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Wednesday, December 18, 2013

NO OFFICE - NO PRACTICE

Fred Barakat, a Delaware attorney, has had his law license suspended for 2 years after the Delaware Supreme Court found that he failed to maintain a bona fide office and adequate books and records.  Barakat mainly worked from his home, but had an "office" listed for his firm.  This "office" did not include any designated office space that was exclusively his.  The employees of the landlord at this building collected his mail and greeted any visitors he had.  These visitors would then be directed to the 4th floor where a receptionist was stationed.  Barakat would then rent a conference room to met with the client.  Barakat's presence at this office was described as "sporadic and unscheduled".

Delaware Supreme Court Rule 12 requires Delaware attorneys to maintain a "bona fide" office for the practice of law.   This required at a minimum, a "responsible person action on [his] behalf - i.e., accountable and answerable to you, by employment or by contract." This was not done in even the slightest of ways the court held. 

Barakat books and records were deficient based upon his failure to prepare bank reconciliations or client subsidiary ledgers and the inability to prove cash receipt entries to deposit totals. 

Throughout the  6 year investigation in Barakat, he routinely denied any wrong doing.

The lesson from this case: if you practice in Delaware, even a tiny little office will do, as long as you regularly show up!  Also, don't lie about your mistakes, it only makes them worse.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

BACK AT IT SOON!

Well, it has been quite a while since my last post.  No, I didn't quit... I was on Active Duty for the Army for a while and when I got back, I was given a promotion at work so I have been trying to settle back into things.  But now that I am settled, I will begin posting again.  Hopefully tomorrow will bring something exciting!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

2 YEAR SUSPENSION FOR PERFORMING NON-LEGAL WORK

The Louisiana Supreme Court has suspended an attorney, Katherine Guste, for two years for charging a nursing home resident client her normal billing rate of $125 per hour for performing non-legal services such as grocery shopping and picking things up. 
 
The Louisiana Supreme Court held that Kathering Guste charged "an unreasonable fee and took advantage of her client."  The lone dissenter thought that there was insufficient evidence to show that the client was taken advantage of and that a less harsh penalty would be sufficient.
 
The elderly client suffered from Huntington's disease and, according to the Louisiana Supreme Court majority, had diminished capacity.
 
The lesson to learn from this is that if you are going to help a client out with any non-legal business, you likely should not charge your normal legal billing rate, no matter if performed during your normal hours.
 

Friday, December 7, 2012

RELIGIOUS FOR-PROFIT GETS JUDGE IN TROUBLE

Leon County Florida Judge Judith Hawkins is facing an ethics charge for apparently trying to sell books related to her for-profit religious ministry at the county courthouse.  The Florida Judicial Qualifications Commission charged Judge Hawkins with trying to sell materials for her ministry, Gaza Road Ministries, in the courthouse, parking garage, in chambers and even in the courtroom.  Her actions have, according to the commission, prevented her from focusing on her judicial duties.  Conflicts are a potential as well since many of the buyers of Judge Hawkins' materials also appear before her.  The Commission had this to say to Judge Hawkins:
 "Your involvement with Gaza Road Ministries has caused you to devote less than your         full time and attention to your judicial duties," the filing alleges. "You have explained that as a judge, you and your judicial assistant have a great deal of free time, so you feel free to use your judicial chambers and out-of-court free time to conduct your for-profit business and schedule business appointments. You often take time away from your judicial duties to promote your business to the detriment of the prompt and efficient administration of justice."
 

Thursday, December 6, 2012

"DISABLED" LAWYER LOSES LICENSE DUE TO LYING ABOUT DISABILITY

California attorney, Leah Harmuth, has had her law license cancelled due to a false statement she used to get extra time on her bar exam due to an alleged disability.
 
For the July 2009 California bar exam, Harmuth claimed that she had been given disability testing accommodations while in undergrad at the University of Pennsylvania.  However, Harmuth only had been given testing accommodations by only one professor; she never had any official accommodations given to her by the University.  Due to this false statement, Harmuth was given time and a half in a semi-private room for the California bar exam. 
 
Her false statement came to light when the New York State Board of Law Examiners notified California that Harmuth had requested accommodations under the penalty of perjury for the Febraury 2011 New York bar exam.  Harmuth stated again that she received accommodations from the Uniersity of Pennsylvania.  After investigating and determining that this was not true, New York disqualified her from taking the exam as well as applying for admissiion to be a lawyer in New York for two years.  Harmuth self-disclosed the New York finding in September 2011.  California then conducted its own invetigation and recommended Wednesday that her license be canceled.  It appears that Harmuth agreed to the penalty.  The California Supreme Court must still approve. 


Monday, December 3, 2012

PORN LEADS TO JUDICIAL DISCIPLINARY ACTION

Will County, Illinois, Judge Joseph Polito has admitted to being addicted to pornography and viewing it on his chamber's computer and using it "as a crutch to deal with my feelings of inadequacy." 
 
Polito was charged in July with two counts of violating the Judicial Code of Conduct (bringing the judicial office into disrepute and not conducting himself in a manner that promotes public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary) after the Chicago Sun-Times ran an article that stated he looked at pornography regularly on his office computer.  Polito admits that his actions brought the judicial office into disrepute, but denies the second charge.  Polito states that his looking at porn in his chambers had "absolutely no effect on the hundreds of decisions" he had made as a judge.
 
Polito has sought help for a compulsive sexual disorder and attends a Sexuality Anonymous support group twice a week.  The courts commission, which will issue a written ruling at a later date, could discipline Polito with anything from a reprimand to termination.
 
Viewing porn on work computers has resulted in the dismissal of other state employees in the past, but Polito's public admission will likely help him avoid such a severe punishment. 

Friday, November 30, 2012

UPDATE: FORMER NAVY JAG FACES SUSPENSION FOR GITMO RELEASE

An update on a post from last week.
 
Matthew Diaz, a former Navy JAG lawyer who mailed a classified list of GITMO detainees to the Center for Constitutional Rights, is now also a former Kansas attorney. 
 
The Kansas Supreme Court disbarred Mr. Diaz this week.  Diaz's attorney has asked for leniency since his client had already been court-martialed by the Navy and convicted of four felonies, which resulted in his dismissal from the Navy and serving six-months in prison. 
 
While arguing that his "motive was virtuous" in that he was protecting "the Guantanamo Bay detainees' habeas corpus rights declared in the United States Supreme Court opinion of Rasul v. Bush," the court focused on how Diaz failed to voice his concerns to his superior officers and that the information he leaked potentially could have lead to detainee interrogators being identified, putting their lives at risk.  Also, Diaz by his own admission, admitted not wanting to go to his superiors because "he didn't want to ruin his career."
 
The court stated that disbarment was warranted due to the nature of Diaz's criminal violations and his “admitted selfish reasons for the clandestine disclosure of classified information.”
 
JUSTICE SERVED!
 
The opinion can be read here.