Tuesday, December 3, 2013
There is an interesting recent report of the District of Columbia Board on Professional Responsibility directing Bar Counsel to informally admonish an attorney for neglect of a client matter.
The attorney had agreed to act as local counsel as a favor to a friend, who was later disbarred. The underlying civil case was dismissed. The client complained to Bar Counsel.
In the disciplinary case, the attorney contended that the "local counsel" status did not create an attorney-client relationship and that, as a result, there could be no ethical violation. The Board firmly rejected the suggestion that the attorney's local counsel status in any manner diminshed his ethical obligations to the client.
The Board also rejected a number of procedural objections, only one of which is worthy of note.
He claimed a right to voir dire the hearing committee members as to possible bias. The board held that he had no right to use a voir dire procedure to inquire about possible bias.
I do wonder how much information is made available to accused attorneys about the lawyers and laypersons who act as their judges. While perhaps voir dire is not the answer, I believe that the disciplinary system has an obligation to make available sufficient information concerning the professional backgrounds of hearing committee and board members to both the public and attorneys charged with offenses.
I also favor greater transparency on the selection process for hearing committee positions, as they inevitably are the group from which Board on Professional Responsibility members are chosen.
The attorney was admitted in 1967 and had no prior discipline. One of his character witnesses was Thomas Henderson, who hired me as an Assistant Bar Counsel in 1984.
The case is In re Thomas Fortune Fay and can be accessed at this link. (Mike Frisch)