Thursday, July 31, 2014
The District of Columbia Court of Appeals took the rare step of rejecting an uncontested sanction recommendation in a matter involving neglect and related violations by an attorney appointed to represent an indigent client.
The court ordered a suspension of six months with all but 60 days stayed rather than the fully stayed 30-day suspension poposed by a hearing committee and the Board on Professional Responsibility
This court bears the ultimate responsibility of ensuring in disciplinary cases that any sanction imposed will adequately protect the public and the courts, maintain the integrity of the profession, and deter others from engaging in similar misconduct. To fulfill those objectives, we determine that a six-month suspension, with all but 60 days stayed, and a one-year probationary term is appropriate in this case. A 60-day suspension period will give Ms. Askew time to adequately structure her practice. A concurrently commencing one-year period of supervised probation will ensure that she does in fact take all the steps needed to achieve that goal. Moreover, if it is not an automatic consequence of her suspension, we also direct that Ms. Askew be removed from all panel lists for court-appointed counsel in Superior Court and this court, without prejudice to her ability to reapply once she has completed her term of suspension and probation.
The court found that the misconduct was serious and that there were no significant mitigating factors. There was also this
...we are troubled by Ms. Askew‟s willingness at the hearing to make representations that not only contradict prior factual assertions, but also would lack the ring of truth even if they had been made in the first instance.
Kudos to the court for not simply rubber-stamping an unduly lenient sanction. (Mike Frisch)
The Colorado Presiding Judge ordered a stayed six-month suspension and probation for an attorney's misconduct in five matters.
One of the matters
In a final matter, Buchheit placed several phone calls and sent numerous test messages to an individual who had filed a request for investigation against Buchheit with the Office of Attorney Regulation; Buchheit threatened that individual with a lawsuit unless he spoke with Buchheit. Through this conduct, Buchheit violated C.R.C.P. 251.32(e) (prohibiting lawsuits based on testimony given in disciplinary proceedings or communications relating to attorney misconduct) and Colo. RPC 8.4(d) (proscribing conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice).
Wednesday, July 30, 2014
The New York Appellate Division for the Second Judicial Department has accepted the resignation of a British solicitor convicted of groping a woman on a bus trip from Edinburgh to London.
The Express (U.K.) had the story of the criminal trial
Hugh Robert Wotherspoon was arrested after the German woman plucked up the courage to tell the driver how the man had been repeatedly fondling her thigh on a journey south from Scotland.
The 54-year-old married solicitor, who specialises in patent applications from his firm’s offices in London, Munich and New York, admitted that he had “tried it on” with the woman.
He insisted he was not guilty of any criminal offence because he believed she was enjoying it as much as he was.
But the woman, from London, said Wotherspoon’s behaviour had left her “shocked and shaken” and the only reason she did not hit him or scream for help was that she was too afraid of what his reaction might have been.
Legal Cheek also reported on the trial
Wotherspoon, who lives in Surrey, said that after sitting for so long next to the woman in the bus’s cramped seats it seemed natural to stroke her thigh.
So, about 90 minutes into the journey, with no words having been exchanged between the pair, he put his hand on the woman’s knee. The Exeter University and College of Law-educated lawyer told the court:
“It seemed suitable and comfortable and proper at the time and I thought she would feel the same…I put my hand on her knee. I thought she might like it. It just seemed right. It didn’t seem wrong or terrible in that situation…”
But the woman removed Wotherspoon’s hand with what he termed “a gentle, diffident brush-off”. Undeterred, half an hour later Wotherspoon pushed his hand down between her thigh and his, and started tapping her leg with his fingers.
“I did not have any reason to believe that another touch would be unwelcome,” he explained.
Earlier on, the woman, who comes from London but can’t be named, had told the court that she was left “shocked and shaken” by what happened.
...the resignor informed the Grievance Committee for the Second, Eleventh, and Thirteenth Judicial Districts that on August 8, 2012, in the Crown Court at Carlisle, United Kingdom, he was convicted of sexual assault of a female. He also informed the Grievance Committee that on August 31, 2012, he was sentenced to supervision in the community for 36 months, directed to pay certain costs, directed to pay compensation to the complainant, and required to remain on the sex offenders registry for five years. He further informed the Grievance Committee that by order dated December 10, 2013, the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal suspended him from practicing as a solicitor in the United Kingdom for an indefinite period, and directed him to pay certain costs. The resignor acknowledges that if charges were predicated on the facts and circumstances underlying his criminal misconduct, he could not successfully defend himself on the merits against such charges.
The resignation results in disbarment.
In the District of Columbia, as a result of this decision, the disciplinary system would not have been able to rely upon the conviction as a basis for discipline. In my opinion, a case such as this shows why the linked opinion is bad law and policy. (Mike Frisch)
An attorney who failed to respond to a series of client-initiated bar complaints was suspended for two years by the Wisconsin Supreme Court.
