Thursday, May 26, 2022

Disbarred After 50+ Years

The Maryland Court of Appeals has disbarred an attorney whose trust account operated on a "rob Peter to pay Paul" basis

In this case, we must determine the appropriate sanction to impose for an attorney’s intentional misconduct in connection with activities in which he engaged related to his attorney trust account, including taking cash disbursements, commingling personal funds with client funds, paying personal expenses directly from his attorney trust account, and maintaining negative client-matter balances. The attorney, Respondent, Clifford Baer Silbiger, admits to borrowing funds from his attorney trust account to cover expenses related to his law firm—in essence, taking an interest-free loan from his client without her knowledge or consent. The only issue in dispute is the appropriate sanction to be imposed for the misconduct. Mr. Silbiger has proven considerable mitigating factors, including an unblemished professional record that spans 50 years and an excellent reputation in the legal community. And he asserts that no client or third party was harmed in connection with the misconduct. In fact, the client was likely not even aware that Mr. Silbiger borrowed from the funds held in trust, which Mr. Silbiger claims that he always intended to repay, and did indeed repay. For the reasons set forth herein, although we have considered the facts and circumstances presented in this case, we do not determine that the circumstances surrounding the misconduct justify a deviation from the sanction of disbarment that is ordinarily warranted when considering misconduct of this nature.

His downfall began with an overdraft report

Mr. Silbiger testified that he had a thriving law practice until 2018 when he spent a considerable amount of money on marketing and advertising in an effort to compete with larger law firms. Unfortunately, this investment did not pay off, and his practice began to decline. When Mr. Silbiger’s cash flow diminished, and he was faced with office expenses, payroll, mortgages, and other expenses, he became distressed. He testified that he made the ill-fated decision to borrow funds from his attorney trust account—to “rob Peter to pay Paul”—because “I was so anguished over the fact that I couldn’t satisfy my expenses.” He made this decision despite his testimony that he held a 50% ownership in a marina that was doing exceedingly well. In fact, he testified that the marina’s operating account had “an abundance of cash” that was accessible to him “at any time,” and he “always knew that if it came to the point where I had to satisfy the money I took from the trust account, I would always have the wherewithal to pay it back through the marina . . . .” However, his “pride got in the way[,]” and he was too “embarrassed” to ask his partner in the marina if he could take funds from the marina account to meet the commitments and expenses of his law practice. Being too proud to go to his partner, Mr. Silbiger decided to use funds from his attorney trust account to cover his expenses. Mr. Silbiger asserts that it was never his intent to permanently deprive anyone of their funds and that he always had the ability to repay the borrowed funds. And in fact, he did pay all of it back.

Nonetheless

in the decades since our pronouncement of the Vanderlinde standard, we have not imposed a sanction less than disbarment where the underlying conduct involves theft or misappropriation of funds, and we decline to do so here. Our unwillingness to impose a sanction less than disbarment here is not based upon the application of a bright-line rule, and we have carefully considered the presence of the aggravating and mitigating circumstances established. Some of the most difficult attorney discipline cases for this Court are those in which the attorney, like Mr. Silbiger, has had a long and distinguished career. We have considered the credible testimony of the character witnesses who, to quote the hearing judge, all attested to Mr. Silbiger’s “unblemished record and reputation as an otherwise competent, careful attorney who is always attentive to and respectful of others and with an excellent reputation as an ethical practitioner with this subject episode being the only black mark against him in over 50 years of practice.” We have considered Mr.
Silbiger’s reputation, the genuine remorse found by the hearing judge, the candor and responsibility that he has taken, and the fact that no clients were harmed by his actions—which in essence, amount to taking a short term, interest-free loan from the client without her knowledge or consent. However, we cannot ignore that Mr. Silbiger violated one of the most sacred obligations of an attorney...

Mr. Silbiger knew that his conduct was wrong, and admits that he had other funds at his disposal that could have covered the expenses of his law firm. Instead of tapping into those funds (which would have caused him personal embarrassment with his partner in his marina venture), he took funds from his trust account to cover expenses without his client’s knowledge and consent. We cannot minimize or excuse the misconduct simply because his client was not harmed and may have never even known that it occurred. To impose a sanction less than disbarment simply on that basis would send a message to both the public and the legal profession that this Court subscribes to the adage that “it’s better to be lucky than good” when it comes to wrongfully borrowing funds from an attorney’s trust account. As the Court noted in its questions during oral argument, the client could have been harmed. We do not find that Mr. Silbiger’s significant mitigating factors justify imposing a sanction less than disbarment here.

The marina sold for $7.5 million. (Mike Frisch)

May 26, 2022 in Bar Discipline & Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Flagrant Dishonesty Draws Disbarment

The District of Columbia Court of Appeals has disbarred an attorney based on findings of "flagrant dishonesty.

The case involved charging an excessive fee

The Board’s factual findings regarding Rule 1.4(b) [sic 1.5(b)]were that Johnson accepted a fee above the statutory cap of twenty percent of the total award his client received, and for a small amount of work actually performed and at rates not normally permitted in workers’ compensation cases. There is substantial evidence in the report to support the Board’s factual findings. We reference the factual findings regarding Rule 1.4(b) mentioned above and reiterate that they are substantial evidence that Johnson charged and accepted a fee prohibited by D.C. Code.

Dishonesty

we hold that they constitute a violation of Rule 8.4(c). First, submitting a patently false fee petition implies an intent to deceive the D.C. government. At the very least, it evinces a lack of honesty. Second, Johnson’s characterization of his representation of H.G. to Mr. Levi was dishonest. Third, his responses to Mr. Levi’s questions were the opposite of fair and straightforward. Any of these would violate Rule 8.4(c), and together they paint a picture of flagrant dishonesty.

Defense: misidentification

Despite what Johnson states, there is no evidence that the wrong attorney was investigated.

Sanction

Because the Board’s factual findings are supported by substantial evidence, we are required to adopt them. Reviewing the Board’s legal conclusions de novo, we conclude that they are consistent with our precedent. Because disbarment for
flagrant dishonesty is consistent with our prior decisions, and because it is warranted in Johnson’s case, we adopt the Board’s recommendation.

(Mike Frisch)

 

May 26, 2022 in Bar Discipline & Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Blurred Boundaries

The South Carolina Supreme Court has accepted a consent six-month suspension of a magistrate

In 2017 and 2018, Respondent was the Chief Magistrate of Chester County and her husband was the Chester County Sheriff. The Chester County Sheriff's Department (Sheriff's Department) had a Facebook page through which members of the public could send private tips regarding criminal activity. Respondent accessed the Sheriff's Department's Facebook messages on the Sheriff's behalf for the purpose of transmitting the information to Sheriff's Department Employees and requesting that certain actions be taken in response to various complaints, including suspected drug activity and trash and noise complaints. In doing so, Respondent copied the messages from Facebook, then used her Chester County issued judicial email account to forward the complaints to Sheriff's Department employees. Respondent's emails included a signature block in which she identified herself as a Chester County Magistrate and listed the address and telephone number for the magistrate's court.

