Tuesday, July 19, 2022

Jurisdiction At Issue

The New Jersey Supreme Court has imposed reciprocal disbarment of an attorney based on a Pennsylvania sanction.

The matter is somewhat unusual in that, while Pennsylvania found multiple ethics violations, none involved misuse of entrusted funds.

Rather, the problems lay elsewhere, as described by the Disciplinary Review Board.

The attorney was already subject to an indeterminate suspension for withdrawing from a criminal case on the eve of trial

The email also contained multiple accusations of prosecutorial misconduct, in addition to numerous “sovereign citizen” elements.

In that matter

We determined that respondent’s most serious ethics infraction was her improper and unilateral termination of the representation of her client, on the eve of his criminal jury trial, and determined that a three-month suspension was the appropriate quantum of discipline for respondent’s misconduct. However, the Court imposed an indeterminate suspension after respondent failed to appear on its Order to Show Cause

She is subject to a bench warrant in a criminal case involving her landlord

In 2014, respondent leased an apartment from Francine Beyer. According to the signed lease agreement, respondent agreed to pay Beyer $1,500 in rent per month. However, respondent subsequently informed Beyer she was not required to pay any rent because she was an “aboriginal indigenous Moorish American” and, therefore, “owned it all.” Besides providing the first and last month’s rent as a deposit, respondent did not pay any rent to Beyer after signing the lease.

Criminal charges ensued when she and three others broke into the apartment

Respondent was charged with criminal trespass, criminal mischief, and criminal conspiracy.

On June 2, 2015, a preliminary hearing on the criminal charges was held before the Honorable David C. Shuter. At the beginning of the hearing, respondent was uncooperative, refused to identify herself, and refused to stand or walk to the front of the court when the judge called her case. Additionally, during the hearing, respondent and her co-defendants shouted and waved Moorish flags.

She and the co-defendants sued 51 defendants (including the landlord and her attorney) in a suit found to be frivolous

On July 27, 2015, counsel for Kupersmith and other defendants filed a motion to dismiss respondent’s complaint for lack of jurisdiction and failure to state a claim. By order dated August 20, 2015, United States District Court Judge Paul S. Diamond dismissed respondent’s complaint, in its entirety, with prejudice. Judge Diamond specifically found that respondent’s claims were without merit.

In the Pennsylvania bar matter

Furthermore, respondent asserted that the ODC had not established that it had authority to file an ethics action against her and therefore, in her reply to the DB-7 letter, “move[d] for a DECLARATORY JUDGMENT against Susan Kupersmith and The Office of Disciplinary Counsel.” Respondent accused the Pennsylvania Supreme Court of discriminating against indigenous people, and “engaging in fraud, corruption, bribery, racketeering and rendering unjust judgment for the sake of profiting et cetera.”

Respondent also alleged that her attorney in the eviction action, along with Kupersmith had “conspired and attempted to: 1) Commit Murder; 2) Commit Fraud; 3) Commit Theft; 4) Engage in Bribery and Extortion.” Therefore, respondent asserted that Kupersmith “decided to utilize filing a ‘Complaint’ with the ‘Disciplinary Board’ in an attempt to advance her sodomizing murderous agenda to continue raping, robbing, and stealing from the public and particularly the Indigenous people.”

DRB on sanction

This matter raises a question of first impression in New Jersey – what is the appropriate discipline for an attorney who repeatedly claims, despite her status as an officer of the court, that she is not subject to the jurisdiction of state courts and disciplinary authorities, yet, attempts to use the court systems (state and federal), government agencies, and the rule of law as a means to achieve her personal objectives. Based on a review of disciplinary precedent, respondent is the first sovereign citizen attorney encountered by us and the Court in connection with attorney disciplinary matters, and this is her second matter before us.

...in this matter of first impression, we are presented with an attorney who once showed adherence to the rule of law. Indeed, the record shows that, at one point, respondent credibly applied her legal acumen to earn admission to the bars of New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania. At some point, for reasons unknown, respondent determined that not only was she no longer subject to the jurisdiction of courts or attorney disciplinary authorities, but that the rule of law no longer applied to her. Thus, after close examination of the unique and egregious facts of her misconduct, we are left to conclude that disbarment is the only appropriate sanction in this matter.

To begin, we acknowledge that attorneys, like all citizens, may argue against specific or general application of a rule to themselves or others. No matter what views or vision for change an individual may espouse within a locality, state, or nation, all citizens are entitled to advocate for change within the rule of law. However, respondent, as an attorney, had the further obligation to advocate for herself and her clients within the bounds of the Rules of Professional Conduct.

Thus

On this record it is clear that respondent has not acted in conformity with the rule of law or standards of the profession for at least the past eight years, and has indicated that she will not in the future. She has abandoned her oath of office and has emphatically articulated her belief that she is not subject to the jurisdiction of disciplinary authorities. Therefore, we determine that respondent could never practice in conformity with the standards of the profession. We find that the reputation of the bar cannot tolerate individuals who abandon the very oaths that we take upon admission.

New York also has imposed disbarment. (Mike Frisch)

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

Saturday, July 16, 2022

Harms

The Vermont Supreme Court increased a three month suspension to five months for a conflict of interest in drafting documents from which the attorney benefitted

The panel explained that violations of the prohibition against preparing an instrument giving a substantial gift to a lawyer were routinely found when a lawyer drafted a will that conferred beneficiary status on the lawyer or a person related to the lawyer. It concluded that the prohibition in Rule 1.8(c) was plainly worded and without exception. It rejected respondent’s assertion that he did not understand the documents to confer a gift to him, concluding that it provided no defense to the rule violation and that other courts had reached similar conclusions. Regardless of his intent, the panel held that respondent placed himself in a position to keep L.Z.’s real property or to claim her property under the will following her death.

The court sustained the Rule 1.7 conflict of interest charge as well as the Rule 1.8(c) violation.

Respondent had a duty to provide L.Z. with independent advice, but he put himself in a position where he was advising
her to convey her property to him, which she did. There was a significant risk that his advice would be colored by his personal interests. It is undisputed that respondent failed to secure L.Z.’s informed written consent to continued representation. We reject any argument that the violation was justified because the client “insisted” on this arrangement. As another court observed under similar circumstances, if the client had “been given the benefit of independent counsel,” her “instructions m[ight] have been much different.”

