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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.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

FORMER NAVY JAG FACES SUSPENSION FOR GITMO RELEASE

Matthew Diaz, a former Navy Judge Advocate, is looking at a possible three year suspension from practicing law.  However, the suspension would be retroactive to 2008, allowing Diaz to apply immediately for reinstatement.  The Kansas Supreme Court heard arguments on the recommended suspension (which Diaz's attorney supports) a few weeks ago. 
 
Diaz, while on duty as a Navy Judge Advocate, mailed a classified list of the names of the person being detained at Guantanamo to the Center for Constitutional Rights.  Diaz claimed he was torn between following his orders and his desire to ensure that detainees received legal representation.  Diaz apparently tried disguising the list by enclosing it in a Valentine's Day card. 
 
Diaz was court-martialed, put in the brig, and discharged from the Navy after the discovery of his actions. 
 
From a purely personal side, as a Judge Advocate myself, I find Mr. Diaz's actions reprehensible.  The detainees at GITMO, are not American citizens, and therefore do not enjoy the same rights as American citizens.  They are however treated better than some prisoners here in the US.  They are given access to attorneys, and all their religious needs are attended to.  Mr. Diaz was not being issued an illegal order and he had the moral responsibility to follow orders and do his duty to the best of his ability as a Navy Judge Advocate. 

Friday, November 9, 2012

WESTLAW USE LEADS TO REPRIMAND

Everett Walton, an attorney licensed in Oregon and Hawaii, but practicing in Hawaii, was publicly reprimanded by both the Oregon and Hawaiian Supreme Courts for his use of Westlaw after he left his job as a prosecutor. 
 
While a prosecutor for the Republic of Palau, Walton was given a three-year, flat rate contract to use Westlaw.  After he left this position, he tried without success to cancel the Westlaw contract, and then used it for 14 months after while working for the Legal Aid Society of Hawaii.
 
Oregon's opinion noted how Walton had "an unblemished record in 35 years" of practicing law and this infraction did not seriously reflect on his fitness to practice law.  Since his misconduct did not personally benefit him (the Court stated that the true beneficiaries of his misconduct were the Legal Aid Society of Hawaii and its clients) and did not harm anyone, a public reprimand was sufficient.  The Oregon Disciplinary authorities had asked originally for a six month suspension of Walton's license. 

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

ACCOUNTING ERRORS - ALWAYS LOOK IN THE SOCK DRAWER

An Iowa attorney, was suspended one-month for not depositing a number of client retainers (in cash) into her trust account.  Instead, she deposited them into her law firm operating account or in books on her bookshelf for her own personal use. 
 
Her former paralegal blew the whistle on Ms. Kersenbrock's unethical behavior and also testified for the prosecution in the disciplinary case.  Ms. Kersenbrock stated that "she wasn't required to deposit most of the retainers into her trust account, because they had already been earned when she put them into her operating account."  She admitted to putting a $3,000 cash retainer into her drawer once for several weeks.
 
Due to there being several violations, Kersenbrock was given a one month suspension, instead of the public reprimand that the disciplinary committee recommended.   

Thursday, August 16, 2012

FORMER PROSECUTOR'S "DEVIANT BEHAVIOR" MAY GET HIM SUSPENDED

A former Connecticut prosecutor, David Holzback, who was fired recently due to his secretly filming women's legs in and around the courthouse, may be suspended for his voyeuristic behavior as well. Suzanne Sutton, the Chief Disciplinary Counsel for the State of Connecticut, is asking for Holzback's license to be suspended immediately on an interim basis. In support of her request, she states, "[Holzback} cannot be trusted to avoid voyeurism of prospective clients, witnesses or other counsel" and "[he] poses a substantial threat of irreparable harm to his clients or prospective clients" because he "cannot control his deviant behavior as is evident by the long history of behavior and prior reprimands associated with this behavior."
It is alleged that Holzback used a "spy pen" to film females at the courthouse without their permission. He was previously reprimanded by the prosecutor's office twice before - in 1992 for filming courthouse staff in the hallways, offices, and parking lot as well as in 2006 for taking photos of a female intern in the prosecutor's office.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

SEX WITH JAILED CLIENT LEADS TO ARREST

Curtis Cannon, a Nevada attorney, has been charged with a felony count of voluntary sexual conduct between a prisoner and another person, according to the Las Vegas Sun, after being caught on tape performing sexual acts.  The alleged incident happened in the Clark County Detention Center.  Detectives with the Metro Police initiated an investigation into Cannon's behavior with female clients after receiving numerous complaints about his alleged misconduct with female inmates.  The Metro Police installed a camera in a detention visiting room which only recorded video so that it did not violate attorney-client confidentiality.  The video showed his client, Crystal Wallis, groping Cannon's groin and apparently performing oral sex on him.  Afterwards, both Wallis and Cannon admitted to the act when questioned.  

