Thursday, April 17, 2014

Partner Responsible For Ethics Violations

A name partner in a law firm was suspended for a year and until further order by the New York Appellate Division for the Second Judicial Department for misconduct in the operation of the firm's escrow account.

The respondent and his spouse...were the named partners in the law firm. They were also authorized signatories for the law firm's attorney escrow account, maintained at HSBC Bank and identified as a "Mortgage Closing Account." Between February 2, 2008 and August 28, 2008, eight disbursements from the Mortgage Closing Account created or increased a negative balance of funds therein.

The sanctioned partner's role in the problem

In determining an appropriate measure of discipline to impose, we are mindful that the respondent was no longer an active participant in the law firm at the time of the underlying events, and was not directly involved in the subject defalcations. However, the respondent remained a named partner of the law firm, and an authorized signatory for the law firm's Mortgage Closing Account, with attendant fiduciary obligations. Despite significant losses incurred by one or more of the clients of the law firm, there has been no effort on the part of the respondent to make restitution to those clients. The respondent's prior disciplinary history consists of three Letters of Caution.

The spouse resigned from practice and went to prison. (Mike Frisch)

April 17, 2014 in Bar Discipline & Process | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Former U.S. Attorney Reprimanded

The former United States Attorney for the District of Arizona has agreed to a reprimand by the Presiding Disciplinary Judge.

The misconduct involved a leak in connection with the investigation into Fast & Furious.

The reprimand notes that the attorney acted "under tremendous strain as [his office] dealt with an unprecedented series of national issues." He was motivated by a sense that his office was not being fairly portrayed in the media and not adequately defended by the Department of Justice. He had no pecuniary motive. (Mike Frisch)

April 16, 2014 in Bar Discipline & Process | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

A Timely Issue Draws Editorial Comment

An editorial in today's New York Times

In 2009, a lawyer in New York helped his client settle a claim for $30,000. The lawyer then had the check issued in his own name, deposited it into his own account and used all of the funds for himself. The client demanded his money to no avail.

It took more than three years before the lawyer was disbarred for stealing a client’s funds. During all that time, the lawyer, who already had a history of serious disciplinary infractions, kept working.

This is a disturbingly common story in New York, which has more lawyers than any other state. Punishments for those who violate obligations to a client — if not the law — are slow, inconsistently levied and often hidden from the public.

Professional discipline is essential to the integrity of any legal system. Unfortunately in New York, the process for dealing with lawyer misconduct is “deficient in design and operation,” writes Stephen Gillers, a professor at New York University School of Law in an article to be published next month in N.Y.U.’s Journal of Legislation and Public Policy.

Professor Gillers examined attorney-discipline cases going back to 1982 and all 577 court opinions imposing sanctions issued over the past six years. In addition to the many instances of “unacceptable” delay in the official response to complaints about lawyers, he documents the great disparity in the way similar violations are handled by courts in different parts of the state.

For example, a lawyer who filed false documents, made false statements and improperly notarized a client’s signature was suspended for two and a half years by the appeals court in Manhattan. But, in Brooklyn, comparable actions by a different lawyer resulted only in a formal rebuke but not a suspension. In upstate New York, appellate courts rarely explain the reasons for their decision to sanction or not sanction, and, when they do, they often don’t follow their own earlier rulings.

Perhaps most troubling is the overall lack of transparency that pervades the system. Unlike 40 other states, New York does not inform the public of pending charges against lawyers. It is also unnecessarily difficult to learn when a lawyer has been officially sanctioned, even though sanctions — which can include censure, suspension or disbarment — are part of the public record.

At the very least, New York, which has 166,000 lawyers, should adopt uniform standards for disciplining lawyers. The American Bar Association set clear and sensible standards in 1986, but some states have successfully established their own.

In California, for example, almost all disciplinary cases are handled by a State Bar Court that is staffed with full-time judges who issue thorough rulings. Professor Gillers also recommends that every lawyer’s disciplinary history be made easily available online, and that law firms tell potential clients how to access the information.

Not everyone will be eager to upset the status quo, including the appellate judges who would like to maintain their control over the process, and the lawyers who benefit from the leniency of local courts. But it must change if New Yorkers are to have confidence in the lawyers who represent them.