Sanction

Attorneys and members of the public must know that this type of behavior will not be tolerated. We conclude  that a five-month suspension is appropriate here given the serious harm that resulted from the misconduct, the vulnerability of the victim, the lack of remorse, and the nature of the violations, particularly the violation of a clear prohibition on drafting documents gifting client property to oneself. Not only did respondent’s misconduct harm his client by depriving her of independent advice but it harmed L.Z.’s relatives, who will never know with confidence what L.Z. intended; all of this, in turn, harms the public’s confidence in the legal profession. A lengthy period of suspension is required.

(Mike Frisch)

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

Friday, July 15, 2022

Vicki Victoria

The Idaho Supreme Court affirmed findings of misconduct but increased the proposed sanction in a matter involving, in the main, an attorney's dealings with his mother and its effects on his siblings.

The mother (Victoria) had executed a will that made Respondent her sole heir and disinherited the siblings; Victoria also executed two powers of attorney in his favor.

On February 14, 1990, about twenty-three years before she died, Victoria executed a holographic will that bequeathed all her assets to Smith and disinherited her two other children, Joseph Smith and Victoria (Vicky) Smith Converse. Smith was the only person with Victoria when she executed the will, and he served as the sole witness.

The documents came to light after Victoria's passing

The financial and legal relationship between Victoria and Smith was one of the matters Joseph testified to during the disciplinary hearing against Smith. In that disciplinary hearing, Joseph testified that he managed several pieces of Victoria’s real property when Victoria signed the will in 1990. Joseph testified that when Victoria executed the will, he was not estranged from her. He first learned about the will several days after her funeral in September 2013.

Count One alleges misconduct in those dealings.

Also complicating the situation was a desire to shield assets from his ex-wife

Victoria died on September 11, 2013. Joseph petitioned for formal adjudication of intestacy and formal appointment of personal representative on October 3, 2014, alleging her holographic will was the result of undue influence. Joseph asked the court to determine that the will was invalid and find that Victoria died intestate. Three days later, Smith recorded the first and second POAs. On October 6, 2014, Smith also recorded the July 6, 2012, deeds that transferred Victoria’s real property to VHS [an entity controlled by Respondent's new wife]. 

On September 6, 2018, Smith filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. He testified that he filed for bankruptcy because his ex-wife was trying to satisfy a judgment against him. The bankruptcy court dismissed Smith’s bankruptcy petition in an oral ruling on September 11, 2019, explaining that Smith had “displayed a steadfast dedication to protecting his own interests.”

Count Two

On January 8, 2016, Smith filed a certificate of organization for a limited liability company, creating the “law office of Vernon K. Smith, LLC.” Smith identified himself and his wife, Vicki, as the “governors” of the LLC. Smith and Vicki signed the certificate of organization as the organizers of the LLC. Vicki signed and filed the annual reports for the LLC during the reporting years 2017, 2018, and 2019, and identified herself as a member of the LLC.

Smith testified during the disciplinary hearing that he gave Vicki a 90 percent interest in the law firm and he “retained ten percent to show a right to use” the office.

The Bankruptcy Court concluded that 

Respondent entered into an arrangement whereby he effectively agreed to practice law for his wife as an employee. His wife is a non-lawyer. Fundamental first year law school instruction would suggest that there are ethical problems with a lawyer who agrees to be subject to the control of a non-lawyer in connection with the practice of law.

Count Three alleged failure to pay state and federal taxes.

In the disciplinary proceeding

Here, many of the facts that Smith contests have been the subject of past litigation and appeals, all of which were decided against Smith. For example, the following facts have been adjudicated and determined to be true: (1) Victoria’s holographic will resulted from undue influence, (2) the first power of attorney did not authorize the transfer of real property; and (3) second power of attorney terminated on Victoria’s death. These matters were all decided in prior litigation before this Court. Smith was a party to those proceedings, and in some cases, has tried to argue the merits before this Court repeatedly. But in each of these cases, he has had a full and fair opportunity for the issues to be decided, and a final judgment on the merits was issued in those cases.

As to Victoria's will

Smith first argues there was no risk of a conflict of interest in advising Victoria on drafting her will because she wanted him involved. Smith maintains he was a loyal son and contributed legal services when Victoria requested. Smith asserts the Bar failed to show undue influence or a conflict of interest related to the will.

As discussed above, we will not entertain an argument that the will was not the product of undue influence. This issue was soundly decided against Smith in Matter of Est. of Smith, 164 Idaho at 463, 432 P.3d at 12. Thus, the only question is whether the record supports the Committee’s findings that Smith failed to obtain informed consent, confirmed in writing prior to undertaking representation of Victoria before he witnessed the execution of her will. We hold it does.

POAs

As with the will, Smith has repeatedly tried to relitigate his claim that the POA did not terminate on Victoria’s death.

...the Committee concluded that Smith used the second POA to transfer Victoria’s personal and real property to VHS on July 4, 2012, for $10.00 consideration. The value of the transfer was estimated at twenty-seven million dollars. Despite executing the deeds in 2012, Smith did not record the deeds until October 2014—after his brother started probate proceedings. Smith claimed he forgot to record the deeds, but the Committee found, and we agree, the more probable explanation of why he failed to record the deeds was that he “intended to hide the transactions” from his ex-wife and siblings.

The court affirmed findings of dishonesty as well as the misconduct found in the other counts.

Sanction

Based on our case law, as well as the serious and continuous nature of the ethical violations discussed above, and the recommendation from the Committee, we conclude and will order that Smith be suspended from the practice of law in Idaho for a period of five years. I.B.C.R. 506(c). Two years of his suspension is withheld upon Smith being granted permission to transfer his license from affiliate to active status under the applicable Idaho Bar Commission Rules after three years. Before Smith is eligible for transfer or reinstatement to active practice in Idaho, he must receive approval pursuant to I.B.C.R. 304, 305, and 518(b). Prior to transfer to active status or reinstatement, Smith must also show that he fully complied with the requirements of I.B.C.R. 516 and 517 and that, during the time between the issuance of this Opinion and Smith’s reinstatement, he passed the MPRE with a scaled score of at least 85, or its equivalent should there be any changes to the test or its scoring regimen. Smith is also required to reimburse the Bar for the costs associated with this appeal and the underlying proceedings.