Additionally, in 2018, Respondent assisted her husband with drafting a disciplinary action concerning a Sheriff's Department employee. Respondent used her judicial email account to forward the draft of the disciplinary action to her husband for his review. That same year, Respondent prepared a letter for the Sheriff's Department in which the Community Services Division recommended a student for a scholarship. Using her judicial email account, Respondent emailed the Sheriff's Department staff directing them to place the letter on Sheriff's Department letterhead and place it in a Sheriff's Department envelope.

Jurisdiction

Respondent is not licensed to practice law in South Carolina. However, as an officer of the unified judicial system eligible to perform judicial functions in South Carolina, she is subject to the jurisdiction of the Commission on Judicial Conduct

Violations

The Agreement establishes Respondent accessed the Sheriff's Department Facebook messages, received citizen complaints, forwarded those complaints using her judicial email account, involved herself in Sheriff's Department personnel matters, and prepared correspondence on behalf of the Sheriff's department. These actions blurred the boundaries between her role as an independent and impartial magistrate and someone acting on behalf of the Sheriff's Department. Regardless of whether Respondent intended her emails and actions to remain private, her conduct served to erode public confidence in the judiciary. Accordingly, we find Respondent's pattern of conduct with the Sheriff's Department is sufficient to create in reasonable minds a perception that her ability to carry out her judicial responsibilities impartially is impaired, thereby violating Canon 2A of the Code of Judicial Conduct, Rule 501, SCACR.

(Mike Frisch)

May 25, 2022 in Bar Discipline & Process, Judicial Ethics and the Courts | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, May 23, 2022

"A Splenetic Pattern Of Posturing, Threats And Personal Attacks"

The Colorado Presiding Disciplinary Judge found that a state court prosecutor had misused his powers, revoked a previously-imposed probation and suspended him for six months.

The probation involved violations in a private practice matter.

Here

Respondent engaged in a splenetic pattern of posturing, threats, and personal attacks while serving as a prosecutor, abusing the power of his office. Because this behavior prejudiced the administration of justice and intimidated third parties, violating Colo. RPC 4.4(a) and Colo. RPC 8.4(d), he breached the probationary condition requiring him to refrain from committing further rule violations. His probation should thus be revoked.

One incident involved threats to a probation officer

Under the preponderance of the evidence standard, the Court concludes that Respondent violated Colo. RPC 8.4(d) during the hearing of March 19, 2021. He interrupted the proceeding, attempting to arrogate to himself the power to control the information before the judge; indeed, his captious approach threatened to deprive the court of Gonzales’s perspective. Moreover, by petulantly warning that he might decline to prosecute the probation revocation matter—simply because Gonzales had provided her opinion at the court’s request—he risked jeopardizing public safety.

Respondent’s comments to Gurule on March 23, 2021, violated Colo. RPC 4.4(a). During that conversation, which Gurule initiated in the wake of the March 19 hearing, Respondent darkly intimated that he could open a criminal investigation against Gurule. The Court sees no purpose in this self-aggrandizing statement other than to bully and burden Gurule. The Court also credits Gonzales’s concern that this intimidation tactic undermined collaboration between the prosecutorial and probation offices and made her job more difficult.

And a defense counsel

A month later, when Miller presented the same plea, which Respondent’s supervisor, the elected district attorney, personally approved, Respondent again objected. He then implied that he would penalize Miller’s other clients based on Miller’s conduct in the case. These remarks were so inappropriate that the presiding judge admonished Respondent, characterizing them as “highly, highly unethical.” In leveling these threats, Respondent had no substantial purpose other than to harass Miller and perhaps to attempt to improperly coerce him into withdrawing the petition.

An unrelated matter over a miscommunication concerning a court appearance

According to [attorney Jones' assistant] Underwood, Respondent hardly allowed her to speak. He yelled and accused her of improper behavior and communicating ex parte with the court. Jones called Respondent that same day, November 18, to address the situation. Jones reported that Respondent continued his pattern of behavior, including by speaking over Jones and accusing him of ex parte communications with the court. Jones also remembered that Respondent said to him, “don’t worry, I’m not going to grieve you.”

Findings

When [client] Tate and his counsel  [Jones' partner] failed to appear at the hearing, Respondent hectored both Underwood and Jones. Though they attempted to interject and explain what had occurred, Respondent yelled at them and accused them of improper or unethical behavior, though he mentioned that he would not file a grievance against Jones. These diatribes served no substantial purpose other than to berate Underwood and Jones.

Later that day, the court recalled the case. During the hearing, Respondent requested that the court issue a warrant for Tate’s arrest. He did so even though he knew Tate had been told not to attend the hearing. Respondent’s “volatile and outrageous” conduct so disquieted Jones that he asked the court to appoint a special prosecutor, reasoning that Tate could not receive a fair trial with Respondent helming the prosecution. Only after the district attorney assigned the case to a new prosecutor was the motion rendered moot. The Court finds that Respondent’s behavior in this matter prejudiced the administration of justice; it necessitated Jones’s motion, as it raised the question of whether Respondent might punish Tate for Underwood’s miscommunication with court staff.

(Mike Frisch)

May 23, 2022 in Bar Discipline & Process | Permalink | Comments (1)

Sunday, May 22, 2022

Evidence Of Romance

The Ontario Law Society Hearing Division has found misconduct in a high-profile disciplinary matter involving two Respondents

Claudio Martini was called to the bar in 1989. He had a highly successful and extremely busy litigation practice. Maria Marusic was called in 1993. She also was an accomplished and busy litigator. Mr. Martini and Ms. Marusic began working together in 1993. In 2000 they became law partners. In 2001 they became romantic partners. In 2010 they established Shulgan Martini Marusic LLP (SMM) together with Myron Shulgan. In late 2021, while this hearing was ongoing, they married.

Findings

MARUSIC – Failing to Assist in Preventing the Unauthorised Practise of Law – Failing to Act with Integrity – In 2015, after hearing how the Lawyer’s relationship with Martini had ended, the Tribunal imposed restrictions on the Lawyer’s licence – The panel found that the Lawyer had misled the Tribunal about the nature of her relationship with Martini and thus failed to act with integrity – She also failed to assist in preventing Martini’s unauthorised practise of law and provision of legal services – The Lawyer associated with and used the services of Mr. Martini without the requisite express approval of the Hearing Division – The panel directed that dates are to be set for a hearing on penalty.