He had already been suspended for failure to respond to complaints and to pay dues.
When the bar sought responses to the complaints here, the attorney's response recalls what Davy Crockett said after losing an election in Tennessee: You can go to Hell, I'm going to Texas.
Attorney Moss sent a letter to the OLR saying he would not respond to any grievances. He enclosed his State Bar membership card to serve as his resignation from the State Bar.
He went to Oregon.
One tidbit involved this observation from a client
In February of 2012, G.G. and K.S. met with Attorney Moss at his Galesville law office. During the meeting they saw a handgun in Attorney Moss's lap and in his hand as he was sitting behind his desk. Attorney Moss told them he was carrying the handgun for protection from people who were hounding him and from clients who stalked and harassed him.
The court rejected the Office of Lawyer Regulation's call for a shorter suspension
we conclude that the nine-month suspension sought by the OLR and recommended by the referee is an insufficient sanction for Attorney Moss's misconduct. Although Attorney Moss had a license to practice law in Wisconsin for only slightly more than three years before his license was suspended, during that short timeframe he engaged in repeated misconduct where he took fees from clients, failed to perform the work for which he was retained, failed to communicate with the clients regarding the status of their matters, and failed to return fees and client files upon request. The incident in which Attorney Moss was brandishing a handgun during a client meeting is disturbing. We believe that a two-year suspension of his license to practice law in Wisconsin is a sanction more commensurate with the misconduct at issue in this case.
The attorney was admitted in 2009. (Mike Frisch)
Tuesday, July 29, 2014
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has disbarred an attorney who assisted a company called ALMS in drafting trusts sold by non-lawyers to senior citizens.
After nine days of hearings, the attorney was found to have engaged in dishonesty, failures to communicate with clients, conflicts of interest and aiding the unauthorized practice of law.
The Disciplinary Review Board noted that the attorney began his association with entities engaged in such activities within three years of his bar admission. He continued to violate ethics rules after receiving notices from the Office of Disciplinary Counsel and even after entered into a 2004 consent decree to cease assisting unauthorized practice.
He also drew a law school classmate into the mess. (Mike Frisch)
Monday, July 28, 2014
In October 2012, I posted a comment about a report of a District of Columbia hearing committee that absolved four lawyers who I believe were proven to have engaged in serious misconduct involving the abuse of an elderly woman suffering from dementia.
The post was titled The Worst Hearing Committee Report in D.C. Bar History.
The evidence in the case supports a conclusion that the attorneys, in the course of representing the woman's son, purported to represent her as well and caused her to execute a series of documents giving control or complete ownership of her property to him. The result was the significant depletion of the woman's financial resources (and she paid for the ensuing litigation brought in her name), the withdrawal of two of the attorneys after a judge had raised the conflict issue and a court determination by one of the most respected jurists in the District of Columbia that the woman had not been competent to sign the documents that the attorneys had drafted for the benefit of the son.
After they withdrew, the two attorneys continued to stage-manage the dual representation by hiring and paying successor counsel (with the woman's money) and drafting legal documents for the woman's signature.
The hearing committee, throughout its report, repeatedly states that there was "no evidence" of any ethical violations. In fact, there was the testimony of twelve witnesses called by Bar Counsel and the orders of Superior Court judges that provided compelling evidence of the charged misconduct. The hearing committee simply chose to ignore it.
Well, two years have passed and the Board on Professional Responsibility affirmed the findings last week.
The majority opinion calls the case one that is resolved by the hearing committee's "credibility" determinations, thereby absolving themselves of the work of actually studying the record and evaluating the wealth of evidence that the hearing committee simply ignored in aid of its steadfast desire to find no misconduct.
From the BPR majority opinion
We adopt the Hearing Committee’s findings of fact because we agree that they are supported by substantial evidence. Despite the quantity of evidence urged by Bar Counsel, when we account for the Hearing Committee’s qualitative credibility determinations, we agree that Bar Counsel has not clearly and convincingly proved the charges against Respondents. The facts argued by Bar Counsel certainly do not “produce … a firm belief or conviction” that the Hearing Committee got it wrong.
In other words, it's fine to ignore the findings of multiple judges and the observations of a dozen witnesses if you accept the self-serving statements of the attorneys that they did not know that their so-called "client" was incapable of decision-making.
The concurring opinion would find that the attorneys were aware that their "client" was incapacitated and that her interests conflicted with those of her son. Somehow, those conclusions did not lead to findings of serious ethical violations.
The concurrence concludes
This is a sad case. It involves an unnecessary and bitter dispute between a brother and sister, neither of whom distinguished him or herself, over the financial affairs of their mother. Mrs. Ackerman was visually impaired, suffered from dementia, and was distressed by the dispute between her children. The dispute resulted in extensive litigation that was funded by the trust established to provide for Mrs. Ackerman in her later years. The costs of that litigation contributed to the depletion of the trust assets such that questions were raised as to the sufficiency of the trust to support Mrs. Ackerman.