(Mike Frisch)

July 15, 2022 in Bar Discipline & Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Giuliani Answers Bar Charges

Rudy Giuliani's Answer to the Specification of Charges filed by District of Columbia Disciplinary Counsel was filed on July 13. 

The pleadings in the case can be accessed here.

The Answer was not signed by counsel but by the Respondent. (Mike Frisch)

July 15, 2022 in Bar Discipline & Process | Permalink | Comments (1)

Hands On Representation Draws Stayed Suspension

The Kansas Supreme Court has ordered a stayed one year suspension and 18 months probation for a defense attorney's representation of an incarcerated client.

Among the stipulated findings

On February 20, 2020, Respondent spoke to Client G.O. prior to the designated court hearing time. During this conversation, Client G.O. was in custody, escorted by two law enforcement officers, and seated in the jury box waiting for his hearing. G.O. was in handcuffs and ankle shackles. The deputies each were equipped with a body camera and audio.

On February 20, 2020, Respondent can be seen on the body camera video of an officer entering the court room and approaching Client G.O. who is cuffed and seated in the jury box.
a. Respondent placed documents on the jury box railing as he talked to Client G.O. about waiving his preliminary hearing and setting a plea date for a plea to criminal threat a felony. Client G.O. did not understand or want to waive his preliminary hearing and did not want to plead to a felony.
b. After a period of time, Respondent can be heard using expletives in his conversation with Client G.O. and appeared to be frustrated and irritated with Client G.O.
c. Client G.O. can be heard on the video stating in part to Respondent, '. . . you should tell me, you work for me, I don't know . . . .'
d. Respondent reached over the jury box railing and touched Client G.O. by grabbing his shoulder/arm to pull him closer to speak in an aggressive fashion.
e. The interaction between Respondent and his client alarmed officers. One officer immediately intervened physically and moved to stand between Respondent and Client G.O. to provide a physical barrier to protect Client G.O. from Respondent. The officer stated to Respondent, 'No, negative, no, step away from him, no, leave, I've had enough, you've cussed him out, you're not allowed to touch him, go out to the hallway and cool down.'

The court

We adopt the findings and conclusions set forth by the parties in the summary submission and at oral argument. A minority of the court, after reviewing the body camera footage, would find that the undisputed evidence does not establish a violation of KRPC 8.4(d) and 8.4(g).

(Mike Frisch)

July 15, 2022 in Bar Discipline & Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Three For Tennessee

The Tennessee Board on Professional Responsibility has issued public censures in three unrelated matters.

An attorney engaged in a conflict of interest by representing a husband accused of first degree murder while also representing the wife who was charged with conspiracy to commit the same offense. He did not have a written fee agreement and had not explained the conflict to the clients.

An attorney was censured for neglect of an accident case.

Finally, an attorney who had practiced in Georgia for seven years while suspended administrative in Tennessee and who had no other active license was censured for unauthorized practice. (Mike Frisch)

July 15, 2022 in Bar Discipline & Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, July 14, 2022

Former State Bar Director Charged With False Statements

The ABA Journal has reported on recent public charges filed by the California State Bar alleging two false statements by its former Executive Director.

Alleged false statements 

On or about May 6, 2014, respondent, in his capacity as Executive Director, recommended that the Board sponsor the California State Assembly Bill AB 852 and stated in writing to the Board that “there is no known opposition to the measure” when respondent knew that statement was false and misleading. Respondent thereby committed an act involving moral turpitude, dishonesty, or corruption in willful violation of Business and Professions Code, section 6106.

And

In or about November 2013, respondent, in his capacity as Executive Director, stated to the Board that no State Bar funds would be used to fund a trip to Mongolia in January 2014 when respondent knew that statement was false and misleading. Respondent thereby committed an act involving moral turpitude, dishonesty, or corruption in willful violation of Business and Professions Code, section 6106.

Respondent had sued the State Bar for wrongful termination from his position and lost as reported by the Sacramento Bee in 2017

Capping a years-long conflict, an arbitrator Monday rejected former state Sen. Joseph Dunn’s allegation that he was fired as executive director of the State Bar for blowing the whistle on the licensing organization’s lapses.

Arbitrator Edward Infante had conducted a trial-like hearing into Dunn’s allegations last month in Los Angeles, and Monday’s 30-page ruling exonerated the State Bar, which had said it fired Dunn in 2014 for misleading the agency’s board about critical policy matters.

Dunn had initially filed a lawsuit against the State Bar, but his allegation was diverted into an arbitration proceeding under terms of his contract. Infante found that Dunn had, indeed, misled the board.

Dunn, a Democrat who represented Orange County in the Senate, had sought more than $4 million for his whistleblower claim and another $190,000 in severance pay.

Dunn’s stormy tenure as State Bar executive director and his subsequent whistleblower claim have roiled an agency already under fire for running up a backlog of disciplinary actions against the attorney it licenses.

Last year, the Legislature deadlocked on an otherwise routine bill authorizing the State Bar to continue collecting “dues” from attorneys to support its operations.

The conflict was over how extensively the Legislature should write State Bar reforms.

The state Supreme Court authorized the State Bar to continue collecting dues until the legislative stalemate was resolved, and it’s back on the agenda for this year’s legislative session.

This case bears close scrutiny. These alleged false statements were made eight and nine years ago and apparently were well known to disciplinary authorities for at least five years.

Justice, retaliation or a mix?

It is fair to say that the California disciplinary arm has once again not covered itself in glory. (Mike Frisch)

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

Wednesday, July 13, 2022

The World Was His Oyster (Bay)

The New York Appellate Division for the Second Judicial Department has disbarred a former public official

From in or about 1992 through 2017, the respondent held various positions in the Town of Oyster Bay, as follows: in or about March 1992, the respondent was hired as an Assistant Town Attorney; in or around 1994, he was promoted to Deputy Town Attorney; from 1998 through 2002, he served as special counsel to the Town Supervisor; in or around October 2002 through 2010, he was appointed as Deputy Town Supervisor; from 2010 until his resignation in January 2017, he held the position of Town Attorney while continuing to perform the functions of the Deputy Town Supervisor.