MARTINI – Misappropriation of Funds – Providing Legal Services While Suspended – Motion to Stay Based on Delay – The Lawyer was suspended as of April 22, 2015 – The Lawyer admitted to repeatedly breaching escrow but denied misappropriation on the basis that the action had been assigned to him – The panel found that the Lawyer had misappropriated funds – The Lawyer also continued to provide legal services while suspended – The panel concluded due to the nature of the proceedings and the Lawyer’s own contribution to the delay, the delay here did not rise to the level of inordinate – The motion to stay was dismissed and the panel directed that dates are to be set for a hearing on penalty.

We had previously reported on the denial of an interim suspension of Ms. Marusic, which was here found to be based on her false testimony

 In March 2015, Ms. Marusic swore an affidavit responding to the Law Society’s application for an interlocutory suspension of her licence. In her affidavit, Ms. Marusic disclosed her personal relationship with Mr. Martini for the first time and made clear it had ended.

I was involved in a personal relationship with Mr. Martini for many years. During that time I believed much of what he told me. I believed that although legally married, he had been separated from his wife for a number of years. Unfortunately, I now know that he repeatedly lied to me. Our personal relationship is now over.

In an emotional cross-examination on April 1, 2015, Ms. Marusic confirmed the relationship had ended sometime between March 13 and 23. Asked to explain why the relationship ended at that time, Ms. Marusic testified that, “in the last months,” she discovered Mr. Martini had told her numerous lies about his wife’s health. Her evidence before the first hearing panel was moving and convincing. She testified their relationship was over.

Ms. Marusic argued that the fact Mr. Martini was under suspension, and she had ended her personal relationship with him, weighed against imposing a suspension on her.

Findings

 The e-mail communications between Ms. Marusic and Mr. Martini concerning the Client B file and other files establish they were in close, frequent e-mail communication between January and August 2015. Their e-mails between March and April 17 concerning the expert report for Client B do not demonstrate any strain or difference in tone suggestive of a rift in the relationship. While they may not have seen each other between the end of March and the April trial preparation meetings with Client B, their e-mail communications show no change from e-mails sent prior to Ms. Marusic’s discovery of Mr. Martini’s lies.

When Mr. Martini tells Ms. Marusic in their May 11 e-mail exchange, “ok I will stay out of it,” Ms. Marusic almost immediately responds “What do you mean? I want you in it.” She clearly wants his support on the Client B litigation and her response cannot be squared with the description she gave less than two months earlier of Mr. Martini as a liar and a fraudster who had victimised her with his deceitful ways.

 Their e-mails also contain phrases and statements out of keeping with professional communication. Both Mr. Martini and Ms. Marusic end e-mails with endearments such as: “love me”, “love you”, and “babes.” For example, their e‑mail exchange sent May 26 begins with a discussion of witness preparation and then moves on to an intimate exchange as follows:

CM:    The defendant production 837 contains a transcript of Cedilot interview.........I have read it. It doesn't say much about [Client B] at all. The RCMP suggest that [Client B] should have done more and been aware of the inflated prices but Cedilot does not agree.

I attach the pages that deal with [Client B] ...............to make it easier for you to review.........

MM:    OK baby love. Love you

CM:    Love you.......trying to be happy and normal.

MM:    We are happy but never normal. Love you

CM:    ): Really miss you a lot. Especially at night. Sorry

The Hearing Division did not judge the relationship; rather, it considered 

The e‑mails containing endearments and intimacies, the sleeping arrangement discussions, and the exchange about living together easily lead to the conclusion Ms. Marusic and Mr. Martini were once again much more than professional partners to each other.

The May e-mails discussing where Ms. Marusic wanted Mr. Martini to stay when in Ottawa and missing Mr. Martini at night are clearly not business or professional conversations. They are communications which a practical and informed person would conclude took place between persons in a romantic relationship.

May 22, 2022 in Bar Discipline & Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Kansas Disbars For Prosecutorial Misconduct

The Kansas Supreme Court disbarred a former prosecutor of a murder case for extensive misconduct in argument both to the trial jury and in arguments defending the conviction 

The trial was held in March, 2012. The respondent was the lead prosecutor in Chandler's murder trial. There were 10 days of testimony during which the State called over 80 witnesses and introduced nearly 900 exhibits into evidence. The jury convicted Chandler of two counts of premeditated first-degree murder and the district court sentenced Chandler to two consecutive life sentences, each carrying a mandatory minimum 50-year prison term.

Chandler took a direct appeal of the convictions to the Kansas Supreme Court. Chandler challenged the sufficiency of the evidence and asserted that the respondent engaged in prosecutorial misconduct. On April 6, 2018, the Supreme Court reversed Chandler's convictions based on prosecutorial misconduct committed by the respondent. [State v.] Chandler, 307 Kan. 657, 414 P.3d 713 (2018).

One issue involved an alleged protection from abuse order sought by the victim.

Respondent had argued the direct appeal

Upon additional questioning by members of the Supreme Court, however, the respondent ultimately conceded that there was no document evidencing a restraining or protective order in evidence. After multiple questions by the Supreme Court regarding the statements in her closing argument relating to the existence of a restraining or protective order, the respondent finally clarified:

'I don't want to mislead this Court. There is no document that I found in State's Exhibit 969 which was the divorce file. There's no document in that file that is either a protection from abuse or a protective order. So, if I indicated that there was a document, I don't want to mislead you. I do know, speaking with the victim's family members, that the order existed. 'Um, and that that was discovered by Detective Volle as the lead detective in this case.'

A phone call

During the oral argument, the Supreme Court questioned the respondent about her argument to the jury that M.S. informed Chandler of his engagement to K.H. during the five-minute phone call. In response to a question by Justice Johnson, the respondent asserted, 'We know exactly what happened during that phone call because [M.S.] told his brother, [T.S.]. . . . I'm going to get married to [K.H.] and I'm afraid of what that news will do when I tell [Chandler] because I'm afraid of what she will do . . . .' Further, in response to a question by Justice Beier, the respondent confirmed her position that T.S. testified about the substance of the discussion between M.S. and Chandler during the five-minute phone call.

Upon further questioning by the Supreme Court, the respondent abandoned her argument that T.S.'s testimony established that Chandler learned of the engagement in the five-minute phone call. See also (At the disciplinary hearing, the respondent agreed that T.S.'s testimony did not establish the substance of the five-minute phone call.)

Other unsupported arguments related to an alleged escape to Nebraska, Internet searches and

During the murder trial, the respondent called Chandler's former employer, J.M. to testify. During his testimony, J.M. testified that Chandler's intelligence was 'probably above average.' The respondent did not present any additional evidence regarding Chandler's intelligence. Chandler, 307 Kan. at 688.