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

TAKING CLIENT'S KIDS FOR A RIDE LEADS TO SUSPENSION

Indiana Attorney, Cecelia Hemphill, was suspended 6 months for taking a client's children for a ride without alerting the children's mother.  Hemphill, believed that the mother's boyfriend had molested one of the children and that the children were in grave danger.  The daughter, claimed that the mother's boyfriend had touched her inappropriately. 

Since Hemphill wanted to talk to the children alone, she had the father write a note to the principal of the children's school stating she had permission to pick the children up from school.  Hemphill, was questioned by the secretary of the school but was eventually was allowed to pick the children up early from school.  Hemphill then called the children's sitter and told her that she (Hemphill) had the children and that they were going to meet with the father for dinner. During this time, Hemphill questioned the children about the possible molestation but it was never mentioned.  After dinner with their father, Hemphill continued to drive them around for a few hours before returning them (after 6 hours) to their mother, who had working with the Sheriff's department to find them. 

Indiana's Supreme Court Disciplinary Committee charged Hemphill with violating Indiana Professional Conduct Rules 4.1.(a) [Knowingly making a false statement of material fact to a third person in the course of representing a client], 4.4(a) [Using means in representing a client that have no substantial purpose other than to embarrass, delay, or burden a third person], 8.4(a) [Engaging in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation], and 8.4(d) [Engaging in conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice].

The Supreme Court of Indiana held that the Commission failed to met the burden of proving by clear and convincing evidence regarding Rules 4.1(a) and 8.4(a).  Regarding violating Rule 4.4(a), the Supreme Court sated that "[B]y intimidating the school secretary into releasing the children to [her] and by causing Mother great anxiety over their safety, [Hemphill] used means that had no substantial purpose other than to burden third persons in violation Professional Conduct Rule 4.4(a)."  The Court stated that Hemphill's purposes could have been accomplished by more appropriate means.  Finally, with regards to Rule 8.4(d), the Court felt that by failing to abide by the orders and procedures of the divorce court and the child protective services and by only using her own judgement instead that of the courts and child protective services, Hemphill engaged in conduct that was prejudicial to the administration of justice.  Hemphill took matters in her own hands while ignoring the laws and agencies that are designed to deal with allegations of child abuse. 

The Supreme Court suspended Hemphill from practicing for 6 months without automatic reinstatement. 

Thursday, July 12, 2012

SUSPENDED ATTORNEY SUSPENDED AGAIN, THIS TIME FOR GHOSTWRITING

Minnesota attorney Vincent Grigsby found an interesting way to help a client during an appeal despite being suspended for 60 days - ghostwrite. 

After being suspended for 60 days for unrelated conduct, Grigsby was unable to find another attorney to write an appellate brief for a client.  So, Grigsby wrote the brief himself, didn't charge the client, and signed the client's name to the "pro se" brief.  He then filed it and forwarded a copy of it with an explanatory note to the client. 

Grigsby argued that he had done nothing wrong, and that the rules required him to do what was necessary to protect his ex-client's interests in this emergency situation.  The Minnesota Supreme Court disagreed with this, and stated he had violated the rules by drafting the brief while suspended, signing his ex-client's name and falsely stating that the the ex-client was "pro se."  The Court stated that Grigsby had other options available in this situation, such as seeking an extension of time from the appeals court or getting an advisory ethics opinion about what to do.  However, the Court only imposed an additional 60 day suspension on Grigsby, not the nine months recommended, due to the fact that Grigsby had not applied for reinstatement during this lengthy ethics investigation. 

The ghostwritten document was discovered by an assistance county attorney assigned to defend the conviction.  Grigsby actions appear to be have been worth it for his ex-client though, as the ex-client won a reversal of his conviction. 

Monday, July 9, 2012

POKER LEADS TO JUDICIAL DISCIPLINE

District Judge Paul Hensley, a New York Judge, was recently censured for playing poker at a social club in 2008. 

The New York Commission on Judicial Conduct decided to censure Judge Hensley for playing poker and apparently asking for preferential treatment at the Fraternal Order of Eagles clubhouse, Northport, NY, since it appears that he lended his approval to the illegal gaming. 

Since the judge was remorseful and had no prior disciplinary action, a censure was deemed appropriate. 

Monday, June 18, 2012

ROOMATE'S DRUG ACTIVITIES LEADS TO POSSIBLE DISBARMENT

Aaron Isaacson, an Illinois attorney, is facing possible disbarment for "[not] thinking anything of it [his roommate's drug activities] at the time."  His roommate, Ryan Yoselowitz, apparently dealt drugs from their shared home in Logan Square.  Isaacson apparently witnessed rug deals going down as well as using marijuana and cocaine himself.  Isaacson knew his roommate's income came only from dealing drugs. 

Isaacson worked as a Lake County prosecutor handling, occasionally, misdemeanor drug cases and traffic cases until 2009.  Yoselowitz was arrested in 2009, and Isaacson was given immunity for testifying against him.  Yoselowitz is now serving a 12 year sentence. 

Isaacson's lawyer, his uncle who is a lawyer at DLA Piper told the Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Committee about Isaacson's great character, is asking for a significant suspension instead of disbarment. 