The issues raised here deserve a great deal more public scrutiny than has heretofore been brought to bear.

Let's hope this helps. (Mike Frisch)

April 16, 2014 in Bar Discipline & Process | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

F Bombs As Ethics Violations

The North Carolina State Bar has filed ethics charges against an attorney who is characterized as an organizer and member of the "Occupy Asheville" movement.

The allegations relate to the attorney's visit to a detention facility after arrest warrants had been issued for other members of the movement.

The attorney allegedly identified herself as an attorney and asked a magistrate, "[w]hat the hell is going on around here" with the arrest warrants.

The magistrate asked her to "watch [her] language."

The attorney sought a list of persons named in the warrants. Her request was denied.

Then, it is alleged, the attorney asked the magistrate, "what the fuck is going on around here," expressed the view that "this is a bunch of bullshit," "Oh yeah, I said fuck," "This is fucking ridiculous," and "This is fucking crazy."

The charge: undignified or discourteous behavior that is degrading to a tribunal. (Mike Frisch)

April 16, 2014 in Bar Discipline & Process | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Judging Judges In New York

The New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct has released its annual report.

This press release summarizes the year in judging judges

The New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct has released its 2014 Annual Report, covering the Commission’s activities in 2013. The Commissionreports having received 1,770 complaints, conducting 654 preliminary inquiries and investigations, and issuing 17 public decisions in 2013. In addition, 10 judges resigned from office while complaints against them were pending.

The bottom line

17 public decisions were rendered:

   2 Removals from office

5 Public Censures

5 Public Admonitions

5 Public Stipulations in which judges resigned and agreed to never again hold judicial office

5 other judges resigned at a point before the proceedings against them became public.

A detailed, annual report from a body regulating lawyer and judicial discipline promotes transparency and is a necessary part of any reputable regulatory regime.

The District of Columbia disciplinary system has never issued such a publicly-available report. (Mike Frisch)

April 16, 2014 in Bar Discipline & Process, Judicial Ethics and the Courts | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

"An Astonishing Amount Of Money"

The Illinois Review Board agreed with a Hearing Board's sanction proposal and has recommended disbarment of an attorney

The Respondent deliberately took, for personal  purposes, over $600,000 from funds he was obligated to hold for the benefit of  others. The Hearing Board found that Respondent intentionally and dishonestly  converted funds from a trust he was representing as an attorney; engaged in a  conflict of interest by representing the trust when the representation  conflicted with his own interests and with the interests of another client;  dishonestly converted funds from another client to repay the trust; and  converted funds he was holding in connection with two unrelated real estate  transactions. Given the seriousness of the misconduct, the Hearing Board  recommended that Respondent be disbarred from the practice of law. Respondent  appeals and argues that his conduct warrants a suspension rather than  disbarment. We disagree. The record clearly demonstrates that Respondent should  be disbarred.

The attorney had sought a lesser sanction but

Respondent's theft of the funds in the two real  estate transactions alone, conduct the Respondent does not dispute, warrants  disbarment. However, when we consider the totality of the misconduct in this  case, we are left with the firm conviction that the severest of sanctions is  warranted. Respondent converted money in 2001 and 2002, and again in 2010. In  total, he misappropriated an astonishing amount of money--more than $600,000. He  deprived the beneficiaries of the trusts of money that was rightfully theirs. As  found by the Hearing Board, Respondent took the Sanial Trust money in order to  make a quick payment to attempt to cover up his conversion of the Zgonina Trust  funds. He engaged in numerous instances of dishonesty in attempts to cover up  his misconduct.

While Respondent offered some evidence in  mitigation, the evidence does not outweigh the serious misconduct in this  matter. Respondent has not been previously disciplined. He presented character  testimony, including the testimony of two judges, who testified as to his  reputation for honesty. He served on the board of Weber High School for a time  and on the board of Gordon Tech High School from 1998 through 2013. He offered  little explanation, however, as to why he took the money from the trusts or from  the funds he agreed to hold and protect in the real estate transactions. In  addition, he expressed little remorse and had not fully made restitution as of  the date of the hearing.