Town contracts

During his tenure as an employee with the Town, the respondent, together with others, tailored RFPs to give an advantage to predetermined service providers who were typically political contributors. One such individual was Harendrah Singh, a concessionaire with the Town who ran concessions at the Town of Oyster Bay Golf Course (hereinafter the golf course) and Tobay Beach. Between 1998, when Singh was awarded his first RFP, through 2008, the respondent would meet with Singh so that Singh could assist in tailoring RFPs for the golf course and Tobay Beach. As a result, Singh obtained an advantage over others in the RFP process.

In or about 2005, in connection with an RFP that Singh was proposing for Tobay Beach, the respondent consulted with the Town’s outside counsel who advised him that meeting with Singh prospectively to draft RFPs was inappropriate. Notwithstanding, the respondent thereafter continued to meet with Singh to tailor RFPs based on Singh’s requests.

In 2008, Singh was granted an RFP to extend the length of Singh’s contract to 40 years for Tobay Beach and 50 years for the golf course. No other vendor or contractor had similar terms.

The Town's finances were placed at risk in the dealings with Singh.

Sanction

Notwithstanding the mitigation advanced, we find that the respondent committed serious misconduct by engaging in long-term corruptive practices as a public official for personal and professional benefit. Indeed, for years the respondent routinely consulted with Singh, who at the relevant times was vying for  government contracts, and did so to ensure Singh’s success in obtaining those contracts. By orchestrating indirect loan guarantees by the Town, the respondent assisted Singh in obtaining loans for millions of dollars, which he otherwise was unqualified to receive. In the process, the respondent jeopardized the financial well-being of the Town. In exchange, the respondent received thousands of dollars in bribes from Singh through free meals, transportation, and use of rental facilities. Finally, we find the fact that the respondent committed the misconduct while serving as a public official to be a significant aggravating factor, as such actions inflict substantial damage upon the public’s trust in the integrity of lawyers, government officials, and our system of governance.

Under the totality of the circumstances, we find that disbarment is warranted.

Newsday reported on civil litigation brought by the Town against Respondent. (Mike Frisch)

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

Don't Hit "Send"

The Illinois Review Board proposes a partially-stayed suspension for a series of emails to a judicial officer.

The Administrator brought a one-count complaint, charging Respondent with making a false or reckless statement impugning the integrity of a judge; engaging in conduct intended to disrupt a tribunal; and engaging in conduct that was prejudicial to the administration of justice, in violation of Rules 3.5(d), 8.2(a), and 8.4(d) of the Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct.

The complaint alleged that Respondent sent three emails to a federal magistrate judge and others that contained false and reckless statements attacking the judge’s integrity, which were intended to disrupt the court proceedings, and which prejudiced the administration of justice.

...we affirm the Hearing Board’s findings, and agree with its recommendation that Respondent be suspended for nine months, with the suspension stayed after six months by a six-month period of probation, subject to the recommended conditions.

The case at issue

Respondent represented Barry Epstein in a divorce proceeding in 2012. Respondent filed a lawsuit in federal court in 2014, on behalf of Epstein, alleging that his wife, Paula Epstein, and her divorce attorney violated the federal wiretap statute by illegally accessing Epstein’s emails. Magistrate Judge Sheila Finnegan (“the judge”) supervised the discovery process in the federal case. The judge had an email account, known as the proposed order box, which allowed litigants to electronically submit proposed orders to the judge, and to address certain scheduling issues.

The three emails are quoted and drew a sanction by the Northern District of Illinois's Executive Committee

Despite being advised in writing by Judge Finnegan that the communication was improper, Ms. Lane continued sending lengthy emails, using unprofessional, inappropriate, and threatening language during the course of the proceedings…. Some of the misconduct included referring to Judge Finnegan's orders as “outrageous” and stating that, “Judges are helping the criminal to escape punishment by forcing to shorten all deadlines!!!” … In her response [to the Executive Committee], Ms. Lane apologized to Judge Finnegan …. Ms. Lane attempted to explain her conduct by asserting that she was “under extreme pressure to ensure that justice was served” and that she harbors “deep concerns about Judge Finnegan's impartiality.” While Ms. Lane apologized, she continued to support her decision to use unprofessional and inappropriate language.

The Review Board

In this case, the record shows that Respondent impugned the judge’s integrity by making false accusations that the judge was acting unethically based on her bias, rather than acting based on the facts and law. Respondent’s knowing and reckless falsehoods included the following:
• the judge had issued a fraudulent order;
• the judge had engaged in ex parte communications with opposing counsel, smearing dirt behind Respondent’s back;
• the judge was protecting a criminal and helping that criminal to escape punishment;• the judge’s sincerity and veracity were called into question;
• the judge was not objective;
• the judge was denying justice to Respondent’s client;
• and the judge was not giving Respondent a fair chance, was treating Respondent badly, and was protecting the opposing party.

Sanction

In making our recommendation, we have given careful consideration to the mitigating factors in this matter, including Respondent’s legal assistance to the Turkish Consulate General and the Turkish community; her mental health counseling; the testimony of Respondent’s character witness; Respondent’s lack of prior discipline; and the other mitigating factors identified by the Hearing Board. We conclude that the need for a harsher sanction is offset by the mitigating factors. We also conclude, however, that the mitigating factors here are insufficient to avoid suspension, and probation as recommended.

(Mike Frisch)

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

Ignore At One's Peril

An attorney's failure to participate in a disciplinary investigation blossomed from interim suspension to disbarment by the New York Appellate Division for the First Judicial Department.

as six months have elapsed since this Court's September 16, 2021 suspension order, and respondent has neither responded to, nor appeared for, further investigatory or disciplinary proceedings, the Committee's motion for an order disbarring respondent pursuant to 22 NYCRR 1240.9(b) should be granted and his name stricken from the roll of attorneys in the State of New York, effective immediately

The New York Law Journal reported in October 2021

A New York lawyer who previously practiced at K&L Gates and later was a partner at Carter, Ledyard & Milburn has been suspended from practicing law pending further disciplinary action after ignoring a subpoenaed deposition focused on allegations that he had clients pay him advance legal fees, instead of his law firm, before then ignoring the matters and refusing to repay the fees.