Friday, June 1, 2012

THREATENING ETHICS COMPLAINT LEADS TO ETHICS VIOLATION

Julia Dimick, an Indianapolis lawyer, has been publicly reprimanded after she threatened to report an opposing lawyer to the ethic's board, an act which was deemed prejudicial to the administration of justice. 

According to the stipulated facts in the discipline order, Dimick was representing a woman against the woman's former attorney over the handling of settlement funds.  Dimick sent the opposing attorney a letter alleging the opposing attorney of a conflict of interest, lack of candor, and conversion of the settlement funds.  Dimick then stated that the opposing attorney had a "window of opportunity" to solve the matter, but it required a settlement offer.  Dimick stated that if she did not receive a settlement offer soon, she would file a grievance with disciplinary commission. 

While agreeing that her conduct violated Indiana Professional Conduct Rule 8.4(d) [prohibits engaging in conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice], Dimick had some mitigating factors. Specifically, Dimick had no disciplinary history and she was cooperative with the commission.  Therefore, the commission agreed that a public reprimand was the appropriate punishment.  

The order can be found here

Friday, May 25, 2012

DUNKIN' DONUTS DEPOSITION

Richard Celler, a Florida attorney from Morgan & Morgan, has been removed from a case by a U.S. District Judge after scheduling depositions at a Dunkin' Donuts, showing up in t-shirts and shorts, and drawing pictures of male genitalia to mock opposing counsel while also playing games, namely Angry Birds, during the depositions.  Celler had sued a limousine service and corporate officers in the case and disparaged opposing counsel in front of clients.  In removing both Celler and Morgan & Morgan, the District Judge stated: "It is evident that Celler's actions with respect to Defendants, and throughout this case have so damaged the adversarial process that any trial may well be tainted. [G]iven the small size of the Morgan & Morgan labor practice, the Court is not convinced that a Chinese wall ... would have any effectiveness." 

The order can be found here.

Friday, May 18, 2012

ANOTHER EXAMPLE OF HOW YOUR MOUTH CAN GET YOU IN TROUBLE!

A Texas attorney, Martin Sweeney, a former partner at Cozen O'Connor, has been accused of using inappropriate language in a motion for sanctions filed by the opposing attorney.  In a string of emails discussing the scheduling of depositions, the attorney, Martin Sweeney, made threatening and rude comments to Chad Arnette.

It all started with Sweeney emailing Arnette: "That's bulls**t Chad. I told you I would get dates in March.  I'll quash and Rule 11 you otherwise. Don't jack with me."  Arnette responded by saying: "Not sure where that came from, but if you are committed to getting us dates in March, that would be swell."  Sweeney then replied by saying: "It came from ME. F*** with me and you will have a huge a**hole. ... I meant Rule 13 by the way, and I will make sure it comes out of your tight little pockets."  Sweeney continued to berate Arnette even after Arnette told him he would be filing a motion for sanctions.  Sweeney called Arnette a "pansy," "ignorant slut" and "gutless attorney."  Sweeney then gave Arnette his home address because, as he stated, "I'd love to meet you in person to fully express myself." 

Cozen O'Connor released a statement stating that Sweeney is no longer with the firm and that the firm "expect[s] all of [their] attorneys and professional staff to maintain the highest standards of professionalism and civility at all times in their conduct on behalf of our firm clients." 

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

"SLUT" COMMENT LEADS TO SUSPENSION

An Arizona attorney, Meyer Ziman, has been suspended for violating a number of Arizona rules, one of which was quite interesting.  Ziman, who has been practicing since 1970, contacted a medical file copying service in June 2010 to complain that he had received the wrong medical file and request the correct one.  The woman, Ms. Rascon, he spoke with told him that he would need to resubmit his request, which angered Ziman and he began to berate her.  Ms. Rascon told him in the future to only contact Ms. Hudson, which only infuriated Ziman more because, as he stated, "everyone tells him to call back to speak to someone else."  After Ziman finished yelling a string of expletives at Ms. Rascon, he hung up.  Later in June, Ziman contacted Ms. Hudson to express his frustration that he had requested medical records for his clients but only received records for the client's son.  Ms. Hudson asked him to re-fax the request and she would look into it.  Ziman began yelling expletives at her to which she responded by stating, "excuse me but you are talking to a lady."Ziman responded that she was not a lady and "was nothing but a slut who worked for a copy service."  Ziman then repeated the word "slut" slowly to make sure Ms. Hudson heard him. 

In finding that Ziman violated Rule 42, Ariz.R.Sup.Ct., specifically Rule 31(a)(2)(E) and Rule 41(g), failing to refrain from engaging in unprofessional and offensive conduct by adhering to the provisions set forth in the Supreme Court Rules, the Panel noted that Ziman's testimony was implausible.  After first testifying that he had no recollection of the alleged phone call, he than testified with a vivid recollection of the call and stated he said "slug", not "slut", to refer to the process being slow, sluggish and cumbersome.  He also testified that he believed that it was not inappropriate to use either "slut" or "slug" in a business setting.  The Panel, however, disagreed and in conjunction with other violations of the Rules, Ziman was suspended for 1 year and given 2 years probation after his reinstatement. 