Given the magnitude of the misconduct in this  matter, we agree with the Hearing Board's assessment of the sanction and we also  recommend to the Court that Respondent be disbarred.

(Mike Frisch)

April 15, 2014 in Bar Discipline & Process | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

What Is A Vulnerable Client?

The Kansas Supreme Court has suspended an attorney for six months for misconduct in handling a guardianship matter.

The court agreed with the attorney on several points raised on appeal, finding he had not failed to return an unearned fee and had not taken advantage of a "vulnerable" client

...it would appear that inexperience with legal matters alone is not sufficient for a vulnerability finding because nearly every client fits within this category—much like every client relies on counsel to ensure that his or her claim will not be barred by the statute of limitations. Accordingly, we conclude that the evidence presented at the hearing does not support a finding that D.H. was a vulnerable client. A minority of the court, however, would find the panel's vulnerability determination was supported by the evidence in the record.

The court rejected the attorney's request for censure rather than suspension. A minority of the court would impose a shorter period of suspension

The respondent also argues that he has corrected the problems in his practice and his circumstances have changed, which ensure that he will not commit similar transgressions in the future. Regardless of what the respondent's current situation might be, based on the fact that the respondent neglected to even take minuscule measures to protect D.H.'s rights ( e.g., calling her on the phone and recommending that she retain a new attorney) and instead chose to ignore her case while addressing his own financial and personal issues, we conclude that a 6-month suspension is an appropriate sanction for the respondent's misconduct. A minority of the court, however, would impose a shorter term of suspension.

(Mike Frisch)

April 15, 2014 in Bar Discipline & Process | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Supension For Drug Conviction

The Indiana Supreme Court has ordered an interim suspension of an attorney as a result of a felony conviction.

K99.3 WKVI FM reported on an arrest of the attorney

A Grovertown man and his passenger were arrested Thursday morning after the Starke County Sheriff’s Department attempted to serve an arrest warrant at his home.

Officers arrived at Jeffrey Knoebel’s home on Francis Street and found that he left the residence.  They located his van traveling east on U.S. 30 and followed it to the Grovertown Truck Stop.  Knoebel reportedly fled into the truck stop and ran out the back into the woods.  Indiana State Police officers and an Indiana Emergency Response Team conducted a K9 track on Knoebel and found him hiding by a tree.

The female passenger in the vehicle, [attorney] Tenniel Selner, was detained while officers looked for Knoebel.  They were both taken to the Starke County Jail.

Knoebel has preliminary charges of Resisting Law Enforcement, Possession of Methamphetamines and Maintaining a Common Nuisance.  Selner has a preliminary charge of Assisting a Criminal.

And Pharos-Tribune had this story about an arrest in May 2013

Two Fulton County residents and a fugitive from South Bend were arrested Wednesday night on drug charges.

After a call about a domestic situation at J.J. Richard Dairy Farm in Fulton County, according to police reports, officers obtained a search warrant and found methamphetamine, marijuana and a fugitive hiding in the home. Charla Richard, 37, and John Wise, 45, of rural Rochester, were both arrested along with Tenneil Selner, 32, of South Bend.

The Indiana State Police and the Fulton County Sheriff Department were on scene for the arrests.

Police were called to the dairy farm in the 2000 block of West 500 North in Fulton County after Richard’s husband reported she had cut the tires and broke the windows of a pickup truck and fired a pellet gun.

While searching the home, police said they found methamphetamine, marijuana and Selner inside the home, according to a press release.

After obtaining a second search warrant, the release also states, police found a methamphetamine lab, chemical precursors for manufacturing methamphetamine, hypodermic needles and two pellet guns. Two children were also in the residence and they were later turned over to relatives.

Richard and Wise, who also lived at the residence, were arrested on felony charges of possession of methamphetamine, maintaining a common nuisance, manufacturing methamphetamine, possession of drug precursors, and possession of a police scanner during the commission of a felony.

Selner was arrested on two federal arrest warrants and faces local felony charges for possession of methamphetamine and possession of hypodermic needles.

The Indiana State Police Peru Post Meth Enforcement Team collected evidence and cleaned up the methamphetamine lab.

