Wednesday, October 30, 2013

"Patina Of Propriety"

An ad hoc District of Columbia Hearing Committee has proposed a suspension of 90 days and fitness of an attorney who engaged in discussions with an elderly woman that he knew was represented in the matter under discussion - the impact of the woman's estate plan on the interests of his client.

The conduct also involved dishonesty.

According to the report, the attorney

made no real attempt to find out if Ms. Kincaid represented Ms. Jumper, a fact he knew to be true, but simply refused to believe because it was not in his client's interest. Instead, he attempted to give these meetings a patina of propriety - and give himself legal deniability - by asking Ms. Jumper whether she was represented by counsel. However, Respondent did not ask such an open-ended question. Instead, Respondent asked Ms. Jumper if she was represented by Troxell Kincaid and Mullin, without informing Ms. Jumper that that was name of Ms. Kincaid's firm. It is clear that Respondent questioned Ms. Jumper about her representation in a manner designed to cause Ms. Jumper to say that she was not represnted, whether that was the truth or not.

We also note that, in Respondent's view, Ms. Jumper was lucid only when she took action favorable to his client, and was not lucid when she action harmful to his client. He does not articulate a principlied basis for this distinction, and we see none in the record.

 The sanction recommendation was driven by the conclusion that the attorney "utterly fails to recognize the wrongfulness of his conduct" and testified he would do it again.

The case is In re William Rogers, Bar Docket No. 2003-D274 and can be accessed through this link.

The underlying litigation resulted in an opinion of the District of Columbia Court of Appeals, which tells the story in greater detail:

Sally Jumper is dead, but a dispute arising out of the handling of her assets lives on. We must decide whether the trial court abused its discretion by sanctioning Allen Anderson, a friend of Ms. Jumper's, and William Rogers, Mr. Anderson's attorney, for the manner in which the pair conducted litigation over Ms. Jumper's assets. We affirm in part and vacate and remand in part the order awarding sanctions.

The court also referred the matter to Bar Counsel.

The hearing committee did not give collateral estoppel effect to the court's opinion. (Mike Frisch)

Bar Discipline & Process | Permalink

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