It is also a difficult case. Attorneys retained to handle matters in situations such as this face difficult decisions concerning the capacity of elderly clients to make informed and educated decisions. As noted, the Rules of Professional Conduct provide little guidance for when a lawyer must decline the representation, or withdraw from the representation of a client, who is suffering from dementia and other disabilities that impair her ability to function. That is particularly true in situations such as this where the client retains social graces, has an outward appearance of understanding, at some level, of what is happening, and where, as here, the client is relatively clear as to her wishes, even if she does not fully appreciate the consequences of her actions.
I agree that this is a "sad case," but not for the reasons set forth. The case sadly reflects the inability of the BPR to deal meaningfully with a case in which the hearing committee entirely failed to do its job.
The disingenuous suggestion of the concurrence that the lawyers acted in a good-faith belief as to the mother's competence is belied by an overwhelming amount of record evidence.
And the false equivalence between brother and sister --the brother who tried (with the help of four lawyers) to loot his mother's estate and the sister who tried to protect her -- is deeply offensive to anyone who bothered to study the record of this sorry affair.
It's as if the BPR would find that the person who defends frivolous litigation is as blameworthy as the person who initiates it.
I expect Bar Counsel to appeal these dismissals to the Court of Appeals.
Regardless of the eventual outcome (and I have no optimism at this point) , the story of this case is Exhibit One to prove the failure of the volunteer disciplinary system in the District of Columbia.
In particular, this outcome serves as a warning to victims --don't bother to bring your concerns to the D.C.Bar, as you will only get attacked for your trouble.
To be fair, the hearing committee's gross and inexcusable failure to deal with the evidence put the BPR in a difficult position. One approach would have been to apply due diligence to study and learn the record; the other is the approach taken here --blow the whole thing off as a credibility contest and simply fail to deal with the evidence in a meaningful way.
These so-called guardians of the public trust should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves. In a just world, what happened to Fran Abbott (the complaining daughter) would happen to them.
The BPR report can be found at this link under the names Szykmowicz, Szymkowicz, Silverman and King. (Mike Frisch)
Saturday, July 26, 2014
The Illinois Administrator has filed a complaint alleging that an attorney made false representations in response to a motion for sanctions.
The attorney was assigned by his law firm to defend a personal injury action.
A motion for sanctions was filed by plaintiff's counsel for a discovery lapse. The attorney sent unverified responses after the motion was granted.
Prior to October 27, 2011, Respondent telephoned the office of [plaintiff] Jackson's counsel and spoke to Jennifer Vermillion, a paralegal, regarding Jackson's September 7, 2011 motion to compel...and Respondent's failure to respond to that motion. Respondent explained to Ms. Vermillion that he had been out of the office due to his mother having been killed in an automobile accident.
On October 27, 2011, Respondent filed a response to Jackson's motion for sanctions and for default judgment...in which Respondent admitted that he "could have done a better job responding to the discovery in this case," but requested that Jackson's motion be denied. In that response, Respondent made the following statements:
" 11. As Plaintiff's counsel was told several times, on September 9, 2011, the undersigned's single mother was killed in a violent car accident in the state of Colorado.
12. The violence of the car accident was not what killed her, instead it was the fire and smoke inhalation from the resulting conflagration.
13. She died intestate with a lease, bills, car and pets and no family in the state where she resided.
14. The undersigned was left scrambling between Indiana, Colorado and Idaho for weeks trying to get his mother buried, her estate resolved and her pets adopted."
18. Respondent's statements described in paragraphs 16 and 17, above were false, and Respondent knew they were false, because:
Respondent's mother had not been killed in a car accident, nor had she been involved in a car accident at that time;
Respondent's mother was alive; and
Respondent was not "left scrambling between Indiana, Colorado and Idaho for weeks trying to get his mother buried, her estate resolved and her pets adopted.
No report on whether the mother will be called as a witness. (Mike Frisch)
An attorney convicted of seven misdemeanors was suspended by the New York Appellate Division for the Second Judicial Department for three years.
The attorney failed to report the convictions.
As to sanction
In determining an appropriate measure of discipline to impose, we note that the respondent failed to appear for the hearing, despite multiple adjournments at his request. Counsel for the respondent represented that his client was out of state, and was financially unable to return to New York. Ostensibly, the respondent was attempting to borrow money, and/or utilize mileage points accrued by a friend. However, he was unsuccessful. The Special Referee found, and we agree, that these explanations for the respondent's failure to appear are unavailing, given that he had ample opportunity to appear. Moreover, despite representations by the respondent's counsel that his client was in a treatment program, and that he had been involved with the Lawyer's Assistance Program prior to leaving New York, the same was not proved. Indeed, the Special Referee found that no mitigation by way of testimony, affidavit, or letter was received from the respondent, or anyone else on his behalf. Ultimately, we are troubled by the multiplicity of crimes, several of which are alcohol-related offenses.