During closing argument, the respondent said, 'she's smart, she's got high intelligence and she thought she was smarter than the police department and she thought she was smarter than the jurors and it's not true, . . . And we have you. She's not smarter than the cops, [and] she's not smarter than you.'

She violated a court order to not point out people in the courtroom gallery.

A "heat of the moment" argument in closing

In the rebuttal portion of her closing argument, the respondent argued, '[n]ow the State, just like the defense, would also like to implore you not to convict an innocent person. That would be horrible. Don't convict an innocent person. Instead, convict her because she killed [M.S.], she killed [K.H.], and she robbed her own children of their father and his fiancé [sic]. . . .[']

During the respondent's sworn statement, the respondent disagreed with the Supreme Court and testified that her statement was factual—by killing M.S. and K.H., Chandler robbed her children of their father.

The court rejected findings of misconduct in an unrelated prosecution where the Disciplinary Administrator relied solely on the record of that case

What is more, both the panel's final hearing report and the Disciplinary Administrator curiously ignored the vast amount of hearing testimony respondent presented that provided much more color to the otherwise cold Ewing record, which leads us to find that respondent's conduct in that trial did not amount to misconduct that violates the KRPC.

But found violations in the response 

The panel's finding that respondent violated KRPC 8.1 by making a false statement during her disciplinary investigation is supported by clear and convincing evidence given the stark contrast between her sworn statement and her testimony before the hearing panel.

Sanction

The evidence in this case demonstrates a serious pattern of grossly unethical misconduct. "A prosecutor has the responsibility of a minister of justice and not simply that of an advocate. This responsibility carries with it specific obligations to see that the defendant is accorded procedural justice and that guilt is decided upon the basis of sufficient evidence." KRPC 3.8 cmt. 1 (2021 Kan. S. Ct. R. 395). Respondent failed in her obligation to act as a minister of justice in her prosecution of Dana Chandler. She ignored the order of a district court, repeatedly made arguments to the jury that lacked any evidentiary support, intentionally lied to this court in her briefs and in oral arguments, and made false statements during the disciplinary investigation.

After carefully considering the findings, conclusions, recommendations, and the ABA Standards for Imposing Lawyer Sanctions, we find that respondent's intolerable acts of deception warrant the severe sanction of disbarment.

48 Hours covered the crime.

Oral argument is linked here. (Mike Frisch)

May 22, 2022 in Bar Discipline & Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, May 20, 2022

Resigned with Restitution

An attorney's resignation was accepted by the New York Appellate Division for the First Judicial Department

Respondent acknowledges that he is currently the subject of an investigation by the Attorney Grievance Committee (Committee) involving allegations that he committed certain acts of professional misconduct, namely misappropriating escrow funds in two separate client matters involving real estate transactions. Specifically, in one matter, he is alleged to have misappropriated $370,000 from the law firm of Rosenberg & Estis, P.C., and in the other matter he is alleged to have misappropriated $159,000 from his former client. Respondent asserts that he has made partial restitution for both matters: $75,000 to Rosenberg & Estis, P.C. and $80,000 to his former client.

Respondent attests that he cannot successfully defend against the allegations based upon the facts and circumstances of his professional conduct as described herein. Respondent attests that his resignation is freely and voluntarily rendered, without coercion or duress by anyone, and with full awareness of the consequences, including that the Court's acceptance and approval shall result in the entry of an order of disbarment striking his name from the roll of attorneys and counselors-at-law.

Respondent consents to the entry of an order by the Court, pursuant to Judiciary Law § 90(6-a), directing him to make restitution to the law firm of Rosenberg & Estis, P.C. in the amount of $295,000 and to his former client in the amount of $79,000.

(Mike Frisch)

May 20, 2022 in Bar Discipline & Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Reciprocal Sanction Imposed

The Nebraska Supreme Court has imposed reciprocal discipline on a "limited record" based on misconduct found in Texas

On July 14, 2021, the State Bar of Texas issued an “Agreed Judgment of Active Suspension.” The discipline arose out of the respondent’s “engag[ing] in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation” while serving as voluntary treasurer for a youth sports club.

Texas had imposed a two-year suspension with conditions; Respondent sought a lesser sanction here

The respondent labeled her response to the show cause order as confidential. She requested discipline less severe than the Texas discipline. The respondent suggested probation in lieu of suspension, reprimand by the court, reprimand by the Disciplinary Review Board, or suspension for a period less than 1 year. Her unsworn response indicates that she had personal issues at the time of her misconduct, which we do not detail here.

Her agreement to discipline in Texas led to the court's rejection of a lesser sanction

The relator’s brief points out that the respondent’s misconduct was unrelated to her law practice, did not implicate any breach in her duty to her clients, and did not involve a failure to respond to disciplinary inquiries. It appears she had no prior discipline. We take into consideration the respondent’s explanation of the situation she was in at the time of her misconduct. But we also observe that the respondent had an opportunity to contest the charge and offer mitigating circumstances during the investigatory hearing in the Texas proceeding, that she does not challenge the discipline ordered by the State Bar of Texas, and that she did not request a hearing in Nebraska.

The discipline was imposed retroactively in STATE EX REL. COUNSEL FOR DIS. v. PANICK.

Reciprocal discipline was also ordered in Oklahoma. (Mike Frisch)

May 20, 2022 in Bar Discipline & Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, May 19, 2022

The Return Of Dominic Gentile

The Nevada Supreme Court denied relief to an attorney

Petitioner Joseph S. Gilbert argues that respondent the State Bar of Nevada released a proposed letter of reprimand issued by a screening panel in the underlying disciplinary proceedings to the press in violation of confidentiality rules. But the documentation before this court contains no evidence tending to show that the State Bar released the proposed letter or violated confidentiality rules, such that Gilbert has failed to meet his burden of showing that writ relief is warranted...

The State Bar also has not violated Gilbert's due process rights such that writ relief would be warranted because the proposed reprimand did not become final due to Gilbert's timely objection to the same and the State Bar has not otherwise recommended any discipline for Gilbert at this time.

Reno Gazette Journal reported on the controversy

 On billboards throughout northern Nevada, Republican gubernatorial candidate Joey Gilbert can be seen with clenched fists and a promise: “Joey Gilbert Law, Fighting for Nevada.”

Now, Gilbert is fighting efforts to reprimand him by the State Bar of Nevada. Gilbert has yet to be disciplined, but a screening panel that reviewed his work sent him a draft letter of reprimand in August alleging he harmed a client and violated the bar’s rules of professional conduct.