According to an Appellate Division, First Department opinion immediately suspending Justin A. Greenblum, the lawyer allegedly collected some $73,000 in advance legal fees from various clients and then ignored repeated requests that he refund the fees to them. (The First Department did not specify at which firm Greenblum was working when the alleged wrongdoing occurred, but the timing of when the clients lodged grievance committee complaints and a look at Greenblum’s professional biography suggests that it was during his seven-year stretch as a Carter Ledyard partner handling high-level commercial litigation.)

(Mike Frisch)

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

Sunday, July 10, 2022

Gambling Addiction Mitigation Not Established

The Law Society of Alberta Appeal Division agreed with a Hearing Committee that disbarment was appropriate for misuse of entrusted funds 

In summary, while a member of another large national law firm in its Calgary office, Mr. Liakopoulos agreed to act as trustee of the Trust upon its formation in approximately 2006. The Beneficiary was a company incorporated in the British Virgin Islands.

Misconduct

over a period of approximately two years (2016 - 2018), Mr. Liakopoulos transferred significant sums of money (more than one million dollars) from the Trust to the account of a numbered company, of which he was the sole shareholder and director. The money was used by Mr. Liakopoulos personally for gambling purposes. Restitution by Mr. Liakopoulos was never made. Mr. Liakopoulos was suspended on March 15, 2019 after an investigation by the LSA following Mr. Liakopoulos’ submission of a self-report to the LSA on August 7, 2018 (Self-Report).

At issue on appeal

  At the Hearing, Liakopoulos provided a letter dated February 14, 2020, from Dr. RH (the Dr. RH Letter) indicating that Liakopoulos had been in his care since 2018 for his gambling addiction. The Dr. RH Letter described previous diagnoses and prescriptions as “spurious” and distracting from his diagnosis of addiction. Dr. RH diagnosed Liakopoulos as having met the criteria for Pathological Gambling Addiction and considered him unfit for work until the end of January 2019 due to addiction and mental health problems. He detailed the treatment programs Liakopoulos had attended subsequent to his resignation. The Dr. RH Letter indicated that Liakopoulos faced extreme financial and emotional hardship over the prior two years, expressed the view that the defalcation occurred because of the addiction and mental health issues and expressed the conclusion that Liakopoulos was the subject of a wrongful dismissal. This report was only provided to the Committee and counsel for the LSA shortly before the Hearing commenced. Dr. RH was not called to give evidence, nor was he qualified as an expert witness or in relation to his particular medical expertise.

Apart from the Dr. RH Letter, no independent medical evidence was provided to the Committee at the Hearing or in any of the exhibits in the Exhibit Binder…

Dr. RH was not qualified as a medical expert or called to testify

Mr. Liakopoulos submits that the Decision of the Committee was unreasonable, the appeal should be allowed, the sanction of disbarment should be set aside and a sanction that is reasonable having regard to Mr. Liakopoulos’ mental illness of addiction be substituted instead. It must be said that Mr. Liakopoulos’ submissions were at times confusing in terms of the result which he sought from the Appeal Panel. See for example, his submission at page 15 of the Appeal Transcript where Mr. Liakopoulos argued that he is not asserting that the medical evidence be used so as to allow him to resume the practice of law. Rather, that it be admitted and acknowledged that he suffered from a mental illness and that formed the basis for the decision to disbar him.

Mr. Liakopoulos argues there is sufficient and credible evidence of his mental illness of addiction on the record and evidence of a causal link between the conduct and his mental illness of addiction.

The Appeal Division

The evidence here in the form of the Dr. RH Letter was reviewed and assessed by the Committee and given the weight which it believed it deserved. Based on that limited evidence it found that the evidence was problematic and failed to establish a causal link between Mr. Liakopoulos’ issues related to gambling and the behaviour under consideration. The Committee was not unreasonable to have so found on the evidence before it.

(Mike Frisch)

July 10, 2022 in Bar Discipline & Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, July 8, 2022

Prior Lack Of Discipline No Bar To Disbarment

A two-year suspension was increased to disbarment by the Michigan Attorney Discipline Board

Here, “absence of a prior disciplinary record” is the sole mitigating factor presented and should not have been given so much weight under the circumstances. The misconduct found in this case involves multiple instances of neglecting client matters and failing to protect client interests, engaging in dishonest conduct, commingling and misappropriating client funds, and the misuse of an IOLTA. In addition, respondent failed to participate in his disciplinary proceedings by failing to timely answer requests for investigation, continuously made misrepresentations to the Attorney Grievance Commission, failed twice to appear for his statement under oath, failed to answer the Formal Complaint, and failed to appear at the discipline hearings.

In addition, there were also extensive aggravating factors present here: dishonest or selfish motive [9.22(b)]; pattern of misconduct [9.22(c)]; multiple offenses [9.22(d)]; bad faith obstruction of the disciplinary process [9.22(e)]; submission of false evidence, false statements, or other deceptive practices during the disciplinary process [9.22(f)]; refusal to acknowledge the wrongful nature of the conduct [9.22(g)]; vulnerability of the victims [9.22(h)]; substantial experience in the practice of law [9.22(I)]; and indifference to make restitution [9.22(j)].

With regard to mitigation sufficient to justify a downward departure from the disbarment standard, there simply is none. This case is not unlike the many others in which a lawyer has been disbarred for intentionally converting client funds. Although it is true that respondent lacks a prior disciplinary record, given the seriousness of respondent’s misconduct here, such mitigation is insufficient, particularly in light of the aggravating factors. See Hadden, supra; Grievance Administrator v Tyslenko, 12-17-GA (ADB 2013). Accordingly, we increase the discipline imposed to disbarment.

(Mike Frisch)

July 8, 2022 in Bar Discipline & Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

In Camera

The Kansas Supreme Court has accepted the license surrender of an attorney facing criminal charges

On September 30, 2020, the State of Kansas charged Troy Douglas Renkemeyer, an attorney admitted to practice law in the State of Kansas, with one count of breach of privacy, a severity level 8-person felony in violation of K.S.A. 2020 Supp. 21-6101(a)(6), in the District Court of Johnson County, Kansas. That charge remains pending. The disciplinary complaint filed with the Disciplinary Administrator as a result of that charge also remains pending.

He was profiled in this October 2020 Fox 4 report

A tax attorney is facing charges for allegedly secretly filming women using the restroom of an office building.