Monday, July 21, 2014
The Illinois Administrator has filed a two-count complaint alleging misconduct by an attorney.
The first count charges him with leaving an accident scene. He allegedly drove seven miles to his home after the collision and parked his damaged vehicle in his garage.
He had, however, left some incriminating evidence at the scene - his bumper with the license plate still affixed.
After arriving at the accident scene, Lee County Sheriff’s Officers located Respondent’s address from the license plate and bumper left behind at the scene. After finishing their reports at the scene, the officers proceeded to Respondent’s home. Upon their arrival at Respondent’s home, the officers were able to see Respondent’s vehicle parked in the garage by looking through a window in the garage. The officers witnessed the damage to the front end of Respondent’s vehicle that was consistent with the information they witnessed at the accident scene.
Shortly after arriving at Respondent’s home, the Lee County Sheriff’s Officers rang Respondent’s door bell and knocked on the door. Respondent did not answer the door. The officers then looked into Respondent’s window and saw Respondent slumped in a chair in the kitchen with numerous beer cans around him. The officers knocked on the window and shined a flashlight at Respondent but Respondent did not awaken.
The attorney pleaded guilty to misdemeanor leaving the scene.
Count two charges, in essence, lawyering while intoxicated:
Between May 2010 and October 2011, the Administrator of the ARDC received correspondence from various judges presiding in the 15th Circuit, Lee County, Illinois, with concerns that Respondent was impaired and smelled like alcohol during various court appearances he made on behalf of clients in the Circuit Court of Lee County.
On October 26, 2011, Respondent appeared on behalf of Peggy Goldie for a prove-up in a dissolution of marriage matter entitled, In re the Marriage of Peggy Goldie v. Charles Goldie, 11 D 50 (Lee County Circuit Court). During the court appearance on October 26, 2011, the Honorable Jacquelyn D. Ackert, and other courtroom personnel, smelled alcohol on Respondent. Judge Ackert and the courtroom personnel also observed that Respondent was unsteady and had difficulty formulating appropriate questions for the court proceeding. Judge Ackert determined that Respondent was impaired and unable to properly proceed on the prove-up and continued the case to November 1, 2011.
After the court appearance, described in paragraph 10 above, the Honorable Ronald M. Jacobson and Judge Ackert, met with Respondent in Judge Ackert’s chambers. The Judges asked Respondent to submit to a breathalyzer test, but Respondent refused.
The complaint contends that the above course of conduct prejudiced the administration of justice. (Mike Frisch)
The Wisconsin Supreme Court rejected a call for license revocation from the Office of Lawyer Regulation and imposed a suspension of 18 months for an attorney's misconduct as a guardian.
The recreation of Attorney Voss's trust account showed that, during the period of time he served as J.K.'s guardian, Attorney Voss converted at least $48,791.73 of J.K.'s funds either for his own use or to cover expenditures for other client matters. Since Attorney Voss repaid $46,103.88 to J.K.'s estate, the OLR's audit revealed that Attorney Voss still owes $2,077.18 in restitution to J.K.'s estate.
But revocation is too severe, according to the court
Revocation of an attorney's license to practice law is the most severe sanction this court can impose, and is reserved for the most egregious cases. While Attorney Voss's misconduct is serious, we do not agree that it rises to the level of warranting revocation. The cases cited by the OLR in support of its argument that revocation is an appropriate sanction are distinguishable...The conduct here simply does not rise to that level...
Wisconsin does adhere to a system of progressive discipline. Attorney Voss has been licensed to practice law in Wisconsin for nearly four decades. His disciplinary history consists of one private reprimand and one public reprimand. After careful consideration, we conclude that an eighteen-month suspension of his license to practice law is an appropriate sanction. We agree with the referee that Attorney Voss should be required to pay additional restitution in the amount of $2,077.18 to J.K.'s estate and that he be assessed the full costs of this proceeding. We further agree with the referee that, as a condition of the reinstatement of his license, Attorney Voss be required to demonstrate that he has in place a proper trust account consistent with supreme court rules.
The referee had proposed a one-year suspension. (Mike Frisch)
The Maryland Court of Appeals has disbarred a solo practicioner who practiced immigration and corporate law
This attorney discipline proceeding concerns a Maryland lawyer who, among other things: (1) represented her niece in an annulment/divorce matter in Virginia even though she was not licensed to practice law in Virginia and even though a conflict of interest existed due to the lawyer’s representation of her niece’s husband in an immigration matter; (2) provided incompetent representation and advanced a ground for annulment without conducting adequate research or speaking to her niece; (3) authorized co-counsel to sign settlement agreements on behalf of her niece despite failing to advise her niece of the agreements and to obtain her consent; (4) misrepresented her niece’s ability to communicate in English and her consent to the terms of the settlement agreements; (5) held herself out as specializing in immigration and corporate law; and (6) concealed her role in her niece’s representation from the trial court.