All three individuals remained in the Fulton County Jail as of Thursday afternoon on $40,000 surety bonds.

The attorney entered a guilty plea to distribution of pseudoephedrine in November 2013. (Mike Frisch)

April 15, 2014 in Bar Discipline & Process | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, April 14, 2014

Unanswered Questions Prevent Reinstatement Of Former Judge

A reinstatement petition filed on behalf of a judge who was removed from office and disbarred in Michigan failed to persuade the California State Bar Court Review Department, which has denied the request.

The basis for disbarment

Jenkins was licensed to practice law in Michigan in 1979. In 1983, at the age of 30, he was appointed as a judge of the District Court in Detroit. After his appointment, he engaged in a course of misconduct that included accepting bribes to dismiss traffic citations; misstating his address to reduce his insurance premium; soliciting an individual to commit perjury in a federal investigation of Jenkins’ misconduct; engaging in improper ex parte communications with parties and counsel regarding matters before him; improperly accepting gifts and favors from litigants and counsel who appeared before him; and signing a writ of habeas corpus to release an individual whom he knew personally without adequate information to justify the release.

In 1988, Jenkins was indicted in federal court for bribery, racketeering, mail fraud, extortion, and conspiracy, but he was ultimately acquitted.

The acquittal did not prevent his removal and disbarment.

The present issue

 The hearing judge below denied Jenkins’ petition, having concluded that he failed to establish his rehabilitation from his past misconduct or that he presently possesses the necessary moral qualifications for reinstatement. The judge reached this conclusion based on Jenkins’ recent misconduct, including, inter alia, his failure to disclose material information in his reinstatement petition and in divorce papers he filed in the superior court, his affirmative misrepresentations in two apartment rental applications, and his recent conviction for reckless driving involving alcohol...

 When we last considered Jenkins’ petition for reinstatement, we found that the record raised too many unanswered questions about his understanding of his professional and ethical obligations. The present record raises many of the same questions, which unfortunately remain unanswered. We thus conclude that Jenkins still has not established the requisite rehabilitation and moral fitness to resume the practice of law.

(Mike Frisch) 

April 14, 2014 in Bar Discipline & Process | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Former Sandusky Attorney Disbarred

The web page of the Pennsylvania Disciplinary Board reports that former Jerry Sandusky attorney Karl Rominger's consent to disbarment was accepted last Friday by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

WGALNews8 reported last month

As News 8 reported over the weekend, Karl Rominger is under investigation for mishandling client money. It's still unknown how much money or how many clients this may involve. This week, Rominger voluntarily took steps to surrender his law license. 

The bar association says there's a fund already in place to compensate clients in this or similar cases. The fund is supported by every Pennsylvania attorney's yearly dues.

Clients who attorneys stole from them can makeup their losses but only if they file a claim.

The bar association is also offering to help Rominger's clients find new attorneys and to let them know how to get their personal files back from Rominger's offices.

Over the weekend Rominger released an audio statement online, acknowledging the investigation against him, saying in part: "I will work hard to right the people I have wronged."

Until the state Supreme Court approves his law license forefeiture, Rominger is allowed to work, but his Carlisle offices were closed Thursday afternoon.

(Mike Frisch)

April 14, 2014 in Bar Discipline & Process | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

A Conflict Of interest

The Arizona Presiding Disciplinary Judge has imposed a 30-day suspension followed by probation of an attorney who had engaged in a rather obvious conflict of interest -- representing the biological parents and the prospective adopting parents in a adoption proceeding.

The child's paternal great aunt had been the child's caregiver since infancy and also was the apppinted guardian.  She had sought to adopt the child.

The attorney sought to have the great aunt removed as guardian and have another couple (related to the mother) adopt the child.

The court awarded sanctions against the attorney to the great aunt. The award was discharged in the attorney's bankruptcy. The attorney must pay the award as part of the disciplinary sanctions. (Mike Frisch)

April 14, 2014 in Bar Discipline & Process | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

"We Do Not Know" And Do Not Suspend

The New Jersey Supreme Court has censured an attorney who threatened criminal charges to obtain advantage in a domestic proceeding.