“Your misconduct actually injured your client, albeit not substantially because he had no formal deadline for filing the petition. Your misconduct actually injured the integrity of the profession as well,” Richard Williamson, the chair of a disciplinary panel convened by the bar, wrote in the Aug. 27 letter to Gilbert.

Gilbert is an attorney and former professional boxer who in the last year has become one of Nevada’s most prominent voices calling into question the 2020 election result and decrying coronavirus vaccines. He was present in Washington, D.C., during the Jan. 6 insurrection but has said he did not enter the Capitol. Gilbert is running in a crowded primary field of Republicans hoping to unseat Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak in 2022.

The letter obtained by The Associated Press was confirmed as authentic by the State Bar of Nevada.

The Nevada Bar appoints three-member panels to evaluate grievances lodged by clients claiming harm against its attorneys. After deliberation, panels can impose sanctions, reprimand an attorney or dismiss the allegations. If the panel chooses sanctions or a reprimand, it must provide the attorney an opportunity to review the allegations and file an objection within 14 days.

Gilbert filed a motion to dismiss the letter, which the disciplinary panel denied on Dec. 1, according to filings provided by his attorney, Dominic Gentile.

Gentile said Gilbert denied all the allegations in the letter and planned to continue to fight the bar over its process and conclusions. He said the draft letter was not a public record and the State Bar should not have commented on it at this stage.

“There is no final determination as to the validity of any grievance against Mr. Gilbert. A lawyer is entitled to a live hearing at which witnesses must be called to testify and be subject to cross-examination,” he said.

Bar counsel Daniel Hooge said the letter was unofficial and Gilbert would not be formally disciplined until the panel holds another hearing.

“While the Supreme Court of Nevada retains ultimate authority to regulate the legal profession, the Office of the Bar Counsel serves as the Court’s arm to investigate and prosecute claims that a lawyer has violated the Rules of Professional Conduct. Our primary goal is to protect the public,” Hooge said.

The panel’s consideration comes as Gilbert campaigns throughout Nevada ahead of the Republican gubernatorial primary next June and files headline-grabbing lawsuits challenging vaccine and mask mandates.

To voters, Gilbert cites his legal work as evidence that he’s the best choice to be Nevada’s next governor and committed to fighting for the state.

In stump speeches he’s made across the state and shared on his Facebook page, he says the legal work he’s done throughout the pandemic prove his willingness to be “in the trenches, fighting,” referencing cases such as Calvary Chapel Lone Mountain’s ongoing challenges to Nevada’s coronavirus-related capacity cap on religious gatherings.

Gilbert is part of the legal team representing that church in Las Vegas, which along with another in rural Nevada, won an appeal challenging a statewide capacity cap on religious gatherings. The 9th U.S. Circuit of Appeals ruled in favor of the church after the governor had rolled back the restrictions in question.

The State Bar letter claims Gilbert’s firm allowed employees who weren’t licensed attorneys to handle a case without supervision — a violation of professional standards and bar requirements. It alleges that a law student, who was supposed to be under Gilbert’s supervision per bar rules, falsely implied to a client that a petition had been filed in court when it had not.

Though Gilbert’s client had paid a $3,500 retainer four months prior, the firm later dropped him as a client. The draft letter also reprimands Gilbert for violating a “diligence” rule by not promptly alerting the client that he did not want to represent him.

Gentile said Gilbert denied the allegations.

After speaking to employees mentioned in the letter, Gentile said he believes the disciplinary panel hadn’t sufficiently investigated the incident. He said he was confident the reprimand would be dismissed.

“What Joey Gilbert is doing here is he’s standing up for his integrity,” Gentile said.

(Mike Frisch)

May 19, 2022 in Bar Discipline & Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Stayed Suspension For Voyeurism Conviction

The District of Columbia Court of Appeals has accepted a negotiated sanction for a criminal offense, agreeing that the offense did not involve moral turpitude requirement disbarment

Having reviewed the Committee’s recommendation, in accordance with our procedures in uncontested disciplinary cases, see D.C. Bar R. XI, § 12.1(d), we agree this case is appropriate for negotiated discipline and that the proposed sanction is not unduly lenient. See D.C. Bar R. XI, § 9(h)(2). Accordingly, it is

ORDERED that respondent Pablo Zylberglait is hereby suspended from the practice of law in the District of Columbia for six months, with the suspension stayed in favor of six months of unsupervised probation, during which respondent must continue complying with the recommendations of his therapist and ensure that his therapist provides monthly reports to Disciplinary Counsel regarding respondent’s compliance.

The crime is described in the Hearing Committee report

On June 5, 2019, Respondent stood behind a woman on the escalator at the L’Enfant Plaza Metro station. Respondent placed his cell phone on top of his duffel bag and attempted to record images under the woman’s skirt. Respondent did not have the woman’s consent to take images under her skirt. Respondent’s actions were recorded on Metro security cameras.

A witness who knew the victim confronted Respondent on the escalator and alerted the victim of Respondent’s actions. After exiting the escalator, the victim confronted Respondent, asked to view the photos on his phone, and saw blurry photos or video that appeared to have been taken that day.

After his arrest, Respondent cooperated with the government. On September 24, 2019, Respondent pled guilty to attempted voyeurism. He was sentenced to 60 days incarceration, with execution of sentence suspended, and placed on three months unsupervised probation. Respondent has successfully completed the terms of his probation.

(Mike Frisch)

May 19, 2022 in Bar Discipline & Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

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.

Misconduct

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.

Considerations

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)

May 19, 2022 in Bar Discipline & Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Unwanted Communications

The Manitoba Law Society Discipline Committee Panel has ordered a reprimand with conditions

 Mr. Fawcett's Conduct Unbecoming a Lawyer charge occurred outside of his professional obligations. From approximately August 2016 through July 2020, Mr. Fawcett made unwanted communications of a sexual nature to five women.

 Fawcett knew each of these women through his work as a lawyer, the unwanted communications were outside of the course of Mr. Fawcett's professional activities. None were directly connected with any client matter or other professional activity. All of these communications took place while Mr. Fawcett was under the influence of alcohol.

He sought treatment after bar complaints were filed

Having regard to Mr. Fawcett's successful management of harmful substance abuse in the past and his willingness to give certain undertakings to the Society, this complaint was initially resolved by Mr. Fawcett's formal Undertaking dated July 8, 2020.

This Undertaking included provisions as to treatment and reporting upon the progress of that treatment to the Society. It also contained undertakings including to:

    abstain from the consumption of alcohol. If I experience a relapse of consumption of alcohol, I will notify the Society in writing forthwith; and

have no contact with any female member of the Society by FaceTime, text, email or other direct messaging or video communications application, for any reason other than for strictly work related matters. If I intend on communicating with a female Lawyer of the Society for a non-work-related reason, in the manners described, I will first obtain the written authorization of the Society.

