suspension imposed by a county hearing panel was insufficient discipline for an attorney's misconduct.
The board ordered disbarment.
The attorney had misappropriated funds that were entrusted to him as conservator for the estate of an minor child and as conservator for a protected adult.
The board rejected the attorney's "no harm, no foul" characterization of his conduct, offered as mitigation because he had repaid the converted funds. (Mike Frisch)
A limited liability corporation that owns an Alququerque art filmhouse had its criminal conviction for an ordinance violation arising from a film festival ("Pornotopia") that showed at least one adult film reversed by the New Mexico Supreme Court.
The court concluded that a weekend of pornographic films does not make the theatre an "adult amusement establishment" any more than serving martinis on a single weekend makes a bar a "Martini Bar." The court quotes a Wisconsin case for this proposition.
The governing legal principle:
One weekend of erotic films per year does not an adult theatre make.
A first degree murder conviction was reversed on grounds of ineffective assistance of counsel by the Maryland Court of Special Appeals.
The attorney had failed to object to approximately thirty references to his client's silence during questioning by the police.
The attorney was unaware of the governing law, which demonstrated counsel's deficient performance.
The court concluded that the client's credibility was central to his defense and that "the frequency of references to the defendant's silence, the content of the questions posed to the defendant, and the editorializing of the defendant's silence by the State's witness" created a substantial possiblity of a different result, but for counsel's errors. (Mike Frisch)
From the web page of the Ohio Supreme Court:
The Supreme Court of Ohio has permanently revoked the law license of Canton attorney Agatha Martin Williams for multiple and repeated violations of state attorney discipline rules, including misappropriating more than $170,000 of client funds and causing significant harm to five clients — mostly as a result of her gambling addiction.
In a unanimous decision announced today, the court adopted most of the facts and misconduct identified by the Board of Commissioners on Grievances & Discipline but determined that Williams’s actions required disbarment rather than the indefinite suspension the board had recommended.
While this disciplinary action was pending, Williams pleaded guilty to forgery and theft felonies, which were connected to some of the misconduct in this matter. She is now serving a prison sentence of more than eight years. After receiving notice of her convictions, the Supreme Court suspended Williams in April 2012 from the practice of law on an interim basis.
The court in its per curiam (not authored by one justice) ruling today found Williams engaged in a pattern of dishonesty and neglect, seriously misused her lawyer trust account, and misappropriated client funds in her representation of five clients. Specifically, she collected an excessive fee, endorsed a settlement check without authorization, stole settlements from two clients, and transferred another client’s funds for personal use.
The court, agreeing with the board’s report, noted several aggravating factors including Williams’s harm to vulnerable clients, failure to make restitution, and lack of cooperation in the disciplinary process. The Stark County Bar Association, which brought the disciplinary charges against Williams, argued that she also acted deceptively during the disciplinary process. The court agreed. For example, Williams testified at her March 2012 deposition she hadn’t gambled since 2011. However, her bank records showed that she had gambled at West Virginia and Pennsylvania casinos on several dates in January and February 2012. She even went gambling three days after pleading guilty to felony charges, the court noted.
Williams had asked the board to consider her mental disorders as a mitigating circumstance. Her addictions counselor, therapist, and psychiatrist each testified that she suffers from major depression, a gambling addiction, or an impulse-control disorder. However, while Williams was being treated for her addiction and other issues, she kept gambling and wasn’t open and honest about that with her counselors. The court explained that the board’s regulations require a person to show completion of a “sustained period of successful treatment” for a mental disorder to qualify as a mitigating circumstance, but Williams hadn’t shown a period of successful treatment.
Eight witnesses had testified before the board on Williams’s behalf, which convinced the board to recommend that Williams be indefinitely suspended. While the court said the witnesses provided substantial character evidence, the court ruled that this evidence didn’t outweigh Williams’s misconduct. As a result, the court determined that the aggravating factors justified a harsher sanction than that recommend by the board.
Concluding that Williams hasn’t shown a commitment to recovery and that she poses a threat to the public, the court disbarred Williams from practicing law in Ohio.
Monday, September 23, 2013
An attorney who was arrested for growing marijuana in his home for personal use was suspended for 18 months by the Georgia Supreme Court.
The plants were discovered by police when responding to his son's fatal overdose.
Prior to law school, the attorney had a varied career in aviation. At the time of his February 2012 arrest, he was a licensed commercial pilot flying with ExpressJet Airlines.
He has participated successfully in treatment and rehabilitation since his arrest.
The court approved a consent disposition that requires the attorney to complete a court drug program that involves supervision for a minimum of 18 months.
The suspension imposed here gives the attorney credit for time served since August 2012 , when he entered a guilty plea and ceased to practice law. (Mike Frisch)
Sunday, September 22, 2013
A bar applicant who had allegedly cheated by typing and saving answers after time was called on the February 2012 exam (which he nonetheless failed) has been granted permission to sit for a future exam by the Louisiana Supreme Court.
The application was opposed by the Committee on Bar Admissions.
The court found that the appointed commissioner's findings were not clearly erroneous:
The commissioner found credible petitioner's explanation that he was not attempting to gain an undue advantage over other examinees by his actions and concluded that petitioner had merely engaged in an ill-conceived effort to "preserve" his mulitiple choice responses on his USB key in the event he could persuade the Committee to grade them.
Test takers must save their save answers on a data storage device called a USB key and turn the device over to the examiners to be printed and graded.
The problem here involved the petitioner's Civil Code I portion of the exam. (Mike Frisch)