The Disciplinary Review Board found that

...the quoted portions of respondent’s August 4, 2012 letter and August 14, 2012 email contain unequivocal threats of presenting criminal charges against Taylor to obtain an improper advantage in a civil matter, that is, the "Proposed Settlement," violations of RPC 3.4(g). The only issue left for determination is the suitable degree of discipline for respondent’s conduct.

The attorney's position was no position at all

Because this is a default, we are without the benefit of respondent’s frame of mind, when he wrote the letter and the email. Thus, there is no context to the letter and email and no indication of contrition or remorse on respondent’s part. It is possible, though, that what appears to have been a contentious post-judgment matrimonial matter colored respondent’s judgment. We do not know.

While I agree that an unethically threatening letter to a pro se litigant may not require a a suspension, ignoring the disciplinary process might tip the balance. (Mike Frisch)

April 14, 2014 in Bar Discipline & Process | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Law Tiger Gently Declawed

The Indiana Supreme Court has ordered a private (but published) reprimand of an attorney who had practiced for 41 years without discipline.

The attorney had entered into a franchising agreement for the use of the trademark of "Law Tigers" from a non-profit Arizona corportation, the American Association of Motorcycle Injury Lawyers, Inc. (the "AAMIL").

Calls to the AAMIL hotline were referred to the attorney if they involved matters in his geographical area.

The attorney's own website complied with Indiana advertising rules; the AAMIL's website (which provided referrals to the attorney) did not:

The Law Tigers website contained examples of previous results obtained by "Law Tigers Motorcycle Accident Lawyers," boasting "Exceptional Results: Settlements and Verdicts." A tab led to "Client Testimonials" from persons who claim to have utilized Law Tigers in seeking advice and/or representation regarding a motorcycle-related legal matter. Such testimonials included: "Law Tigers changed my life in a big way and my family received our fair share of justice." "Law Tigers went above and beyond! The settlement was more than expected!" "The legal services were fast and painless and the best experience I have ever had with lawyers and lawsuits." Although none of the settlements, verdicts, or testimonials related to Respondent, the website did not disclose that they did not relate to Respondent.

Respondent also maintained a separate website for his law firm, which could be accessed through a link from the Law Tigers website. The firm website included a statement that the firm was not permitted to include information about previous results from settlements and verdicts. However, a visitor to the Law Tigers website was not required to access the link to the firm website to be put in contact with Respondent and his firm.

Respondent distributed AAMIL-produced informational materials within his territory, including "promotional backers." The promotional backers contained a toll-free telephone number for the Law Tigers service, the Law Tigers website address, and the names of Respondent and his firm. However, the promotional backers did not contain Respondent's address.

The court here held the attorney responsibile for the AAMIL website content, which provided results of prior cases and endorsements.

Update: Carolyn Elefant has a thoughtful post on this opinion. (Mike Frisch)

April 13, 2014 in Bar Discipline & Process | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, April 10, 2014

F. Lee Bailey Denied Maine Chance

The full Maine Supreme Judicial Court has overturned the order of a single justice admitting famed lawyer F. Lee Bailey to practice in the state.

The admission order had been appealed by the Board of Bar Examiners.

...we conclude that the single justice erred with respect to the Board’s principal assertion—that Bailey failed to prove by clear and convincing evidence that he recognizes the wrongfulness and seriousness of the misconduct that resulted in his disbarment—we vacate the judgment on that basis and do not reach the Board’s other contentions.

The court vacated the order of admission.

A dissent takes the majority to task for reviewing the credibility determinations of the single justice and would remand for further proceedings on the impact of Bailey's ongoing tax liabilities on his fitness to practice

Although, given Bailey’s testimony explaining or rationalizing his past behavior, the Justices in the majority might not have found as the single justice did if any of them had sat as the trial justice, the function of an appellate court is not to re-weigh the evidence and substitute its findings for those of the fact-finder. Rather, as an appellate court reviewing the findings in this matter, the Court must determine on appeal whether there is evidence in the record from which the single justice could reasonably have found that it was highly probable that Bailey “recognize[d] the wrongfulness and seriousness of [his] misconduct.” M. Bar R. 7.3(j)(5)(C).