The opinion can be found here.

Monday, May 7, 2012

PROSECTUTOR SUSPENDED FOR PRESSURING SHERIFFS

A veteran of 10 years, California prosecutor Danielle London, had been put on administrative leave for allegedly ordering sheriff's deputies to secretly record a conversation between a murder defendant and a defense expert. 

While not only a professional act of misconduct (violating the attorney-client privilege), London faces felony charges since it is a felony in California to record the conversation between an inmate and his/her attorney or others who are presumed to maintain confidentiality on the inmate's behalf. 

The public Defender's Office and attorney Jo Anne Kingston, who represents the inmate, are calling for an independent probe of the sheriff's department as well. 

Monday, April 30, 2012

LEAVING LAWYER GETS SANCTIONED

A former Ladas & Perry partner, Woochoon William Park, has been ordered to pay Ladas & perry nearly $60,000  in sanctions for taking and destroying documents from the firm when he left to start his own competing firm.  He also is now facing a complaint with the Illinois Attorney Registration & Discipline Commission from these actions.

Park apparently downloaded 75,000 electronic filed from Ladas & Perry during a 5 month span while he was still a partner, yet was making plans to start his own competing IP firm.  Included in these downloaded documents was a client directory, client files, forms and templates. 

The complaint filed with the IARDC alleges the theft and destruction of the documents, as well that Park neglected client matters while working at Ladas.  He has been charged with violating IL Rule 1.3 (failure to act with reasonable diligence and promptness in representing a client), Rule 1.4 (failure to keep a client reasonably informed about the status of a matter), Rule 8.4(d) (conduct that is prejudicial to the administration of justice), and conduct that tends to defeat the administration of justice, or to bring the courts or the legal profession into disrepute.

Friday, April 27, 2012

NO DISCIPLINE FOR ASSOCIATE WHO LOOKED AT FIRM'S DOCS WHILE ANTICIPATING PERSONAL SUIT

The Massachusetts Board of Bar Overseers had decided to not discipline a former associate at a Boston firm who accessed firm documents in order to get information about a potential discrimination case she contemplated filing against them, despite the hearing panel's recommendation of discipline.

The attorney, Kamee Beth Verdrager, had complained about the firm discriminating against her due to her gender and being a new mother.  The Board of Bar Overseers held that she had not done anything that "adversely reflects on ... her fitness to practice law" by openly looking for supporting documents in the computer files of the firm when she expected to be fired.  Verdrager had been charged with violating attorney discipline rules against criminal and dishonest conduct.  The Board disagreed, since the manner in which she accessed the documents was the same as every other lawyer in the firm did.  The documents she looked at were not subject to any attorney-client privilege or secured in a private area.  In fact, "lawyers in the firm were encouraged to review public documents posted by other." 

Thursday, April 26, 2012

CALLS & TEXTS MAY LEAD TO ONE YEAR SUSPENSION

A one-year suspension has been recommended for Howard Scheinberg, a former homicide prosecutor in Florida, after he sent hundreds of texts and made hundreds of calls to a state judge during a 2007 capital murder trial.  Scheinberg, who is now in private practice, resigned from the Prosecutor's Office after the communications between him and then Judge Gardiner, a Circuit Court Judge, came to light.  Both claim that the texts and calls had nothing to do with the trial. 

However, the referee stated that these conversations should have been disclosed to defense counsel and by failing to do so, their action was prejudicial to the administration of justice.  The defendant in the case was convicted and sentenced to death, but was awarded a new trail as a result of this breach of duty.  He was subsequently convicted again and given a life term. 

Scheinberg plans to appeal the one-year suspension. 

Former Judge Gardiner avoided a judicial ethics complaint by resigning, but still is facing a Florida Bar complaint over her communications with Scheinberg.  She also is now in private practice. 

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

PROSECUTOR FIRED FOR ABUSE OF POWER

Santa Clara Deputy District Attorney Lisa Rogers was recently fired for what is being called an "outrageous abuse" of her power by pressuring police to arrest her husband's ex-wife. This was a climax of a series of issues involving Rogers who has been disciplined on five other occasions. 

In 2003, the Public Defender wrote a detailed letter to the then DA stating that Rogers had "misrepresented information" to judges and/or defense attorneys on four occasions.  She was investigated by the DA's Office and orally counseled in 2004 for her "failure to meet office standards of honesty and truthfulness."  It was believed that Rogers was not fired over the 2004 incident due to worries that she would file a claim under the Americans with Disabilities Act since she is deaf in one ear and has limited hearing in the other.  The DA's Office had just lost a lawsuit trying to force the state Superior Court to assume the financial burden of having a real-time captioner for her. 

