Thursday, October 27, 2016

Brother, Brother, Mother V. Father

In a lengthy opinion, the Oregon Supreme Court imposed reciprocal discipline of disbarment based on that sanction ordered in an original proceeding before the Washington State Supreme Court.

The misconduct arose from the attorney's participation in the divorce of his parents

After the accused had filed multiple frivolous, duplicative, bad-faith actions, claims, and motions in multiple jurisdictions, he repeatedly and deliberately violated court orders. And he used the legal process to target, embarrass, and harass not only his father but third parties as well, including individuals associated with his father and members of tribunals who did not rule in the accused’s favor. There is no evidence that his acts were driven by anyone other than himself. The sheer magnitude of the accused’s repeated misconduct in the Washington and federal cases, coupled with the accused’s abject disdain for the rule of law, as exhibited by his actions, are sufficient to warrant a sanction here greater than that imposed in White. After considering the ABA Standards and our case law, we conclude that, to protect the public and the administration of justice in this jurisdiction, the accused should be disbarred in Oregon as a reciprocal sanction for his misconduct in Washington.

The story

The accused was admitted to the Oregon Bar in 1998 and to the Washington State Bar in 2002. He had, it appears, specifically sought admission to the Washington State Bar for the purpose of aiding his mother in matters related to her divorce in Washington from the accused’s father.

In April 2002, the accused’s parents had finalized their divorce, with the resulting divorce decree requiring, among other things, that the family home and a vacant lot be sold, with the proceeds to be distributed equally between the accused’s mother and his father, a Seattle-based cardiologist and internal medicine specialist. The accused and his older brother—Cyrus Sanai, a California attorney— maintained, however, that their father had concealed significant assets from both their mother and the court. Consequently, the two siblings began representing their mother in proceedings designed to contest the court-ordered property sale and distribution of proceeds.

What followed were years of acrimonious litigation in which the accused and his brother filed a virtual tsunami of motions, subpoenas, petitions, appeals, and new actions in Washington’s state and federal courts. Many, if not most, of those undertakings were filed solely to delay the court-ordered sale of the family property noted above or to harass the opposing parties and their lawyers. Because of the large number of those filings, the many different forums in which they were initiated, and the fact that they often overlapped chronologically, we set out those activities and their respective outcomes by loosely grouping them—as did the Washington Supreme Court—according to the various contexts in which they arose.

When the courts ruled unfavorably in the cases, the next target was the judiciary

Following the Washington Supreme Court’s adverse rulings in the matters...the accused and his mother filed suit in federal court against the various judicial officers who had ruled against them at both the appellate and trial court levels. In December 2003, the federal district court dismissed the pair’s action for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, characterizing it as an “attempt to obtain review of unfavorable decisions of the Washington state courts by wrapping their state law-based challenges in the fabric of federal constitutional claims.” The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed that judgment in an unpublished 2005 opinion.

The accused also filed an action against the chief justice of the Washington Supreme Court, alleging that the accused’s civil rights had been violated in connection with the disciplinary proceedings in Washington. In 2008, the Ninth Circuit remanded that suit for dismissal.

The road to disbarment in Washington is recounted in great detail.

An issue in the Oregon proceeding

The accused contends that the Oregon trial panel violated his right to counsel when it did not permit his brother to represent him. According to the accused, the attorney he had retained to represent him in this matter unexpectedly withdrew several weeks before the accused’s February 2, 2015, trial panel hearing. Several days before the hearing was to begin, the accused filed a motion and completed application for the pro hac vice admission of his brother, Cyrus Sanai, to represent him in Oregon.

In opposing that motion, the Bar noted, among other things, that (1) the accused knew that the Bar intended to call Cyrus Sanai as a witness if he appeared in Oregon, a fact that would necessitate his withdrawal as counsel and raise the likelihood of a lengthy set-over request if Cyrus was allowed to represent the accused, and (2) the California State Bar had filed its own set of nine disciplinary charges against Cyrus Sanai in January 2014. Those charges remained pending up to and through the accused’s 2015 Oregon trial panel proceedings.  Of those charges, five alleged a failure to report the imposition of judicial sanctions to the California Bar; three alleged conduct involving moral turpitude—interfering with the sale of property out of a corrupt motive, bringing or maintaining frivolous judicial complaints, and altering the service list on a filed pleading; and one alleged that Cyrus Sanai had encouraged the continuance of an action from a corrupt motive, passion, or interest. 

The court

According to Oregon’s Bar Rules of Procedure, those chairing disciplinary trial panels are broadly authorized to facilitate an efficient and orderly hearing. See BR 2.4(h) (describing duties of a trial panel chairperson). Under the circumstances noted above, by denying the accused’s motion for the pro hac vice admission of Cyrus Sanai, the trial panel chair did nothing more than fulfill that obligation.

And rejected a host of other contentions

In sum, we conclude that the accused was not deprived of due process in the proceedings leading to his disbarment in Washington. And, for the reasons stated above, we agree with the Bar and hold that the accused received full and fair hearings, both in his Washington disciplinary proceedings and in the hearing conducted in this jurisdiction. We also hold that the evidence amply establishes that the accused engaged in misconduct in Washington that was serious and protracted, warranting reciprocal discipline here.

The web page of the California State Bar reports that the brother is in good standing but notes that disciplinary charges were filed in January 2014.  (Mike Frisch)

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