Fawcett complied with the treatment undertakings but breached [the above] undertakings almost immediately.

Sanction

  It is determined it is appropriate in the circumstances in accordance with Section 72(1) of The Legal Profession Act that the member be granted a  reprimand. This is reserved for the exceptional circumstances found in this case.

The conditions include monitored abstinence and continuing treatment. (Mike Frisch)

May 17, 2022 in Bar Discipline & Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Fraud Conviction Results In Suspension

An attorney's involvement in two loans that were a fraud of over $4 million drew a one-year suspension from the New Jersey Supreme Court.

The crimes were described by the Disciplinary Review Board

That same day, at his plea hearing before the Honorable Jose L. Linares, Chief Judge, U.S.D.N.J., he provided a sworn allocution admitting to his role in the nominee loan scheme, including conspiring to create the false entries designed to deceive MB and the FDIC. Specifically, respondent admitted that, between January 2008 and November 2013, he participated in a scheme to obtain the two nominee loans from MB and to falsify MB’s financial records for the benefit of Daibes. Notably, respondent admitted that he received a portion of the proceeds of the second, $2.625 million loan.

Sentencing mitigation/aggravation

In crafting the sentence, Judge Vazquez accorded great weight to the fact that the loans were repaid and, thus, MB suffered no financial loss; considered that respondent was over eighty years of age and suffered from numerous, severe health issues, including deteriorating urological; cardiac; diabetic; and lower back issues; and that his wife and daughter also suffered from severe health issues. Judge Vazquez acknowledged that respondent had accepted responsibility for his actions, but determined that, although respondent was not acting in his capacity as a lawyer at the time the criminal conduct occurred, he should have been “acutely aware of the impropriety of lying to get a loan.” Judge Vazquez further emphasized that respondent involved his children in the scheme to obtain the second loan. The Judge recognized respondent’s service in the Army Reserve, including six months of active duty, and his numerous charitable acts.

Proposed sanction

On balance, we determine that a one-year suspension is the appropriate quantum of discipline necessary to protect the public and preserve confidence in the bar. Because respondent has resigned from the New Jersey bar, without prejudice, the suspension will be deferred until respondent seeks  reinstatement to the practice of law in New Jersey.

Vice-Chair Gallipoli and Members Petrou, Rivera, and Zmirich voted to recommend to the Court that respondent be disbarred.

(Mike Frisch)

May 17, 2022 in Bar Discipline & Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

The Barbershop

The New Jersey Supreme Court imposed reciprocal discipline of a judge suspended for a year and a day in Pennsylvania.

From the report of the Disciplinary Review Board

The facts giving rise to the judicial and disciplinary actions against respondent are as follows. Respondent’s son, Ian Rexach, owned a barbershop in Philadelphia. On or about March 27, 2012, the Philadelphia City Solicitor’s Office filed a complaint in Philadelphia Municipal Court against Rexach for his failure to file a required 2008 business privilege tax return. Rexach failed to appear for the hearing on the complaint and, on May 15, 2012, the municipal court entered a default judgment against him.

On June 12, 2012, former Judge Dawn A. Segal, of the Philadelphia Municipal Court, denied Rexach’s pro se petition to open judgment. Thereafter, on June 26, 2012, respondent initiated a telephone call to former Philadelphia Municipal Court Judge Joseph C. Waters, Jr. Unbeknownst to respondent, Waters’ telephone conversations were being lawfully intercepted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (the FBI).

The conversations are detailed in the report

Respondent admittedly engaged in inappropriate communication with Waters concerning her son’s case; improperly contacted Waters on June 29, 2012 to request that he contact Segal to ensure that Segal heard her son’s petition; failed to report the communications she had with Waters to the Judicial Conduct Board or any other authority; and made false statements of material fact in her written reply to the inquiry from the Judicial Conduct Board.

Sanction

On balance, a one-year suspension is required to protect the public and preserve confidence in the New Jersey bar. The suspension will be deferred and imposed if and when respondent is reinstated to the practice of law in New Jersey. There is no basis to grant respondent’s request that the suspension be imposed retroactively. We further determine to prohibit respondent from seeking pro hac vice admission before any New Jersey court or tribunal until further Order of the Court.

Chair Gallipoli voted to recommend to the Court respondent’s disbarment.

(Mike Frisch)

May 17, 2022 in Bar Discipline & Process, Judicial Ethics and the Courts | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, May 16, 2022

Former CIA Officer Disbarred

A disbarment ordered last week by the New York Appellate Division for the First Judicial Department

On January 26, 2015, respondent was convicted after a jury trial, in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, of multiple federal felonies: unauthorized conveyance of government property in violation of 18 USC § 641; unauthorized disclosure of national defense information in violation of 18 USC § 793(d) and (e); unlawful retention of national defense information in violation of 18 USC § 793(e); and obstruction of justice in violation of 18 USC § 1512(c)(1). He was sentenced to 42 months imprisonment, supervised release for two years and ordered to pay a special assessment of $900.

Respondent's conviction stemmed from his employment at the CIA where he was assigned to a classified project designed to undermine Iran's nuclear program. Among other things, respondent shared classified information about the Iranian nuclear program with a reporter, which was published in a book.

Because the disbarment for a federal felony not "substantially different" from a state felony, disbarment was automatic when he was convicted.

Thus, the AGC loses in seeking prospective treatment

The Committee further contends that respondent did not report his January 26, 2015 conviction until December 13, 2021 and therefore moves to make respondent's disbarment effective as of the date of the Committee's motion. Respondent urges that the disbarment be made nunc pro tunc to the date of his conviction.

First, we note that respondent committed professional misconduct by failing to timely report his conviction to either the Court or the Committee as required by Judiciary Law § 90(4)(c) and 22 NYCRR 1240.12(a). Although this failure to timely report his conviction may be germane to any future application for reinstatement (see 22 NYCRR 1240.16[a]), it does not affect respondent's disbarment date. Indeed, the statutory language of Judiciary Law § 90(4)(a) clearly states that disbarment occurs upon conviction, and the convicted person ceases to be an attorney at that time (see Matter of Barash, 20 NY2d 154, 157 [1967] [finding that the "law is settled that upon a conviction for felony a lawyer is ipso facto disbarred"]).

Accordingly, the Committee's motion should be granted, and respondent is disbarred and his name stricken from the roll of attorneys and counselors-at-law in the State of New York, effective nunc pro tunc to January 26, 2015, the date of his conviction.

The Intercept reported 

The government’s case consisted mostly of records of emails and phone calls between Sterling and[New York Times reporter] Risen that began in 2001 and continued into 2005. The emails were very short, just a line or so, and did not reference any CIA programs. The phone calls were mostly short too, some just a few seconds, and the government did not introduce recordings or transcripts of any of them.