...we would remand the matter for the single justice to take evidence and reconsider whether the risk that Bailey would mismanage funds in the context of paying his substantial tax debt would render his admission to the Bar “detrimental . . . to the public interest.”

(Mike Frisch)

April 10, 2014 in Bar Discipline & Process | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Weapons Of Choice

An attorney recently disbarred by the New York Appellate Division for the Second Judicial Department for a felony weapons conviction was the subject of this post from the ABA Journal:

A New York attorney with an entertainment law focus is facing a felony weapons case, after police said they searched his Bronxville home and found a number of firearms.

Randall Cutler, 43, was charged Nov. 1 with felony criminal possession of a weapon and misdemeanor menacing in the Bronxville Village Court case, according to the Bronxville Daily Voice. A subsequent Peekskill Daily Voice article provides additional details.

Bronxville Police Chief Christopher Satriale reportedly said the weapons were unregistered and illegally purchased.

However, Cutler, who has been released on bail, told the ABA Journal in a telephone interview Monday that he expects to plead not guilty to all charges, has issues with the manner in which the search was conducted and insists he has never owned a firearm that wasn't legally purchased.

All agree that police were called to Cutler's home because of an argument he was having with his brother. But Cutler says it was his brother, not he, who was the aggressor.

The newspaper articles say police got a warrant to search for the gun they were told the attorney had brandished during an argument. The search reportedly turned up multiple weapons, including an AK-47, seven banana clips loaded with more than 200 rounds for the firearm, a sawed-off shotgun, multiple handguns, a speed loader and other equipment and ammunition (the earlier article has a photograph).

Cutler, who operates a solo practice and is listed on his LinkedIn bio as the president of a music company, contends police got the warrant hours after they actually conducted a search of his home.

After trying his hand at a couple of businesses in Mississippi for eight years—one of which involved his working as a licensed gunsmith on weapons there—he returned to New York, he explains to the ABA Journal.

Without getting into all details of the case, he insisted that "every gun I ever purchased was purchased over the counter" and said photos clearly showed, to those familiar with weapons, that a number of those seized from his home were not in operational condition.

Cutler has represented a number of rap and hip-hop artists, as a profile in Colby Magazine details. He got his bachelor's degree in 1991 from Colby College and earned his law degree from St. John's University School of Law.

He has not actively promoted his New York practice since returning to the state, because he didn't want to get too busy, Cutler said. And now, in an ironic twist of fate, his phone is ringing off the hook due to the free publicity about his arrest.

"I'm getting all these phone calls from people I haven't heard from in years," he says, calling the national news that he is back in practice in the Big Apple "a boon."

(Mike Frisch)

April 10, 2014 in Bar Discipline & Process | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Former Mayor Of Bridgeport Loses Reinstatement Bid

 The Connecticut Supreme Court has agreed with a trial court decision to not reinstate the convicted former Mayor of Bridgeport, concluding that it was not obliged to defer to the favorable action of the local standing committee 

...in view of the defendant’s repeated criminal misconduct occurring over a five year period while he held public office, which resulted in his conviction of sixteen federal felony offenses and a lengthy prison sentence, the evidence that the defendant presented of his rehabilitation was not sufficient to establish his present moral fitness, and the uncontroverted evidence of the defendant’s false testimony in 2003 and his questionable website statements, on display as late as 2011, weighed further against him. Evidence that he had fulfilled the obligations attendant to his criminal sentence and met the prerequisites to apply for reinstatement, was employed and not bankrupt, and had garnered the support of certain members of his community, fell short of meeting the high burden resulting from his misconduct.

We acknowledge that a criminal conviction is not an absolute bar to regaining a license to practice law and that, in Connecticut, no statute or court rule directly answers the question of what period of time constitutes an adequate period of rehabilitation for an individual with a record of misconduct comparable to the defendant’s. We are confident, however, that in the present case, the defendant has not demonstrated a period of exemplary behavior persisting for a sufficient period of time to offset his transgressions and, accordingly, to provide the necessary assurance that he may once again be entrusted with the practice of law.

  Consequently, we hold that the trial court properly concluded that the standing committee abused its discretion when it determined that the defendant was presently fit to practice law and recommended his reinstatement.