A concurring/dissenting opinion noted the absence of a selfish motive and would impose an indefinite suspension. (Mike Frisch)
The New Jersey Supreme Court has admonished an attorney who had failed to communicate to a client that her medical malpractice case had been dismissed.
The attorney gave as the reason
Respondent also testified about [client] Reilly’s psychiatrist, Maryn F. Beirne, M.D., who began treating Reilly for post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD), after Reilly’s State Police service, but before the accident, beginning in 2002. After a conversation with Beirne, respondent came away believing that she should not relay to Reilly any bad news about the case, should it occur. Thus, respondent claimed, she purposefully kept from Reilly the dismissal of the complaint. Respondent denied that she had failed to communicate with Reilly.
The Disciplinary Review Board's analysis
Respondent admitted that she did not advise her client, Reilly, about virtually every important event in the malpractice case, starting roughly in June 2006, when motions to dismiss began to surface. In August 2010, Reilly learned, on her own, that in 2008 her case had been dismissed, with prejudice. Respondent’s defense was that Drs. White and Beirne had cautioned her not to give Reilly bad news about the case, because Reilly could not handle such news. Both doctors, however, flatly rejected respondent’s version of the events, each stating that they had merely expressed their desire that respondent keep them informed about the case, especially about bad news, so that they could prepare Reilly for it and treat her accordingly.
If respondent truly felt that she could not advise her client about the actual events that transpired in the case, either out of a fear for Reilly’s own safety or for the safety of others, her recourse was to withdraw from the case. Instead, she allowed the matter to take its course, remained silent about setbacks, and never dealt with the consequences of her silence. That Reilly might become upset on hearing unfavorable developments in the case did not relieve respondent of her responsibility to keep her client adequately informed about its posture.
The DRB found a number of mitigating factors, including that the client suffered no financial harm. (Mike Frisch)
Kentucky.com has this story
Wayne County Commonwealth's Attorney Matthew Leveridge started a two-month sexual relationship with and impregnated a Wayne County woman whom he prosecuted for felony drug trafficking and who remains on probation through 2016, according to allegations raised in two court cases. According to the allegations, the affair began in January.
Leveridge filed a motion June 12 to revoke the probation of Latisha Lashley Sartain and send her to prison after she ended their affair and revealed her pregnancy to Leveridge's wife, according to court records. Leveridge's wife is suing him for divorce and sole custody of their child, alleging the affair with Sartain and other women, mental and physical abuse, and a history of bipolar disorder and alcohol abuse by her husband.
The allegations against Leveridge are contained in records in two court proceedings — the divorce case and motions filed by Sartain's attorney in her criminal case.
Leveridge cited a pending misdemeanor shoplifting charge as his reason for revoking Sartain's probation. After filing the revocation motion, Leveridge disqualified himself and handed the case to Wayne County Attorney Thomas Simmons, who withdrew the motion this week.
"I'm not gonna comment," Simmons said Thursday. "That's those people's personal lives, and I'm not going to get into it."
Sartain's attorney, Larry Rogers, said Leveridge was wrong to start an affair with a criminal defendant. Given Leveridge's friendships in the local justice system, Sartain — whose baby is due around late October — doubts she can expect fair treatment "with a five-year prison sentence still hanging over her head" until February 2016, Rogers said.
"If you're a prosecutor, you're not even supposed to talk to a defendant without her attorney being present, much less — well, this," Rogers said. "Universally, I think everyone would agree this is a big, big, big no-no."
Leveridge declined to discuss the allegations Thursday.
"I'm not gonna have any comment on anything," he said. "I'll have things to say in the appropriate forums before the appropriate people."
Leveridge, 41, has prosecuted felonies in Wayne and Russell counties since 2007, including an unsuccessful manslaughter case against the father of a 20-month-old boy who drank drain cleaner allegedly used to make methamphetamine.
Leveridge pleaded guilty in 2009 to drunken driving in Somerset and paid a $200 fine. Three years later, Attorney General Jack Conway presented him with an award as 2012's outstanding commonwealth's attorney.
"Matthew never turns down a special prosecution and is a tremendous asset to the prosecutorial system and to the residents of Russell and Wayne counties," Conway said at the time.
His office would not comment Thursday on the current allegations against Leveridge.
"If there are ethical violations, those would fall under the Kentucky Bar Association," said Conway spokesman Daniel Kemp.