Troy D. Renkemeyer, 51, is charged with one count of breach of privacy by video or picture in Johnson County court.

According to the affidavit, Renkemeyer owns Renkemeyer Law Firm in Overland Park. The firm operated in a shared business space.

On Sept. 28, a woman using the restroom in the building said she discovered a “block shaped item” on a table in the room.

The next day, the woman told police she noticed a camera attached to the bottom of the table, pointed directly at the toilet. The woman told police she noticed two micro SD cards in the camera and she went to Target to buy an SD card reader.

According to court documents, the woman told police that she viewed the video on the SD cards and they contained footage of her and other women using the restroom. She told officers that the footage also showed Renkemeyer setting up the camera.

A police officer viewed the footage and determined that it showed Renkemeyer setting up the camera. The officer watched until they allegedly saw one women being filmed while she was using the restroom.

None of the women consented to being filmed, according to the affidavit.

Renkemeyer bonded out of the Johnson County jail on $2,500. He’s scheduled to appear at a preliminary hearing Dec. 16.

An attorney for Renkemeyer said it’s their policy not to comment on cases involving their clients unless necessary under the Kansas Rules of Professional Conduct.

He had previously been suspended for one year. (MIke Frisch)

July 8, 2022 in Bar Discipline & Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Holiday In Vegas

The British Columbia Law Society Tribunal Hearing Division has ordered disbarment of an attorney

The Panel’s findings of professional misconduct are set out in paras. 39 to 48 of the F&D Decision.  The misconduct can be broadly summarized as the Respondent exploited a vulnerable client for his own benefit.  The Respondent’s client was under psychiatric care, was financially destitute and on the facts of her family case, was certain to receive a settlement valued in the millions.  The Respondent provided an abysmal quality of service, failed to act with honesty and candour and pressured his client into entering into an unfair and unethical contingency fee agreement entitling him to 20 per cent of any settlement.  Once the contingency fee agreement was in place, the Respondent ignored his client’s instructions and instead focused his efforts on obtaining a settlement.  The Respondent entered into a settlement that was contrary to his client’s instructions, misled her about the terms of the settlement and took over a million dollars in fees, which he was not entitled to under the unfair and unethical contingency fee agreement.  At a later taxation, the court described the settlement as a poor result – no more than the minimum she was entitled to.  The Respondent’s conduct was dishonest and a gross abuse of his vulnerable client.

July 8, 2022 in Bar Discipline & Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

"Attempting To Kiss An Undercover Investigator"

The Nevada Supreme Court has ordered an attorney's interim suspension and prohibited him from withdrawing entrusted fund without Bar Counsel's written approval.

Law & Crime reported on his recent arrest

A Las Vegas lawyer who previously had his license suspended for stealing from his clients appears to be in a world of trouble—again—after allegedly sexually harassing his employees, having sex with his clients that he knew was being captured on video, and attempting to kiss an undercover investigator.

Douglas Crawford, 67, was arrested on May 26 and charged with five misdemeanor counts of open and gross lewdness. The charges came one day after an officer posed as a potential divorce client in connection with an investigation into claims of sexual harassment made by women working at Crawford’s law firm.

Crawford is alleged to have targeted potential clients, particularly young women in search of a lawyer for divorce or child custody proceedings, in addition to employees.

When an undercover officer met with Crawford as part of a law enforcement investigation into harassment allegations at Crawford’s firm, she hadn’t been speaking with him for 20 minutes before he allegedly started making comments about her appearance, according to a story in the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Crawford allegedly told the officer he wanted to take her on a date once she was no longer his client.

He then reportedly escalated his behavior: as the officer was leaving, Crawford reportedly gave her a hug and “began to slide his hands down towards [the officer’s] buttocks,” the Review-Journal said, citing the police report.

“At the conclusion of the operation,” investigators wrote, according to a report in the Reno Gazette Journal, the undercover detective said “if she did not know what she was walking into, she believed she would have been caught off guard by Crawford’s sexual advances.”

According to police, Crawford would have sex with clients in his office, knowing that employees were able to see a live feed of surveillance footage from the room, according to the Review-Journal report.

“It was so well-known that the staffers would sometimes go gather around the video monitors in order to watch him have sex with clients when the door was closed,” Chief Deputy District Attorney Jacob Villani reportedly said at a court hearing Tuesday.

Investigators had obtained video showing Crawford “engaging in a sex act with a client in his office” that appeared to end abruptly, the Review-Journal said. Apparently, according to employees, Crawford was on a video call waiting for a court hearing at the time, and the sexual encounter only stopped because the judge had called Crawford’s case to be heard.

Reports of Crawford’s alleged sexual harassment also included him showing employees nude pictures of other women and videos of himself having sex, making comments to at least one employee about her breasts during a staff meeting, asking another employee to engage in sex acts with him for money, and exchanging legal services for sex with clients, the Review-Journal reported.

Police had begun investigating Crawford in April after the district attorney’s office received an emailed report regarding his alleged sexual harassment, the Review-Journal said, citing the arrest report.

Nevada State Bar records show that Crawford’s law license had previously been suspended, stemming from a 2007 incident in which he was found to have taken more than $100,000 in client funds. In 2009, it was discovered that he had misappropriated client funds in order to support his gambling addiction.

The Nevada State Bar disciplinary panel recommended disbarment, but the state Supreme Court found that mitigating factors—including the “mental disabilities of depression and gambling addiction”—supported a 5-year suspension of his license instead.

In 2011, Crawford pleaded guilty to stealing more than $300,000 from clients.

Las Vegas police have asked additional victims to come forward with information.

The order in Discipline of Douglas Crawford was entered on July 1. (Mike Frisch)

July 8, 2022 in Bar Discipline & Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, July 7, 2022

"Have To Have The Jail Re-Named After [Defendant]"

A judge's handling of a difficult defendant drew a proposed 60 day suspension without pay and reprimand from the Florida Judicial Qualifications Commission

As this Court has repeatedly instructed: Unprofessional conduct by a lawyer or litigant does not justify or excuse inappropriate conduct by a judge.