Rogers was orally counseled again in 2007 after failing to turn over key information about a case to the defense, which resulted in the judge dismissing a felony due to her untruthful behavior.  More complaints about her behavior from defense attorneys were given to the DA, and Rogers was suspended in 2010 for a week for "incompetence" and "gross misconduct."  Rogers was again suspended after she made "implied accusations" to a judge that a young public defender had harassed a crime lab analyst to tears, yet the analyst recalled the exchange as "pleasant."  Another incident that led to a suspension was Rogers' response to a not-guilty verdict by ripping up a trial exhibit in front of the jury and berating jurors in a raised voice. 

Rogers' latest issue came about when she got involved in the custody battle between her husband and his ex-wife and tried using her position to influence the situation.  At a carnival, Rogers' husband and his ex-wife got "into it" and the ex-wife apparently grabbed his cell phone and threw it down.  She contends that she grabbed the phone and handed it back to him after he shoved it into her face and bruised her cheek. 

Rogers' husband urged a police officer in a telephone call immediately after this to arrest his ex-wife for battery but the officer said the incident was at most vandalism.  At this point, Rogers got on the phone, identified herself as a Santa Clara prosecutor, demanded that the ex-wife be arrested for robbery and "bullied" the police officer for over five minutes.  The police eventually interviewed the ex-wife and presented their report to the Contra Costa County DA's Office, who rejected the case.  A senior deputy DA in Contra County then notified Santa Clara's DA's Office about Rogers' "impropriety". 

After being fired, Rogers has petitioned the county's Personnel Board for reinstatement, as her dismissal was based on retaliation, disparate treatment and discrimination. 

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

VOLUNTARY DISCIPLINE PETITION REJECTED

Georgia attorney, Jerry Boykin, filed a petition for voluntary discipline due to his neglect of three matters.  In the first matter, a client reatied Boykin to represent him in a civil case and paid his firm a total of $2,600.  Boykin, however, failed to advise his client of a court date as well as failing to appear on their behalf.  A default judgment was entered against his client, which Boykin failed to inform them of and he did not return any unearned fees. 

In another case, Boykin agreed to represent a woman in her personal injury action.  He claimed that Jackson did not provide complete answer to interrogatories and that he also failed to respond to discovery requests.  Jackson's complaint was dismissed with prejudice and Jackson subsequently filed a malpractice claim against Boykin.  Boykin entered into a consent agreement regarding the claim. 

In yet another case, Boykin agreed to represent a man in a civil case even though the client paid no fee.  Boykin, however, failed to file the case before the statute of limitations expired.  When this was discovered, the client threatened to file a complaint with the Bar, at which point Boykin executed a promissory note agreeing to pay him $38,000.  So far, Boykin has not satisfied the promissory note.  

Boykin admitted that his actions and inaction on the matters violated Rule 1.2 (consulting with client and abiding by their decisions with respect to the case and settlement); Rule 1.3 (act with reasonable diligence and promptness); Rule 1.4 (keep client reasonably informed); Rule 1.16 (upon termination of representation, lawyer shall take steps to the extent reasonably practicable to protect a client’s interests, such as giving reasonable notice to theclient, allowing time for employment of other counsel, surrendering papers and property to which the client is entitled and refunding any advance payment of
fee that has not been earned); and 3.2 (lawyer shall make reasonable efforts to expedite litigation consistent with the interests of the client). 

In his defense, Boykin stated that he did not intentionally miss the court date in the first case, but that he honestly forgot about it as he was under a great deal of pressure due to his law partner leaving the firm with only two days notice which left Boykin with no secretary or assistant.  He also stated that he is no longer practicing law full time and he has closed his office due to an extended illness.  Boykin recommended a 6 month suspension, but the Georgia Bar urged the Court to reject this as not adequate.  In light of Boykin's previous discipline, which included a two year suspension, a public reprimand, a Review Panel reprimand, and an Investigative Panel Reprimand, the Court agreed with the Bar and rejected Boykin's petition for voluntary discipline.

Monday, April 23, 2012

POOR BRIEF LEADS TO SUSPENSION

Andre Sobolevsky, a New York attorney, licensed since 1985, has been publicly reprimanded and suspended by both the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit and the New York State Bar.  The Second Circuit proceedings concerned charges that Sobolevsky:"(1) submitted deficient briefs in seven immigration matters; (2) failed to comply with numerous scheduling orders, including failing to submit briefs in support of immigration petitions; and (3) filed with the Second Circuit petitions that involved immigration proceedings completed in other circuits.  In his defense, Sobolevsky offered numerous different explanations for his mistakes including a large influx of petitions, his diagnosis with glaucoma, inability to bear the expenses of filing briefs when clients abandoned their cases, and disruptions from moving his law office.  The Second Circuit's Committee on Admissions and Grievances found that he had submitted briefs that were of "shockingly poor quality," with defects including incorrect clients' names, irrelevant boilerplate, and reference to evidence which had not been submitted.  Making matters worse for Sobolevsky were his explanation that he relied on his paralegal for most of the work and filed it without reviewing it.  This was viewed as an admission that he had allowed and aided the unauthorized practice of law and failed to supervise staff at his direction who were non-lawyers.  It also found that his failure to read the records resulted in most of his petitions being filed in the wrong circuit, showing a lack of respect and candor toward the court.  Both the Second Circuit and New York suspended him for at least two years, and the Second Circuit also requires proof of attendance at CLE classes in brief-writing and law office management before allowing him to resume practice. 