"The Prosecutors Advisory Council and the Office of the Attorney General may take action to begin the removal from office of a prosecutor if he or she is indicted on felony charges," Kemp said. "If criminal misconduct is alleged, those charges could be investigated by Kentucky State Police, the Office of the Attorney General or the Federal Bureau of Investigations. Our office neither confirms or denies the existence of an investigation or lack thereof."
The state's professional conduct rules prohibit lawyers from "commit(ing) a criminal act that reflects adversely on the lawyer's honesty, trustworthiness or fitness as a lawyer in other respects" or "engag(ing) in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation."
Leveridge's wife, Bernadette, has filed for divorce and sole custody of their child in Russell Family Court. In her court filings, she alleges that in addition to "numerous" extramarital affairs, Matthew Leveridge suffers from "a serious history of mental illness" and has threatened repeatedly to kill himself or hurt others.
"Matthew has repeatedly engaged in seriously inappropriate conduct for which he could be disbarred," Bernadette Leveridge, also a lawyer, wrote in an affidavit Monday.
"I am concerned for my safety and that of our child," she said in her affidavit. "He has his guns, is continuing to drink alcohol, often uses abusive language during telephone and in-person conversations, and has stated that he discontinued treatment for psychological problems after I filed for separation."
Bernadette Leveridge also included a purported transcript of a telephone conversation she had this year with Sartain about the woman's affair with her husband. During the call, Sartain said she broke the news about her pregnancy to Matthew Leveridge by text message.
"He goes, 'I'm gonna get sick,'" Sartain told Bernadette Leveridge, according to the transcript in the divorce file. "I told him I was so sorry, and he says, 'It's not your fault, I guess I should've kept it in my pants.'"
Rogers, Sartain's attorney, said he had copies of extensive text message exchanges between his client and Matthew Leveridge.
Hat tip to Richard Underwood for sending this to us. (Mike Frisch)
Saturday, July 19, 2014
The Maryland Court of Appeals has imposed an indefinite suspension with the right to reapply in six months in a case involving misappropriation of entrusted funds.
As is often the case, the fighting issue before the court was the level of the attorney's intent. The court affirmed the hearing judge's conclusion that the attorney was negligent.
The court also affirmed the finding that the attorney's conduct did not violate Rule 8.4(c)(conduct involving dishonesty).
A concurring opinion by Judge Harrell, joined by Judge Battaglia, expressed concern about the state of the record on the dishonesty issue
I join reluctantly the Court’s opinion. Although I can find no fault with the opinion, I write separately to note that, on this record, although no MLRPC 8.4(c) violations were proved, I am left to wonder whether such a violation occurred. Under the circumstances, to doubt is to affirm the hearing judge. Nonetheless, I wish to highlight the basis of my mixed emotions for consideration in the prosecution of future cases.
Judge Harrell noted the dearth of evidence presented by the parties concerning the circumstances of three cash withdrawals from escrow, which he concludes were "highly suggestive" of intentional misappropriation.
...we are left to swallow the hearing judge’s Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law that inferentially the cash withdrawals were just another result of the pervasive negligent conduct of Mungin in this case. Thus , I am constrained to concur in the Court’s opinion that Bar Counsel failed to prove the alleged MLRPC 8.4(c) violations, as the hearing judge concluded.
Friday, July 18, 2014
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has suspended a former Philadelphia assistant district attorney in the wake of her guilty plea to a misdemeanor offense.
Philly.com had the story
For 22 years, Lynn Nichols prosecuted offenders as a Philadelphia assistant district attorney.
On Friday, she left the Criminal Justice Center on probation after pleading guilty to a misdemeanor criminal mischief charge arising from a bad breakup.
Nichols, 47, declined to comment after her guilty plea before Municipal Court Judge James M. DeLeon. DeLeon sentenced her to one year of nonreporting probation and restitution of $884 in towing fees to her ex-boyfriend.
"Lynn Nichols is an outstanding person who spent 20 years of her life fighting for the victims of crime," said her attorney, Brian J. McMonagle.
Senior Deputy Attorney General Susan DiGiacomo declined to comment on the negotiated plea agreement, in which the state prosecutor dismissed more serious charges of obstruction of justice and false reports. The state prosecutor handled the case because District Attorney Seth Williams recused his office from the conflict of prosecuting one of its own.
Nichols, assistant chief of the Homicide Unit when she was fired in October, was accused of using her influence as a prosecutor to have a stolen vehicle report removed from a police database in October 2012 to help her then-boyfriend. The 2005 Ford F-150 had been reported stolen by the boyfriend's ex-girlfriend.
When Nichols and her boyfriend split up a year later, authorities said, Nichols sought revenge by having the pickup again reported stolen.
The attorney had resigned from the DA's officeafter charges were filed. (Mike Frisch)
Thursday, July 17, 2014
An attorney facing charges that he diverted fees due to his firm has been suspended on an interim basis by the New York Appellate Division for the First Judicial Department.