Words

In this instance, the Court was admonishing the litigant to refrain from interrupting the petitioner. Judge Culver told the respondent that the Court's words were "the most important words you'll ever hear as long as you live as an organism on this planet." The Court followed that up by telling the pro-se respondent that if he continued to interrupt the petitioner, the judge would send him to jail for so long that the litigant would "have to have the jail re-named after [him]". The Commission finds that Judge Culver's decision to use sarcasm and mockery to communicate with the pro-se litigant was, itself, inappropriate and violative of the Code of Judicial Conduct. While Judge Culver explained that in making those comments he was trying to grab the litigant's attention, the Commission believes, and Judge Culver now agrees, that rather than de-escalate and restore order to the proceeding, the judge's sarcastic and undignified comments served to raise the level of tension in the courtroom.

Deeds

Later during the hearing, when the Court does actually find the litigant in direct criminal contempt, Judge Culver failed to provide even the minimum of due process required to the respondent, by failing to conduct the legally required colloquy. He also failed to enter a signed judgment of guilt with the required findings as required by the Rules of Criminal Procedure, failed to advise the litigant of his right to appeal, and unlawfully imposed three consecutive contempt sentences totaling 537 days in jail. Shortly after imposing the sentences, Judge Culver modified the sentences to three concurrent contempt sentences totaling 179 days in jail. Subsequently, on May 12, 2022, Judge Culver vacated the contempt order, and set aside the three criminal contempt convictions and all related sentences.

The judge stipulated to the misconduct. (Mike Frisch)

July 7, 2022 in Judicial Ethics and the Courts | Permalink | Comments (0)

Initial Misconduct Draws Second Disbarment

The New York Appellate Division for the First Judicial Department reciprocally disbarred an attorney based on a sanction imposed in Georgia

On February 19, 2020, respondent, pro se, filed a petition for voluntary discipline with the Supreme Court of the State of Georgia, requesting a suspension from the practice of law for twelve months. According to her petition, in 2018 respondent represented a client in successfully vacating a felony conviction. The following year, however, the client contacted her because he had been denied a concealed carry permit in Florida, based on the agency's belief that his firearm rights had been suspended in Georgia. She returned to the court on several occasions to obtain a clarifying order, which the judge agreed to sign once he modified some of the language contained therein. On May 22, 2019, respondent went to the court again to obtain the judge's signature on the order, evidently believing he was presiding that day. When she learned the judge was not, she signed his initials to the order, with full awareness that she did not have permission to do so. She then presented the order to the clerk of the court.

On June 11, 2019, respondent was indicted in Superior Court, Fulton County, Georgia, on one count of forgery in the first degree, a felony. On January 6, 2020, respondent entered a negotiated plea of nolo contendere to the misdemeanor crime of obstruction of officers, pursuant to the First Offender Act, and she was sentenced to one year probation, with a special condition not to practice law for twelve months while on probation. Respondent admitted that her conduct and plea constituted a violation of the Georgia Rules of Professional Conduct (GRPC) rules 4.1(a) and 8.4(a)(3), (4), and (8). She asserted, however, that her conduct, while serious and violative of duties owed to the public pursuant to ABA standards 5.0 and 6.0, did not warrant disbarment, especially given her 34-year legal career and representation of indigent defendants. She contended that her act was abhorrent, uncharacteristic, and inexplicable in her otherwise exemplary career, she promptly accepted responsibility for her conduct and cooperated with the State Bar,  she enjoys an outstanding reputation in the legal community and expressed sincere remorse and contrition.

The State Bar disagreed. In fleshing out respondent's underlying actions, it noted in its response to her petition that the clerk realized that the signature was not that of the judge. Further, respondent told the clerk that the judge had signed it that morning. Observing that it did not look like the judge's signature, the clerk's supervisor advised respondent that she was going to call the judge, ultimately sending him a text copy of the document. The judge confirmed that he had not signed the order and wanted to speak with respondent, but respondent had left, later asserting that she had had an emergency. The forgery was reported to the police, who collected the falsified order, text messages, and video footage. In his statement, the judge told the police that he was not comfortable signing the draft order without rewording, despite respondent's later claim that it was a "misunderstanding."

The State Bar sought a greater sanction

On June 3, 2020, respondent requested that her petition for voluntary discipline be converted to voluntary surrender of her license to practice law. In reply, the State Bar noted that both petitions could be considered together as a complete petition for voluntary surrender of her law license. The maximum penalty for a single violation of GRPC rules 4.1(a), 8.4(a)(3), 8.4(a)(4) and 8.4(a)(8) was disbarment. It asked the court to grant her petition as amended which, it noted, was tantamount to disbarment (GRPC rule 1.0[r]).

(Mike Frisch)

July 7, 2022 in Bar Discipline & Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, July 6, 2022

Job Search Misconduct Draws Suspension

The Minnesota Supreme Court has suspended an attorney for a minimum of six months

The Director of the Office of Lawyers Professional Responsibility has filed a petition for disciplinary action alleging that respondent Lillian A. Ballard has committed professional misconduct warranting public discipline, namely, making knowingly false statements on a résumé she submitted to two law firms when applying for a job as a lawyer, giving one of these law firms a forged law school transcript, making knowingly false statements to a person who worked in the recruiting department of one of these law firms, and making knowingly false statements to the Director.

The attorney unconditionally admitted the allegations.

Conditions for reinstatement

Respondent may petition for reinstatement under Rule 18(a)–(d), RLPR. Reinstatement is conditioned on successful completion of the written examination required for admission to the practice of law by the State Board of Law Examiners on the subject of professional responsibility, see Rule 18(e)(2), RLPR; see also Rule 4.A.(5), Rules for Admission to the Bar (requiring evidence that an applicant has successfully completed the Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination); and satisfaction of continuing legal education requirements, see Rule 18(e)(4), RLPR.

(Mike Frisch)

July 6, 2022 in Bar Discipline & Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

No Bank Error

An attorney with 60 years in practice cannot claim ignorance of entrusted funds obligations to defeat an interim suspension in the public interest

Respondent further contends that, because of his ignorance as to the standards for Rules of Professional Conduct 1.15(a), he lacks the requisite dishonesty or venal intent necessary to establish intentional conversion under Rules of Professional Conduct rule 8.4(c). Respondent alleges that he has health issues and states that his wealth belies any allegation that his actions were motivated by financial pressure. He submits that an interim suspension would likely end his career and proffers that his impressive trial career is additional evidence that he does not pose a danger to the public.