Friday, April 20, 2012

PAY YOUR CHILD SUPPORT TO STAY IN GOOD STANDING!

William Melendez was admitted to the New York bar in 2009.  He maintains an office in New York but resides in Puerto Rico.  On January 26, 2011, the Superior Court of Puerto Rico issued an ordering finding that he had failed to make child support payments for the last 36 months and was over $90,000 in arrears.  This was reported to New York, and under New York Domestic Relations Law Section 244-c, he faced a suspension of his law license since his arrears in child support were over 4 months.  The New York Appellate Division for the First Judicial Department has indefinitely suspended Melendez until he pays the full amount of child support. 

The opinion can be found here.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

NO DRINKING ORDER REVERSED!

William Sundquist, an 80 year old administrative law judge was appropriately reprimanded for violating his probation when he tested positive for alcohol after a misdemeanor case of operating a vehicle while impaired.  The Michigan Discipline Hearing panel imposed a reprimand and a condition that he attend AA meetings at least twice a week and abstain from alcohol for one year.  

Sundquist petitioned for review, arguing that the panel should be reversed and an order of no discipline was the correct resolution.  The Administrator petitioned for review as well, and asked for "a condition of two-years monitoring by the State bar of Michigan Lawyers and Judges Assistance Program (LJAP), along with a requirement of abstinence," which likely would have been for two years also. 

Despite this being his second drinking and driving related arrest (the first being in 1983), the discipline board confirmed and reversed his punishment.  They found no error in the decision to give a reprimand instead of an order imposing no discipline.  However, they stated that Sundquist had "engaged in the abuse of alcohol, but was not dependant on it."  He had attended numerous AA meetings over the years and there was no evidence that he lacked the ability to modify or stop his drinking so as to stay within the law and act professionally.  The board therefore reversed the order requiring him to abstain from alcohol for one year. 

The opinion can be found here

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

BUYING DRUGS FROM A CLIENT - JUST PLAIN STUPID!

A Minnesota attorney, Jennifer Cummings, has been suspended from the practice of law for 90 days following her pleading guilty to one count of fifth-degree possession of a controlled substance from a client and violating Minnesota Rule of Professional Conduct 8.4(b). 

Under the stipulation entered by Cummings with the Director of the Office of Lawyers Professional Responsibility, Cummings is suspended for a minimum of 90 days followed by a period of probation coextensive with her criminal probation.  She must pay $900 in costs and disbursements, upon reinstatement she must maintain total abstinence from all alcohol and controlled substances, as well as attend weekly AA meetings as well as have her attendance verified, and submit to random urinalysis for drug screenings. 

Lesson here is simple: DON'T DO DRUGS - they are not only dangerous to you but also your law career.

The opinion can be found here.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

LAW SCHOOL CONDUCT & THE BAR

Marcia Denise Jordan successfully passed the February 1997 Louisiana bar exam, but on the day before her admission ceremony, her law school rescinded her Dean's Certificate due to allegations that she had embezzled student funds while SBA president. She also destroyed her financial records in her possession from her tenure as SBA president, failed to cooperate with the investigation into these matters and forged the signature of her attorney on a letter directing her bank to not comply with a subpoena issued by the law school.  Based on this information, her application for admission was denied in 1999. 

In 2000, she reapplied but essentially re-argued the law school embezzlement issue and was again rejected.  In 2004, she applied for a third time and argued that she had now shown a significant change in her circumstances, namely that she had made repayment to the law school.  Her law school had also now issued her a new Dean's Certificate.  However, the Office of Disciplinary Counsel, while investigating Ms. Jordan's application, discovered that she had engaged in the unauthorized practice of law and improperly shared attorney fees paid to her boss, attorney Richard Garrett, since 1999.  This eventually led to Mr. Garrett's disbarment.  Jordan's third application was again denied in 2009.

Jordan did eventually file a 4th application in 2012.  The Supreme Court stated, "[s]tanding alone, the unauthorized practice of law conclusively demonstrates that petitioner lacks the moral fitness to be admitted to the bar.  The improper fee-sharing and the conduct arising out of the incident in law school simply serve to underscore the conclusion that petitioner possesses serious and fundamental character flaws."  Accordingly, the court denied her application for a fourth time.  It also barred her from re-applying again in the future. 

The opinion can be found here.

THE COST OF A DUI - SUSPENSION IN INDIANA

Mark Thornburg passed the Indiana bar exam in 1998, and was subsequently arrested and pled guilty to operating a vehicle with a BAC of 0.08 to 0.15%, a class C misdemeanor.  Following Indiana's rules, he reported this incident to the Board of Law Examiners and was sworn in later that year.  After 13 years, Thornburg, on January 22, 2011, pled guilty to operating a vehicle while intoxicated with endangerment, a class A misdemeanor.  He subsequently notified the Indiana Supreme Court Disciplinary Commission of this infraction. 