The suspension was based on his admissions in the bar proceedings
At his September 25, 2013 deposition before the Committee, respondent, who was represented by counsel, admitted that between 2010 and 2011 he diverted approximately 10 payments (via checks) totaling approximately $83,000 made by a client, which were intended as payments of legal fees to his law firm in connection with a zoning matter respondent had been handling for the client. Rather than remit the funds to his firm, respondent used the funds for his own personal purposes, mostly for expenses related to his Parkinson's disease. Respondent also admitted that he failed to declare the $83,000 as taxable income because he considered it to be more in the "nature of a loan" which he intended to pay back.
Respondent's firm was unaware that the client had paid respondent directly, and in May 2012 the firm filed a motion asking to withdraw as attorney of record in another matter it was handling for the client in light of his total unpaid balance for legal fees and disbursements. The firm only learned of the client's payments to respondent in July 2012 after the client had commenced an action against respondent and the firm for, inter alia, legal malpractice, at which time the firm confronted respondent. Shortly thereafter, respondent left the firm and self-reported his diversion of legal fees to the Committee. In December 2012, respondent reimbursed the firm in full.
The attorney contended that interim suspension should not be imposed
Respondent acknowledges the seriousness of his conduct, but urges this Court not to impose an interim suspension because he contends that he does not pose an immediate threat to the public interest. In support of this argument, he recounts that: (1) he made full repayment to his law firm; (2) he self-reported his conduct to the Committee; (3) he is 76 years old, suffers from Parkinson's disease, and has a limited practice with only two active clients; (4) he does not intend to take on new clients; and (5) he will continue to cooperate with the Committee and will appear for a hearing once formal charges are filed. In addition, respondent argues that this Court has declined to impose interim suspensions in similar, and even more serious, matters. Respondent further contends that the majority of interim suspensions imposed by this Court have been in instances in which attorneys failed to cooperate with Committee investigations, which is not the case here, or where the conduct was flagrant and ongoing. Respondent has also submitted two character references and a letter from his psychotherapist who opines that she believes "the circumstances that took place ([respondent's] Parkinson's combined with the economic stress) sorely affected [his] judgment", respondent is not "a threat to society", nor "would [he] do anything to harm the public or a client."
The court rejected these contentions. (Mike Frisch)
This is the time of year when the small universe of people who follow District of Columbia bar discipline matters hold our breath to see if some of the not-so-golden oldies actually get decided and move forward.
The Board on Professional Responsibility likes to push out as many decisions as possible before resuming its work in September with newly-appointed members. This should be particulary true this summer because the term of the present board chair will come to an end.
The very worst offender in the overdue hearing committee reports is In re Rohde, a case in that involves a felony hit and run conviction.
On March 16, 2006 (more than eight years ago), the Court of Appeals referred the conviction to the board for a moral turpitude determination.
The board in turn sent the matter to a hearing committee for a recommendation. The committee held hearings in late December 2007 and early January 2008, more than six years ago.
And then... silence.
Notably, the court had departed from its usual practice and declined to impose an interim suspension of the attorney. Thus, this inexcusable delay has allowed the attorney to practice in good standing as a convicted felon for over eight years (assuming he paid his annual membership dues).
I'll let you know if a decision in the case is ever issued. (Mike Frisch)
Kathleen Mahoney has this report on the web page of the Ohio Supreme Court
The Ohio Supreme Court today indefinitely suspended the law license of Bridget M. McCafferty, formerly a judge on the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas.
In August 2011, McCafferty was convicted on 10 counts of making false statements to federal law enforcement about phone conversations she had with former Cuyahoga County Auditor Frank Russo and local businessman Steve Pumper regarding cases in her courtroom. Federal officials had intercepted more than 40,000 calls as part of a federal investigation into countywide corruption. After some counts were merged, the federal court sentenced McCafferty to the maximum term of 14 months in prison with three years of supervised release, 150 hours of community service, and a $400 fine. Following her conviction, the Supreme Court suspended McCafferty’s license to practice law on an interim basis.
In a 4-3 decision today, the court found that the former judge had violated multiple professional and judicial conduct rules.
Justice William M. O’Neill, who authored the court’s majority opinion, noted that McCafferty’s misuse of her judicial position was not charged in the federal criminal complaint against the judge, so that conduct was not part of the disciplinary case before the Supreme Court.
In considering whether to disbar McCafferty, Justice O’Neill explained that the Supreme Court has sometimes determined that permanently prohibiting a judge from practicing law is appropriate when the judge is convicted of a felony, but the court has not always disbarred judges for dishonest conduct.
