Thursday, May 19, 2022

Dishonesty in D.C. (Say It Ain't So!)

An interesting oral argument before the District of Columbia Board on Professional Responsibility this afternoon at 2 pm EST (access here) involves review of an Ad Hoc Hearing Committee report recommending a six-month suspension without fitness for, in the main, causing the alteration of a notarized document and filing it with the Recorder of Deeds.


The Hearing Committee has found that Respondent engaged in dishonesty in violation of Rule 8.4(c). Respondent consciously and consistently disregarded the risks created by his action in directing the altering of signed and notarized documents. He decided to revise a material term of a deed—the consideration—that he knew had significant implications on tax liability for the parties to the deed and the revenue collected by the District of Columbia. In less than 24 hours, and after speaking with Mr. Duggan—a self-interested non-attorney—and having a superficial “CYA” conversation with Ms. Williams, Respondent directed his staff to change the amount of consideration on the notarized deed and tax forms. He never consulted with Ms. Washington or Mr. Bianco to discuss this significant change. Further, even after making this decision, he did not subsequently inform Ms. Washington that he had made these changes and interfered with her representation of Homer Littlejohn, who he knew was still represented by Ms. Washington. The Hearing Committee finds that Respondent’s $450,000 figure was inaccurate—a fact which he could have realized if he had more carefully reviewed the documents in his possession. While we have found that he lacked an intent to defraud and that he did not intentionally testify falsely, his dishonesty in violation of Rule 8.4(c) and his knowing false statements to Disciplinary Counsel in violation of 8.1(a) warrant a lengthy suspension.


Here, we are concerned about Respondent’s prior discipline and its similarity to the misconduct in the instant matter. And unlike the respondents in Reback, Respondent has not admitted to any wrongdoing in regard to any of the charged rule violations. The minimal mitigating factors, as described above, are not as compelling as those in Reback.

Nonetheless, we also recognize that Respondent’s misconduct in directing his staff to change the consideration amount instead of re-executing the deed and tax form was a single event. Accordingly, we recommend a six-month suspension for the violations of Rules 8.1(a), 8.4(c), and 8.4(d).

Prior discipline

In 2004, Respondent was publicly censured in the District of Columbia as reciprocal discipline for Respondent’s unauthorized practice of law in Maryland. In re Soto, 840 A.2d 1291 (D.C. 2004) (per curiam). Respondent’s public censure resulted from his signing instruments affecting title to real property in Maryland without being admitted to practice before the Court of Appeals of Maryland.

The Reback en banc decision (subsumed to some degree by the later en banc decision in In re Hutchinson) are leading precedents on dishonesty sanctions in D.C. (Mike Frisch)

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