May 16, 2022 in Bar Discipline & Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, May 14, 2022

Quarterly Report

The highly informative April 2022 quarterly report of the North Carolina Office of Counsel summarizes a number of matters at various stages of the disciplinary process, including

Nikita V. Mackey – 19 DHC 9 and 19 DHC 23
Mackey, of Charlotte, collected legal fees and engaged in the unauthorized practice of law while his law license was administratively suspended, neglected and did not communicate with two clients, did not refund unearned fees, made a false representation in his petition for reinstatement, did not participate in good faith in the mandatory fee dispute resolution process, and did not respond to the Grievance Committee. In a separate case, Mackey neglected and did not communicate with a client, vandalized cars owned by his former spouse and her father by discharging a firearm into them, negotiated a check upon which he forged his former spouse’s endorsement, and slept during a substantial portion of a client’s federal criminal trial. Mackey did not appear at the hearing and was disbarred by the DHC

Brian Love of Durham submitted an affidavit of surrender of his law license. Love used the personal information of victims to falsely register online accounts in their names, impersonated victims in sexually explicit communications with others, obtained and transmitted sexually explicit images of victims to others without their consent, and used fraudulent online accounts to repeatedly text victims, with the intent to harass them and cause them substantial emotional distress. Love pled guilty to the federal felony offenses of Aggravated Identity Theft and Stalking. He was disbarred by the Wake County Superior Court.

Robert Lewis – 18 DHC 36
Lewis, of Raleigh, was sanctioned by the bankruptcy court because he did not file required pleadings, filed pleadings containing false and misleading representations, charged an impermissible fee, did not maintain a client ledger of entrusted funds, affixed his clients’ electronic signatures to pleadings and other documents without their consent, did not adequately communicate with his clients, disobeyed the rules of a tribunal, and did not report his misconduct to the State Bar as the bankruptcy court ordered him to do. It is also alleged that Lewis violated multiple trust accounting rules, had an improper sexual relationship with a client, and perjured himself while being deposed by the State Bar. Hearing was continued and has not been rescheduled.

Frank Chut, Jr. – 21 DHC 6
It is alleged that Chut, of Greensboro and an Assistant United States Attorney, misled a witness testifying before a grand jury by informing the witness that she was not the target or subject of the investigation when Chut knew that the witness had some level of involvement in the criminal activity and later presented evidence against the witness to a grand jury resulting in a criminal indictment of the witness. In December 2021, the DHC entered an order staying the proceedings so the State Bar can investigate additional allegations.

Lloyd T. Kelso – 21 DHC 21
It is alleged that Kelso, of Gastonia, attempted to have sexual relations with a client, provided financial assistance to a client, and revealed confidential information. Hearing has not been scheduled.

Mark A. Key – 21 DHC 23
It is alleged that Mark Key, of Lillington, engaged in courtroom misconduct that resulted in a mistrial, had a sexual relationship with a client, withheld taxes from employee paychecks and did not remit those funds to taxing authorities, mishandled entrusted funds, engaged in mortgage fraud, and was delinquent in paying substantial federal and state taxes in his personal and professional capacities. Hearing has not been scheduled.

Michael DeMayo – 22 DHC 1
It is alleged that DeMayo, of Charlotte, engaged in an 80-minute telephone call in an effort to coerce, mislead, and frighten a client not to transfer her case to a departing associate; engaged in dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation in his statements to the departing associate about the content of that call; and engaged in conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice by threatening State Bar disciplinary action as part of an offer to settle a dispute over attorney fees. Hearing is scheduled for August 3-5.

Michelle Congleton Smith – 22 DHC 13
It is alleged that Smith, of Raleigh, did not verify wiring instructions before wiring payoff funds in a refinance transaction. As a result, she wired the payoff to a fraudster. It is also alleged that she made multiple false statements to the State Bar during its investigation of the incident. Hearing has not been scheduled.

(Mike Frisch)

May 14, 2022 in Bar Discipline & Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, May 13, 2022

A Cornfield In Iowa

False statements and an OWI drew a six-month suspension of an attorney by the Iowa Supreme Court

Honesty is the hallmark of the legal profession. It should go without saying that misrepresenting facts to a court and to law enforcement violates the rules of professional conduct Iowa attorneys take an oath to uphold. Attorney Andrew Aeilts appears before us after: receiving an OWI, falsely reporting a crime, and misrepresenting his professional experience during allocution to the court sentencing him on the resulting malicious prosecution charge in an effort to excuse his conduct. The Iowa Supreme Court Grievance Commission recommends we suspend Aeilts’s license for six months for his violations of Iowa Rules of Professional Conduct 32:8.4(b), 32:8.4(c), and 32:8.4(d). Upon our de novo review of the record, we suspend Aeilts’s license for six months.

The false report concerned the father of a client

During the phone call, Cornelison told Aeilts he was going to file an ethics complaint against him. Later that day, Aeilts told Pella Police Officer Tim Donelson that Cornelison threatened to physically assault him during the telephone call. Aeilts requested that harassment charges be brought against Cornelison and sought a no-contact order. Donelson asked Aeilts if he had a recording of the conversation. Aeilts replied he did not but that he was not afraid to testify and informed Donelson that Cornelison had a criminal history.

Donelson contacted Cornelison during his investigation. Cornelison denied making any threats against Aeilts and provided a recording of the conversation as proof. At no point during the three-minute-and-thirty-two second audio recording did Cornelison make any threats that he was going to physically assault or harm Aeilts.

The OWI

The second incident giving rise to the Board’s complaint against Aeilts occurred less than a month later on September 16, when Aeilts drove while intoxicated. Around 3:40 a.m., Aeilts drove his vehicle off of the roadway, through a cornfield causing damage to the field and to his vehicle, and then drove approximately six miles with a damaged windshield before being stopped by law enforcement. Aeilts was arrested by the Marion County Sheriff’s Office...

He took an Alford plea to malicious prosecution and misrepresented his criminal law experience in allocution

In reality, Aeilts had represented clients in at least twenty-two criminal matters on charges that included OWI, trespass, assault, disorderly conduct, two different harassment charges, burglary, neglect of a dependent person, child endangerment, and drug possession. Ten were misdemeanor OWIs; two were felonies. The court sentenced Aeilts to three days in the Wayne County Jail and a $315 fine on the Malicious Prosecution charge.

Mitigation

Aeilts completed eight years of service in the Armed Forces, which we consider a mitigating factor.

(Mike Frisch)

May 13, 2022 in Bar Discipline & Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

A Murder In Scarsdale

We recently reported on an Illinois recommendation of disbarment for first degree murder.