“Certainly McCafferty’s conduct warrants a severe sanction,” Justice O’Neill wrote. “She was convicted on multiple counts of lying to FBI agents about conversations with people who were the subject of a county-wide corruption investigation. In addition, McCafferty was deceptive about the nature of those conversations, most particularly that those conversations included matters that had been before her in court. Notwithstanding, the conduct that led to the criminal convictions and rule violations occurred during a single impromptu conversation with FBI agents, rather than as a pattern of premeditated criminal conduct. Thus, we agree with the [Board of Commissioners on Grievances & Discipline] that imposition of the system’s most severe sanction is not warranted in this case.”
“But we also do not believe that the appropriate sanction is a fixed-term suspension,” he continued. “Despite McCafferty’s cooperative attitude during the disciplinary proceedings, we are troubled by the contradiction between McCafferty’s assertion that she accepts full responsibility for her actions and her statement that she believed that she had answered the agents’ questions as truthfully as she could. She clings to this claim, despite its utter implausibility in the face of the recorded conversations. Thus, we determine that an indefinite suspension without credit for time served [under the interim suspension] is the appropriate sanction for her misconduct.”
McCafferty’s interim suspension will continue until she completes the terms of her federal sentence. Her supervised release will end on September 17, 2015, as long as she commits no parole violations. Her indefinite suspension from practicing law will begin after she is discharged from the federal court.
The majority opinion was joined by Justices Paul E. Pfeifer, Terrence O’Donnell, and Sharon L. Kennedy. Justice Judith Ann Lanzinger dissented in an opinion joined by Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor and Justice Judith L. French.
The dissenters would have disbarred McCafferty.
“I do not see how the majority can square a sanction of a mere indefinite suspension with its statements that ‘[t]his court has stated that judges are held to the highest possible standard of ethical conduct,’” Justice Lanzinger wrote. In her view, the case deserved the full measure of the court’s disciplinary authority.
“The majority focuses solely on McCafferty’s conversation with FBI agents and paints her conduct as a one-time, brief lapse in judgment,” Justice Lanzinger continued. “This narrow characterization is simply untrue; McCafferty’s misconduct was more prolonged and more egregious than the majority admits. Months before she ever spoke to the FBI, McCafferty was swaying judicial outcomes for political associates and giving special consideration to high-ranking politicians. There can be no dispute that this conduct occurred. McCafferty’s criminal indictment outlined her involvement with [then-Cuyahoga County Commissioner James] Dimora and Russo, and she stipulated, at her disciplinary hearing, to engaging in the conduct described in the indictment.”
Two of McCafferty’s disciplinary rule violations relate to her involvement with Russo and Dimora and the abuse of her judicial office, so that misconduct is part of the case before the court, Justice Lanzinger contended.
“If the primary purposes of judicial discipline are to protect the public, guarantee the evenhanded administration of justice, and to bolster public confidence in the institution, then nothing short of disbarment should be imposed in this case,” she concluded.
A Louisiana Hearing Committee found no misconduct in a case where an attorney allegedly made a false representation to a court.
The attorney sought to withdraw his client's guilty plea in a criminal case.
The prosecutor, who could not be present for a morning session of court, had signed a document reflecting that he did not oppose the motion. After signing the pleading, the prosecutor told the attorney he was getting flack from his boss about his position but did not indicate that he had retreated from his consent.
The attorney told the court that the motion was unopposed. The court nonetheless declined to rule in the prosecutor's absence.
When court resumed, the prosecutor advised the court that "negative feedback [from his superior] had ripened into flat out opposition to the motion."
The committee found that these circumstances did not establish that the attorney made a false representation concerning the position of the prosecutor. (Mike Frisch)
Wednesday, July 16, 2014
The Oklahoma Supreme Court has accepted a consent disbarment of an attorney who has been charged with criminal offenses.
Fox 25 reported on the criminal charges, initiated after a report by a female inmate at the Oklahoma County jail
Sheriff Whetsel said the investigation revealed the [attorney] Kirk only pretended to represent the woman who was in jail on drug charges. She discovered the ruse when the public defender's office contacted her about her case. That's when the woman talked to deputies and agreed to assist in the investigation.
Investigators say the woman met with Kirk inside the jail and he is heard on audio tape making advances towards her. The sheriff's office says the woman was told to use the phrase "my pants are too tight" to signal deputies to enter the room. "During his visit, Kirk furnished her with lubricating jelly and a sex toy and as this began our investigators opened the door and arrested Frank Kirk immediately."
According to court documents the female inmate told investigators that Kirk coerced her into performing sexual acts while he watched at least four times.
Deputies found a cell phone with Kirk after his arrest. Bringing a cell phone into the jail is a felony. Kirk is now facing charges of possession of contraband and multiple counts of offering to engage in an act of lewdness.
"The sex toys and lubricant and stuff like that I can't imagine in a million years any lawyer would do anything like that and hopefully there's been a misunderstanding but it doesn't seem that way to me," said defense attorney Scott Adams.