The conviction involved racketeering, extortion and bribery. (Mike Frisch)

April 9, 2014 in Bar Discipline & Process | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

South Of The Border

The South Carolina Supreme Court has disbarred a Florida attorney (never admitted in South Carolina) for soliciting South Carolina business over the Internet and representing clients:

We find respondent's misconduct particularly egregious. Although not admitted to practice law in South Carolina, respondent nevertheless engaged in the practice of law in this state. He represented clients in South Carolina. He or his firm provided advice to clients and prepared and filed pleadings, some of which were frivolous, on behalf of his clients. Although he prepared and filed motions, respondent neglected to attend the motion hearings. Moreover, respondent charged and collected unreasonable fees from clients for the minimal work he did perform and then continued to collect fees from clients even after his representation ceased. When disciplinary charges were filed against him, respondent ignored the matter by failing to respond, participate in the investigative process, or appear for the hearing.

The sanction

 If respondent were admitted to practice law in South Carolina, his conduct would warrant disbarment. Since he is not admitted in South Carolina, we find it appropriate to permanently debar him from seeking any form of admission to practice law in this state (including pro hac vice admission) without first obtaining an order from this Court allowing him to seek admission. We further order respondent to fully reimburse all fees and costs paid by the clients in this matter and to pay the costs incurred in the investigation and prosecution of this matter by ODC and the Commission within thirty (30) days of the date of this opinion. Should he wish to seek admission in the future, the burden of proof shall be on respondent to establish by clear and convincing evidence that he is of sufficient character and fitness. Under no circumstances shall respondent be eligible to seek admission until he has fully reimbursed his clients for all fees and costs paid in this matter and paid the costs of this proceeding.

(Mike Frisch)

April 9, 2014 in Bar Discipline & Process | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

The Exam Not Taken

An attorney who previously had been suspended for two years has been disbarred by the Minnesota Supreme Court:

The misconduct for which the Director requests that we now disbar Albrecht relates to four distinct episodes: Albrecht’s sexual relationship with a client, K.A.; Albrecht’s work on matters related to client J.M.’s bankruptcy; Albrecht’s receipt of payment for the J.M. matters; and Albrecht’s attempts to take a final exam while auditing a course at Hamline Law School.

The court rejected the suggestion that lying in the bar investigation did not evidence a failure to cooperate.

He sought to take a law school exam in order to support a petition for reinstatement. It did not help in the end:

In the spring of 2013, while Albrecht was suspended but seeking reinstatement, he audited a course on bankruptcy law at Hamline Law School. During the semester, he inquired at the registrar’s office about taking the final exam. The Hamline staff told him that auditors were not allowed to take exams.

That March, the Director filed the initial petition in this case. In late April, the referee sought to schedule a conference call with Albrecht and the Director. Albrecht wrote that he "ha[d] registered to take the final for [his] [bankruptcy] class on [May] 3, 2013." The referee scheduled the call for the morning of May 7.

On May 1, Albrecht submitted information to the Director to supplement his petition for reinstatement. In his submission, Albrecht wrote that he had taken a bankruptcy course at Hamline and had "t[aken] the final." He had not.

On the morning of May 7, Albrecht failed to participate in the scheduled conference call with the referee and the Director. That afternoon, Albrecht returned to the registrar’s office, sought to take the bankruptcy exam, and was again told that he could not. The next day, Albrecht explained to the referee, "I did not feel like I had . . . prepared enough to proceed with the final [on May 3] so I rescheduled it to Tuesday morning [May 7]."

But Albrecht had not rescheduled the exam, because he had not registered to take it in the first place. Moreover, though Albrecht did try to take the exam on May 7, he did not do so until the afternoon, after he had already missed the conference call scheduled for that morning.

(Mike Frisch)

April 9, 2014 in Bar Discipline & Process | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Attorney Withdraws From Representation And Then Commits Domestic Violence Against Client

A married attorney who engaged in sexual relations with a divorce client which led to worse ethical violations has been suspended for two years by the Oklahoma Supreme Court.

Notably, the parties below had agreed to a public reprimand with probation, which the Professional Responsibility Tribunal in turn recommended to the court.