Immediately following his 2011 conviction, Thornburg met with the Indiana judges and Lawyers Assistance Program, a program to help lawyers and judges with substance abuse issues, and has been in compliance with his monitoring agreement with the Program. 

The Disciplinary Commission found that Thornburg had violated Indiana Professional Conduct Rule 8.4(b), prohibiting a criminal act that reflects adversely on honesty, trustworthiness, or fitness as a lawyer.  The Supreme Court suspended Thornburg for a period of 90 days, stayed subject to completion of 24 months of probation, effective 28 April 2012.  The Court took into consideration that Thornburg had no disciplinary history, continues his treatment with the Assistance Program, and was cooperative with the Commission. 

The lesson from all of this is simple, and still rings true - even for lawyers: DON'T DRINK & DRIVE - It may cost more than you can afford.

The opinion can be found here.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Where there's a will...there's a way to get disbarred!

The California State Bar Court Review Department has recommended that Linda Lowney be disbarred due to her apparently taking advantage of an elderly client who had retained her to help him plan his estate.

Lowney, age 35, eventually became romantically involved with the elderly client, who was 85 years old and who's health was deteriorating due to advanced emphysema and cancer.  He had assets of over a million dollars.   She "married him shortly before he died, after filing a false confidential marriage license" which falsely claimed they were living together, in order to keep this all a secret from the client's minor daughter and his family. Lowney then misappropriated nearly $340,000 of his assets shortly before his death.

The review department summarized its basis for the recommendation:
In simple terms, [Lowney] took financial advantage of a sick, elderly client - conduct the hearing judge rightly called "heartless and egregious." Given [her] lack of insight, we agree with the hearing judge that "disbarment is the only adequate means of protecting the public from further wrongdoing."

Lowney promised to take care of the elderly client at which he transferred $340,000 to a joint account he opened with her.  His family in Norway was aware of this but was not concerned since they understood that the money would be used for the client's care and that the unused portion would be returned.

After the client's death, Lowney moved the joint funds into her own bank account and filed a petition to remove the Norwegian nieces as co-trustees of the trust created for the client. The court denied the petition and imposed sanctions on her. The Norwegian nieces filed a bar complaint.

Lowney then filed a first amended spousal property petition. The court granted summary judgment against Lowney because the false application rendered the marriage void. The First District Court of Appeals affirmed and referred its opinion to the State Bar.

Lowney has had no prior discipline in thirty years of practice.

The hearing department's order can be found here.

Friday, April 6, 2012

3.7 HOURS = $2500... MY KIND OF DEAL!!

An Iowa attorney, William Vilmont, ran an office in Clinton, IA, until May 2010.  Vilmont previously had an ethics concern in 1994 when He represented codefendants in a criminal case without properly disclosing the conflict of interest as required.  

In January 2010, a mere 4 months before he retired, he agreed to represent Scott Halverson who had been charged with enticing a minor.  Halverson agreed to pay $225 an hour as well as paying a retainer of $2500.  The retainer was then placed in Vilmont's client trust account.  Following the initial client conference, Vilmont entered a written appearance on behalf of Halverson in the criminal case and filed a waiver of the preliminary hearing. On January 25, 2010, the district court dismissed the charges against Halverson at the request of the State who had learned federal authorities had filed charges against Halverson in federal court involving the same matter. Vilmont did not represent Halverson in the federal criminal proceeding. On January 30, 2010, Vilmont withdrew the $2500 retainer from his trust account as payment for his services in representing Halverson in the state court proceeding without notifying Halverson. 

Subsequently, Halverson asked repeatedly for Vilmont to return the retainer and provide an accounting.  Finally in June 2010, Vilmont gave an accounting to Halverson showing 3.7 hours of work and a charge of $2500.  The 3.7 hours included one hour for responding to the request for an accounting.   Vilmont was charged with numerous ethical violations, namely charging and collecting an unreasonable fee, withdrawing the unearned fee from the trust account in violation of Iowa rule 32:1.5(a), failing to properly deliver funds belonging to a client and failing to provide a timely accounting in violation of  rule 32:1.15(d), and failure to provide an accounting of the withdrawal  in violation of rule 32:1.15(f). He continued to maintain that the fee charged was not unreasonable.   The Board emphatically stated that it was clearly unethical for an attorney to charge a non-refundable advanced fee. The Board found that his reasonable fees should have been approximately $607.  The Board suspended Vilmont for 30 days as well ordering him to pay for the proceedings costs and refund Halverson $ 1893.50.   The case can be found here.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

DISBARRED AND DISBARRED AGAIN??

A Louisiana attorney, James Turnage, has been recommended to be disbarred permanently by the Louisiana Hearing Committee after he had been practicing law while disbarred. 