The New York Appellate Division imposed that sanction as an automatic consequence of first degree manslaughter conviction

On May 22, 2018, respondent pleaded guilty in Supreme Court, Westchester County, to manslaughter in the first degree in violation of Penal Law § 125.20, which is a class B felony. Respondent admitted that, on January 20, 2016, he stabbed his wife multiple times, with the intent to cause serious physical injury, and caused her death. He was sentenced to 20 years imprisonment to be followed by 5 years of post-release supervision. Orders of protection against respondent were also issued on behalf of various members of the victim's family.

lohud. reported on the crime

Julius "Jules" Reich said he thinks about his family, including his wife, every day.

Reich has had plenty of days to think in jail since he stabbed his estranged wife, Dr. Robin Goldman, to death on Jan. 20, 2016, in their Scarsdale home.

The 64-year-old will have a lot more time behind bars after he was sentenced today to 20 years in prison for killing Goldman, 58, who prosecutors said was stabbed 22 times in the shower. The couple had been preparing for a divorce when the slaying occurred.

I shall bear the guilt forever," Reich said in Westchester County Court before Judge Barry Warhit sentenced him.

Reich, wearing a black suit and glasses, choked up as he read from a statement in which he expressed remorse and sorrow for the "unfathomable" damage he has caused.

That damage includes being cut off by his three adult children and his grandchildren, none of whom were in court. Reich signed orders of protection for them before he was sentenced.

"I hope and pray that they stay strong," he said, "to continue their lives and careers with the love and devotion their mother exemplified."

The New York Post had details of the crime

Julius Reich, a former financial services executive, stabbed Dr. Robin Goldman, a prominent pediatrician, 22 times with an 8-inch kitchen knife as she took a shower.

They were getting a divorce but still living together in their Scarsdale home when Reich killed her.

...After Reich stabbed his wife to death on Jan. 20, 2016, he walked downstairs and smoked a cigarette before calling cops to report the slaying.

(Mike Frisch)

May 13, 2022 in Bar Discipline & Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Nebraska Accepts Domestic Violence Victimization As Mitigating Factor

The Nebraska Supreme Court has accepted domestic violence-induced trauma as a mitigating factor in an attorney discipline matter accepting this testimony

Hecht testified to the “Power and Control Wheel of Violence,” which addresses both physical and sexual violence and is divided into eight criteria and is applicable regardless of the gender of the person exercising power and control. Hecht testified that all of the following indicia were present with the respondent’s relationship with her ex-husband: (1) using intimidation; (2) using emotional abuse; (3) using isolation; (4) minimizing, denying, or blaming; (5) using children; (6) using male privilege; (7) using economic abuse; and (8) using coercion and threats. Hecht related a series of traumas the respondent had experienced over the course of her life starting in her childhood, which traumas included sexual assault and her marriage to her abusive husband at age 16. The respondent gave birth to her older daughter when the respondent was 17 years old. The respondent’s ex-husband became increasingly abusive, and the escalating demands began to overwhelm the respondent “to the point of being actually immobilized at some point and not
able to use what we know are the intellectual and emotional capacity that she actually has.” This was exacerbated when the ex-husband became physically violent toward the couple’s older daughter, and the respondent was alerted that he might be sexually inappropriate toward the older daughter.

Specifically

In 2019, the respondent was teaching the older daughter how to drive an automobile; her ex-husband found out and flew into a rage. The ex-husband attacked and threatened to kill the daughter, the respondent, and himself. The younger daughter, in fear, called the police, but the police took no further action after defusing the matter on scene. A month later, the husband had “another violent temper tantrum,” and the respondent fled from the house with the younger daughter, went to a park, and told her husband she was calling the police. When the respondent and younger daughter returned home, the husband was gone, and he never returned. The respondent had described her husband’s abandonment as “number one crisis and loss in her life.” Hecht testified that as of this event, the respondent was devastated and became nonfunctional for a period of months. She also lost her law license, and this was followed by extreme financial problems and economic privation.

The misconduct

[Respondent] admitted that she used her IOLTA to shield money from the Internal Revenue Service’s levy attempts, placing client money at risk for seizure; that she deposited funds into the Castrejon Law Office IOLTA greater than necessary to pay bank service charges on that account; that she deposited funds that were not connected with the representation of a client; and that she commingled her funds with client funds. With respect to the former client, she admitted that she failed to provide a full accounting of services she had provided. She admitted that she failed to cooperate with the formal investigation and did not provide any of the requested information to the relator.

Impact on sanction

We have not previously addressed the role of domestic violence victimization, including intimate partner violence, coercive control, relationship abuse, and sexual violence in attorney ethical breaches. Specifically, we have not considered the role of being a victim of domestic violence serves as a mitigator in attorney discipline...

The record shows that Castrejon’s medical evidence established that she was affected by numerous mental and emotional traumas related to sexual assault and domestic partner violence. The testimonial evidence connected her mental and emotional state as a contributing cause of her misconduct. The testimony of Hecht and the respondent demonstrated that the treatment has been successful, that Castrejon is committed to continuing to work on her treatment, and that future misconduct is highly unlikely.

The court imposed a 30-month suspension effective March 2020.

The case is STATE EX REL. COUNSEL FOR DIS. v. CASTREJON. (Mike Frisch)

May 13, 2022 in Bar Discipline & Process | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, May 12, 2022

Priorities

An attorney who did not attend a scheduled court hearing after failing to secure a continuance has been reprimanded by the Arkansas Supreme Court Committee on Professional Conduct Panel A

In early January 2018, Clifford contacted opposing counsel regarding a continuance and whether opposing counsel would object. Clifford said his continuance was needed because he was getting married out of the country. Opposing counsel had an objection as his client had already taken off work and was en route from Georgia with the minor child for the hearing.

On January 5,2018, Clifford filed a Motion to Continue Trial Setting. In this motion, Clifford stated that there were several outstanding issues to investigate, subpoenas that were issued and witness lists that needs to be updated and delivered to the Plaintiff[.]" On January 8, 2018, a conference call took place regarding Clifford's Motion to Continue. Judge Compton, Clifford, and Ohlhausen were on the call. During the conference, Clifford told Judge Compton that more time was needed for him to "prove a negative" and also that he was getting married in Puerto Rico over the weekend. 

Motion denied but

On January 10, 2018, opposing counsel appeared in Judge Compton's court with his client, and attorney John Stratford appeared with Clifford's client. Stratford told Judge Compton he was appearing only on the second Motion to Continue and was not prepared to present Barton's case.

Which made postponement a fait accompli.

Respondent was ordered to pay restitution and legal fees incurred by the conduct. (Mike Frisch)

May 12, 2022 in Bar Discipline & Process | Permalink | Comments (0)