Thursday, February 15, 2018

Domestic Violence And Bar Discipline In The District of Columbia

When an attorney admitted to practice in the District of Columbia commits an act of domestic violence, such conduct constitutes a clear violation of D.C. Rule 8.4(b).

Comment [1] to the Rule states in part

Although a lawyer is personally answerable to the entire criminal law, a lawyer should be professionally answerable only for offenses that indicate lack of those characteristics relevant to law practice. Offenses involving violence, dishonesty, breach of trust, or serious interference with the administration of justice are in that category.

The appropriately intolerant view of the Board on Professional Responsibility came through clearly in In re Jacoby, Bar Docket No. 323-05 (BPR 5/11/2007), where the board advocated for a 60 day suspension as reciprocal discipline for a New Jersey censure

Respondent’s conviction in New Jersey was for a severe act of domestic violence: his wife suffered a dislocated shoulder as a result of being thrown twice into a wall of their home, requiring six months of physical therapy. Comment 1 to Rule 8.4(b) makes clear that “[o]ffenses involving violence, dishonesty, breach of trust, or serious interference with the administration of justice” fall within the Rule as conduct reflecting “adversely on [one’s] fitness to practice law (emphasis added).” See also In re Harkins, 899 A.2d 755, 759 (D.C. 2006) (respondent’s misdemeanor conviction of sexual abuse for touching another metro passenger on her thigh and buttocks, following her to another seat, and asking her to “Give me a call sometime, baby,” violated Rule 8.4(b), resulting in a thirty-day suspension). The Court held that the sexual nature of respondent’s conduct fulfilled the element of violence or threat of violence to bring this criminal conduct under Rule 8.4(b).

Despite not directly implicating honesty or trustworthiness, sexually abusive conduct, because of its inherently violent nature, calls into question one’s fitness as a lawyer and thus falls within the ambit of Rule 8.4(b). Harkins, 899 A.2d at 760.

The instant case raises no question as to the presence of “violence.” It is a clear violation of Rule 8.4(b) and in this jurisdiction “[t]he discipline for violation of Rule 8.4(b) has never been as lenient as public censure,” Id. at 761, the discipline imposed by the New Jersey Court. Rather, sanctions for such rule violations “have traditionally ranged from a thirty-day suspension to disbarment.” Id. Although we have been unable to uncover any domestic violence cases that arose as original jurisdiction matters, the Court has imposed disbarment in a reciprocal discipline case from the Court of Appeals of Maryland. In re Painter, 766 A.2d 49 (D.C. 2001) (per curiam) (evidence of a “long history of domestic violence.”). The Court in its Harkins opinion did cite with approval a case decided by the Supreme Court of Florida, Florida Bar v. Schreiber, 631 So. 2d 1081 (Fla. 1994), where the respondent was suspended for 120 days, with additional conditions, for the misdemeanor battery of domestic violence. As described in Harkins, such acts “warranted temporary suspension because it affected the perception of lawyers in a negative way.” Harkins, 899 A.2d at 760.

We note from the reciprocal record that Respondent’s explosive and violent behavior on March 5, 2005, involved two continuous acts of domestic violence, which we look at as one violent event...

The court imposed the suspension of 60 days. 

A second domestic assault by the same attorney drew a 36-month reciprocal suspension in D.C. based on a sanction imposed by the New York First Department.

As we reported, New Jersey had imposed a year suspension and fitness for that crime. 

Then there is the case of J. Michael Farren, convicted of attempted murder of his spouse, a crime that the board concluded involved moral turpitude per se

Respondent was convicted of attempted murder, in violation of C.G.S. § 53a-49(a)(2) (attempt) and § 53a-54a(a) (murder). The Court previously has held that murder for pecuniary gain, in violation of C.G.S. § 53a-54b (murder with special circumstances), is a crime of moral turpitude per se, because it requires proof of specific intent to cause the death of another person. In re Carpenter, 891 A.2d 223, 223 (D.C. 2006) (per curiam); see also Aron, Bar Docket No. 45- 99 at 3-4 (solicitation to commit murder under Maryland law is a crime of moral turpitude per se, because it involves “deliberate, intentional taking of the life of another person”). Similarly, conviction of attempted murder in violation of C.G.S. §§ 53a-49(a)(2) and 53a-54a(a) also “requires a finding of the specific intent to cause death.” State v. Murray, 757 A.2d 578, 583 (Conn. 2000). Based on this precedent, it is clear that Respondent’s conviction of attempted murder involves moral turpitude per se, requiring his disbarment under D.C. Code § 11-2503(a). 

The Stamford Advocate noted that the defendant was a "former White House attorney."

A former White House attorney who nearly bludgeoned his wife to death with a flashlight wants to delay paying her a $30 million settlement.

The attorney for Michael J. Farren asked Superior Court Judge Robert Genuario in Stamford on Monday to stop Mary Margaret Farren from collecting on a $28.6 million civil settlement until her client’s U.S. Supreme Court appeal is heard.

 Michael Farren, 63, who served as an attorney for both Bush administrations, is serving a 15-year prison term at the Garner Correctional Institution in Newtown, for the attempted murder of his wife during a violent, prolonged and vicious domestic assault in their New Canaan mansion in 2010.
New Caananite reported the conviction was appealed to the United States Supre me Court
According to a procedural history published by the Connecticut Judicial Branch, on the night of Jan. 6, 2010, the couple—both lawyers—were at their Wahackme Road home.

“The defendant and the plaintiff had been married for twelve years and had two young daughters. The plaintiff recently had served a complaint seeking to dissolve the parties’ marriage. The parties met in their home to discuss the action, which the plaintiff refused to withdraw, despite the defendant’s request that she do so. That night, the defendant physically assaulted the plaintiff with his hands, fists, and a flashlight, and said that he was going to kill her. The plaintiff lost consciousness from repeated blows to her head. When she regained consciousness, the defendant continued to hit her and attempted to strangle her. He also pulled out large amounts of her hair. Ultimately, the plaintiff and the children managed to escape from the defendant and to flee the home. Shortly after these events, and in addition to the marital dissolution action, the plaintiff initiated this civil action against the defendant to compensate her for the injuries that she suffered. The state also filed criminal charges against the defendant.”

Farren pleaded not guilty to charges of attempt to commit murder, first-degree assault and risk of injury to a child—and was convicted of all three offenses on Sept. 11, 2014, judicial records show. He is serving 15 years in a prison in Newtown.

The rule does not require a conviction to discipline the attorney if there is clear and convincing evidence of the violence. (Mike Frisch)

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