Respondent's arguments are unavailing. 22 NYCRR 1240.9(a) provides for an interim suspension "upon a finding by the Court that the respondent has engaged in conduct immediately threatening the public interest. Such a finding may be based upon: ... (2) the respondent's admission under oath to the commission of professional misconduct... or (5) other uncontroverted evidence of professional misconduct.

The New York Appellate Division for the First Judicial Department described the situation

Respondent is an 87-year-old attorney who has practiced law for approximately 60 years. Respondent is the principal of a small firm and the sole signatory for its escrow account. In February 2020, a $517.50 check originating from the escrow account was dishonored due to insufficient funds (February 2020 Incident). The check was issued in connection with respondent's representation of a client who resides in China. Respondent represents this client individually as well as three hospitals that his client owns and operates in China.

He initially claimed bank error

In November 2020, respondent, in a pro se response to the AGC's request, claimed that the bounced check was the result of a bank error. Respondent later retained counsel and, in April 2021, in an amended response, admitted that there was no bank error. Respondent attributed the incident to his lack of training "in the operation and maintenance of law firm IOLA/escrow accounts." He admitted that he failed to keep a proper ledger for his IOLA account and did not maintain proper individual client ledger sheets. Respondent explained that he did not understand that "allowing his fees to accumulate over time in the same account where client or third- party funds were deposited was, in fact, prohibited 'commingling of funds'."

Respondent submitted that he "did not understand the concept of misappropriation [in] the context of IOLA Account funds" and "believed that if he knew he would be receiving funds on behalf of a client he could advance legal fee payments out of funds on deposit in his IOLA account prior to his receipt of the funds of the relevant client." He conceded that he transferred funds from his operating account to the IOLA account if the balance in the latter was insufficient. Respondent reaffirmed his amended response in a deposition before the AGC in October 2021.

The AGC's investigation of the February 2020 incident led to the discovery of two other incidents that undergird its motion for respondent's immediate suspension.

Ignorance no defense here. (Mike Frisch)

July 6, 2022 in Bar Discipline & Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

A Second Sanction

A reciprocal public censure has been ordered by the New York Appellate Division for the First Judicial Department based on sanctions imposed in Indiana

On December 14, 2015, respondent, as outside counsel for a private high school, along with the school's headmaster, met with the father of a 15-year old student who informed them of inappropriate communication made by a teacher to his daughter. At respondent's request, the father gave respondent his daughter's laptop computer containing sexually explicit images and messages sent by the teacher. The teacher was later fired and eventually sentenced to 14 years in prison on federal criminal charges.

After advising the school's headmaster that the Department of Child Services (DCS) should be notified, respondent discussed a potential settlement agreement with the attorney for the family which included, in relevant part, a confidentiality provision prohibiting disclosure of the agreement or information regarding the matter to anyone other than their attorney. Pertinently, the agreement was never executed but it would have prohibited cooperation with law enforcement. At one point, when the family was contacted by DCS, respondent told the family that any cooperation with the agency would violate the confidentiality clause. Although he later retracted that position, the family had cancelled its appointment with DCS.

Additionally, respondent instructed a computer specialist at his law firm to make copies of the offending content on the victim's computer and place them on a thumb drive. Respondent, who believed he was preserving evidence that could have been considered child pornography (and that there was a possibility that the evidence would be deleted from the computer as other images had been deleted), placed the thumb drive in a sealed envelope in a cabinet in his office and returned the laptop computer to the school (which in turn returned it to the father).

On January 5, 2016, DCS and the police department, who learned of the incident and of the material provided to the school, attempted to interview the headmaster and associate headmaster; they were referred to respondent who refused to provide police with further information. The next day, respondent and the family's attorney called the state prosecutor to persuade him that an investigation would not be in the student's best interests. Respondent did not disclose that he had copies of the evidence nor that he had refused to comply with law enforcement the previous day. The state prosecutor instructed law enforcement to move forward with search warrants.

On January 7, 2016, police executed a search warrant on, among other places, the school, and respondent was summoned to the scene. During approximately one hour of questioning, respondent repeatedly concealed from law enforcement that he possessed the material sought. However, after he conferred privately with the headmaster, he disclosed to police that he had copies of the material at his office but that they were privileged. After again conferring privately with the headmaster, respondent told police that his client was willing to waive privilege and that he would turn over the materials.

In November 2018, the Indiana Disciplinary Commission (IDC) filed a disciplinary complaint against respondent in connection to these events. By an April 16, 2020 report, the Hearing Officer found that respondent violated Indiana Rules of Professional Conduct (IN RPC) rule 1.1 (failure to provide competent representation) and recommended that respondent be publicly reprimanded. The Hearing Officer based this determination on the finding that respondent proposed a settlement agreement which included a confidentiality provision prohibiting "the family from discussing this incident with any other person (other than their counsel) . . . The language . . . would silence the family's efforts to report this matter to law enforcement as well as to DCS." Respondent failed to provide an adequate explanation for this failure. Upon review of the Hearing Officer's liability findings, the Indiana Supreme Court found respondent also in violation of IN RPC 8.4(d)(conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice) and otherwise affirmed the Hearing Officer's rule 1.1 finding and recommendation of a public reprimand.

(Mike Frisch)

The court opined that respondent's pursuit of the confidentiality agreement ultimately harmed the reputation of his client and contributed to his client's criminal exposure "(deferred prosecution agreement citing the proposed confidentiality agreement as one of several grounds subjecting [the school] to prosecution for misprision of a felony)." In finding that respondent violated IN RPC 8.4(d), the court held that "[t]he fact the settlement agreement was never executed is inapposite to a Rule 8.4(d) analysis, because it is the impropriety of the demand that gives rise to the violation." The court found that respondent effectively caused the student's father to cancel an interview with the DCS when he sent an email to the father upon learning of the scheduled interview, stating, "[d]iscussions with [DCS] and/or IMPD would not be permitted under the [proposed] agreement."

The court further found that respondent's follow up email to the family's attorney stating that the proposed confidentiality provision did not apply to inquiries by law enforcement was not curative because by the time respondent sent this email, search warrants already had been executed at the school and the student's home, and respondent had been forced to disclose the existence of and turn over the material in his possession.

July 6, 2022 in Bar Discipline & Process | Permalink | Comments (0)