Monday, October 22, 2012

The Worst Hearing Committee Report In D.C. Bar History

I have been carefully reviewing a District of Columbia hearing committee report issued recently that exonerates four attorneys on charges of conflicts of interest and dishonesty in a case involving the alleged abuse and manipulation of an elderly woman "client."

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.

In particular, the hearing committee viciously attacks the complainant (the woman's loving daughter) as biased and incredible.

The reason?

She was angry and upset with the attorneys and was not a lawyer or legal ethics expert herself. Thus, her entire testimony was ignored due to so-called "bias."

In my opinion, she had every right to be furious with the attorneys who had manipulated and endangered her mother and, based on this execrable report, has every right to regard the self-regulated legal profession as a fraud on the public. 

As to the conflict, the hearing committee reasoned that the woman loved her son and wished for "peace in the family." Thus, there was no need to explore the significant conflicts in the dual representations or deal with the overwhelming evidence of her incompetence and inability to consent to the conflict when she "retained" them.

In sum, the report reflects the most superficial reasoning and failure to comprehend fundamental principles of legal ethics that I've seen in nearly 30 years of reading these reports.

When I read the report, I wondered about the background of the committee chair and surprise, surprise: He's an elder care lawyer. He signed (and presumably authored) an opinion that makes it nearly impossible to prosecute lawyer elder abuse. A classic "fox guards henhouse" approach to bar discipline.

And then, this from the committee chair's law partner hits my in box:

My partner, John Quinn, chaired a Board on Professional Responsibility panel which decided the attached case against Bar Counsel and in favor of the lawyers involved.The case spanned several years and the opinion is 219 pages. It is the only case known to the Hearing Committee that squarely deals with the difference between legal compentency and legal capacity.  I recommend reading it in that it involved charges of Bar Counsel of conflicts of interest, dishonesty, fraud and other ethical violations against several attorneys alleging that they represented a client who Bar Counsel alleged was "incompetent…suffered from cognitive impairment..and memory problems."  The report cites the relevant cases and other authorities that are pertinent and useful to practitioners.'s_Final_Decision_Order_dated_September_28_2012.pdf

I find this shocking, but at least it makes the agenda of this report crystal clear: protect the profession, trash the victim of misconduct (and discourage other victims from coming forward), make future Bar Counsel prosecutions virtually impossible and use the whole thing as a marketing tool.

 It also is noteworthy that it took the hearing committee over 2 1/2 years to produce this whitewash, notwithstanding a rule that requires that the report be filed within 120 days of the close of the hearing.

The title to this post reflects my opinion. It calls to mind one of my favorite Seinfeld lines from Elaine to Jerry: "Just when I think you are the shallowest man I've ever met, you manage to drain a little more out of the pool."

Just when I think these reports can't possibly get any worse, one like this one shows up. (Mike Frisch)

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The Court of Appeals is exclusively charged with regulating the practice of law in the District of Columbia. Short of Congress removing this authority from the Court, the Court is the only entity that is able to fix this problem. And yet, you repeatedly refuse to lay these shortcomings at the feet of the Court which is where it really belongs.


Posted by: Stephen Williams | Dec 24, 2012 7:25:58 PM

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