Friday, April 15, 2005

DOJ Civil Division Lawyers Practicing Without a Bar License

The Legal Ethics Forum blog has a terrific post (here) about two DOJ Civil Division lawyers who were practicing without a law license while representing the government in, among other cases, a large class-action by African-American farmers against the Dept. of Agriculture alleging discrimination.  The post discusses not only the problems caused by the unauthorized practice by the two attorneys, one of whom has been charged with grand larceny, but the broader question of how the government has litigated the discrimination case and settlement procedures. The post states:

The Monterey Herald, a small California newspaper, has broken a major story involving unethical behavior by Justice Department lawyers. The DOJ is investigating one of its lawyers, Michael Sitcov, for practicing for two years on a suspended license after failing to pay bar dues. This is obviously the unauthorized practice of law (UPL) — a criminal offense in some jurisdictions and clear professional misconduct. A second attorney, Margaret O’Shea, has been indicted for fraud, for posing as an attorney in California after leaving employment at the Justice Department. Both Sitcov and O’Shea had extensive personal involvement with the litigation in Pigford v. Veneman, involving claims of racial discrimination by the Department of Agriculture against African-American farmers. Critics of the USDA, such as the Environmental Working Group, have called for the DOJ to audit the law licenses of all attorneys who have worked on the Pigford case, and have suggested that the lawyers’ lack of licenses cast doubt on DOJ’s handling of the litigation.


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