Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Guilty Plea Forecloses Innocence Claim In Bar Discipline Matters

An attorney who had been suspended for two years in New York received identical reciprocal discipline from the Vermont Supreme Court.

The attorney was charged with felony offenses in New York and pleaded guilty to misdemeanor identity theft.

Discipline was imposed in New York as a result of the conviction.

In the Vermont proceeding, the attorney denied that she had defrauded anyone. Rather, she contended that the guilty plea was offered because of her husband's health issues and the legal expenses of fighting the felony charges.

Vermont Disciplinary Counsel agreed and advocated in favor of a public reprimand, contending that the evidence showed that the attorney had "not defrauded anyone" and had entered a "plea of convenience."

The court strongly disagreed, concluding that the guilty plea foreclosed arguments favoring actual innocence.

According to the court, while Disciplinary Counsel plays a "crucial role" in bar discipline matters that entitle its views to the "strongest consideration," it is the court that is the ultimate decisionmaker in attorney misconduct matters.

There is a lesson here - when an attorney is convicted of a crime by plea or trial, courts imposing bardiscipline will not entertain a claim of innocence. (Mike Frisch)


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