Tuesday, November 1, 2022
The North Carolina Court of Appeals affirmed sanctions imposed on an attorney who had taken advantage of two clients who had served 31 years for a rape and murder they did not commit and lacked the capacity to understand their fee agreements
In August 2014, Rose and Vernetta Alston, also an attorney with the Center for Death Penalty Litigation, filed an MAR alleging McCollum was innocent based in part on results of DNA testing done on a cigarette butt found at the scene of the murder; the DNA did not match either brother, but instead matched an inmate “then serving a life sentence for the murder of a woman in the same area as Buie, a month after Buie’s murder.” Brown filed a similar MAR through separate counsel. The trial court granted McCollum’s and Brown’s MARs, vacated their convictions and judgments, and released them from prison after having served 31 years,
The representation of the brothers post-release is set out leading to
On 20 September 2018, the North Carolina State Bar filed a disciplinary action against Defendant alleging that Defendant had engaged in professional misconduct in his representation of McCollum and Brown. The case was tried before the DHC, and the DHC concluded that Defendant violated the Rules of Professional Conduct involving, inter alia, “dishonesty, excessive fees, [and] conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice.” The order of discipline (“Order”) suspended Defendant’s law license for five years and allowed Defendant to seek a stay of the balance of the suspension after three years if he complied with certain conditions, including a $250,000 restitution payment to McCollum and Brown. Defendant filed notice of appeal.
McCollum and Brown were easily manipulated and were particularly susceptible to manipulation and financial coercion, given their intellectual disabilities, decades in prison, and relative poverty.
clear, cogent, and convincing evidence supports the Order’s findings of fact, and the findings of fact support the DHC’s conclusions that it was dishonest for Defendant to enter into the representation agreement with McCollum and Brown; that it was prejudicial to the administration of justice for Defendant to have McCollum sign the settlement agreement and deceitful for him to represent to the Court that McCollum had consented to the settlement; and that it was dishonest for Defendant to claim to Multi Funding that he explained the terms of the loan agreements to McCollum and Brown.
The court also affirmed a $250,000 restitution order. (Mike Frisch)