The court rejected the proposal

As incidents of domestic and intimate partner abuse rise and become the focus of legislation, see 21 O.S.2011, § 644(C), and public attention,13 it becomes more incumbent on this Court to protect the public by sending a message to other lawyers that this misconduct is considered a serious breach of a lawyer's ethical duty and will not be tolerated. The trial judge thought it necessary to keep Respondent in the criminal system for a full two years for the safety of the public. Consistent with the trial judge's logic, anything less than a two-year suspension from the practice of law does not protect the public, nor would anything less than a two-year suspension protect the integrity of the judicial system and the reputation of the bar.

The attorney withdrew from the representation shortly after the dating relationship began.

As the court found

On November 9, 2009, J.D. retained Respondent as her attorney in her divorce proceeding. On October 3, 2010, J.D. and Respondent began a sexual dating relationship although both were married and Respondent was still representing J.D. On November 3, 2010, Respondent filed an application to withdraw as J.D.'s attorney; the application was granted on November 4, 2010. The couple dated off and on until November 4, 2011.

The following undisputed testimony was presented at the trial in State v. Zannotti, No. CM-2012-3988 (D.Ct. Tulsa County Jan. 28, 2013). On or before October 26, 2011, while J.D. was away on a business trip and then on her way home, Respondent sent J.D. text messages which show that Respondent was in a needy, jealous state of mind; and J.D. responded to several, but not all, of the text messages.3 J.D. and Respondent agreed to meet at her house because Respondent was "wanting to get back together." Respondent let himself into J.D.'s house through an unlocked back door as she had instructed him. When J.D. arrived home and to her surprise, her garage door was open with Respondent's car parked inside. Even though they were not dating at the time, Respondent opened J.D.'s car door and kissed her. Then Respondent reached inside the car, grabbed her phone, smashed it in the driveway, and said, "You don't need this. You just need to pay attention to me."

J.D. and Respondent went into the kitchen where an argument began. When Respondent went into the backyard, J.D. got in her car and attempted to leave. Respondent came into the garage, pulled the keys out of the car, and pulled J.D. out of the car and into the kitchen. After J.D. saw Respondent's phone on the counter, she encouraged Respondent to smash his phone like he had smashed her phone. When Respondent went outside with his phone, J.D. grabbed a cordless phone and ran upstairs to the bathroom.

Respondent came up the stairs and into the bathroom, pulled J.D. into the bedroom, and pushed her onto the bed. J.D. started screaming for Respondent to leave which upset him even more. Respondent then lifted J.D. up by her shoulders, threw her into the bedroom wall and head-butted her in the face, causing a gash across her nose and giving her two black eyes.

 J.D. convinced Respondent to let her go downstairs to get some ice for her nose, and Respondent followed her into the kitchen. Respondent pushed J.D. back upstairs where he ordered her to undress and where he undressed.4 Respondent ordered J.D. to lie down on the bed, got atop her, and put his hands around her neck tightly several times. During this time, Respondent asked her if she loved him and would marry him. In an attempt to pacify Respondent, J.D. replied, "Yes." Respondent also asked J.D. for the last name of her male friend and said that he was going to kill him. Finally, Respondent began to calm down, and J.D. was able to kick him off the bed. Respondent stood up and asked J.D. if she wanted him to leave. She grabbed her dress, put it back on, and answered, "yeah." While Respondent was dressing, J.D. ran down the stairs, ran out the front door to a neighbor's house, and called 911.

The attorney pleaded no contest to charges of domestic violence and destruction of property. (Mike Frisch)

April 9, 2014 in Bar Discipline & Process | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Sex With Client Charges In North Carolina

The North Carolina State Bar has filed a complaint that alleges misconduct by an attorney while represented a recently-released from custody client in her divorce.

The attorney is alleged to have engaged in a sexual relationship with the client that began after the representation had commenced (North Carolina Rule 1.19 prohibits such relationships), provided loans to the client, lied about past sexual relations with clients in a deposition and communicated with the client's husband without the permission of his lawyer. (Mike Frisch)

April 9, 2014 in Bar Discipline & Process | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)