Turnage started working as an attorney for WorldCom in 2001.  In 2002, he was disbarred for unrelated misconduct.  However, he failed to inform WorldCom about this and continued to practice as in-house counsel.  In 2003, he was promoted to Associate Counsel when WorldCom was taken over by Verizon.  IN February 2007, he was promoted to the in-house counsel position of Assistant General Counsel.   

The Hearing Committee has charged Turnage with violating Louisiana Ethical Rule 1.4 (Lack of Communication), 4.1(b) (Lack of truthfulness/disclosure), 5.5(a) (engaging in the unauthorized practice of law), and 8.4(c) (engaging in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation). It has recommended that Turnage be permanently disbarred.  The recommendation can be found here.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

IF YOU TAKE THE $$...

The Supreme Court of Ohio has suspended Steven Malynn of Medina, Ohio, for two years, with the final six months stayed. 

Malynn was found to failed to maintain client trust accounts, deposited retainer fees into his business operating accounts, failed to exercise reasonable diligence in representing his clients, failed to respond to his clients when they requested information about their cases, dismissed one client's case without her knowledge, missed the statute of limitations for filing on another suit, and failed to answer a complaint which resulted in a $31,000 default judgement.  The Court only found two instances of mitigation - his lack of a discipline record before this and his 23 year service in the United States Marine Corps. 

Malynn must complete a mental health evaluation and follow all treatment recommended as well as provide proof that he is competent to return to the practice of law.  He must also refrain from any further misconduct during his suspension.

The opinion can be found here.

Monday, April 2, 2012

TALK ABOUT GETTING STRIPPED OF YOUR LICENSE

A Pennsylvania attorney was disbarred recently after numerous misdeeds, including soliciting financial support from a client for the attorney's fledgling strip club. 

The attorney, Glenn McGogney, who turned his failing restaurant into a strip club named the Coyote Show Club violated the Pennsylvania ethical rules regarding business transactions with a client (whom he represented in a divorce and support matters) and conflict of interests, as well as being dishonest.  McGogney failed to disclose to his former client the amount of unpaid debt he had for the restaurant turned strip club as well as not telling the client that the financial investment was in a strip club. 

McGogney also committed misconduct in an unrelated matter by neglecting his client's matter and making false representations about the client's statute of limitations (which he falsely said had run). 

The opinion can be found here.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

THE TROUBLE WITH JUDGES...PART 1

This will be a continuing piece about the issues we as a country and profession face with the increasing amount of money being poured into judicial races across the country.  

The amount of money being spent nationally on high-court candidates has more than doubled in the last ten years.  From 2000-2009, nearly $207 million was raised and spent on these elections, compared to $83 million from 1990-1999.  Illinois, which has had its fair share of "questionable" elections and candidates, was the fifth highest in the nation in regards to money spent on high court elections with special interest groups spending $20.6 million.  However, this is not too shocking when you compare this to Wisconsin, where nearly $15 million has been spent on high court elections since 2007.  

This raises a major problem for judges - in order to win elections, they must raise money from parties who may potentially appear before them in court.  This leads to the most depressing issue of all - 75% of Americans now believe campaign cash affects judges' decisions.  In a Republic such as ours, where judges are supposed to be an unbiased stalwart of truth, this statistic is most disturbing.  All of this is shocking given the U.S. Supreme Court's decision two years ago in Caperton v. Massey.  In Caperton, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a West Virginia justice should have recused himself from hearing a case involving a coal company whose CEO donated more than $3 million to help elect the justice.  This decision was a wake-up call for states to redefine and re-evaluate their rules for when a judge should recuse him or herself.  The hope was that this decision would lead states to make more clear and ethically sound rules for when a judge must recuse him or herself.  

However, this was not the case.  In Wisconsin, who was in the midst of a major judicial squabble (not based on judicial opinions, but on accused acts of violence between two Wisconsin Supreme Court justices), unfortunately, loosened and relaxed its judicial recusal standards.  It adopted language, ironically, written by a special interest group, which had spent millions of dollars on Wisconsin Supreme Court elections.  The new Wisconsin rules state that, by itself, a legal campaign contribution does not require recusal by a judge.  It doesn't matter apparently the appearance and inference of bias, which may violate due process.  

The ABA has urged states to update their recusal rules to help alleviate the appearance of bias and impropriety.  It also has called for independent reviews of recusal requests, which I believe is one of the best ideas yet.  Michigan has so far been the only state to adopt the ABA's guidance.  

More to come in the next few weeks.  However, we as a country and a legal profession, need to make sure that the people do not lose faith in the courts and the legal process.  Changes need to be made.  Since Citizen's United, the options may be fewer, but something needs to be done. 

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

AFFAIR WITH CLIENT - NEVER A GOOD IDEA!

A Tennessee lawyer has been suspended for one year due to his actions representing the woman he was having an affair with in her divorce proceedings.  Lance Parr failed to advise his client about the conflict of interest or obtain any type of waiver for the conflict.  He also tried to quash a subpoena for text messages between himself and the woman claiming attorney-client privilege, which did not apply in the situation.  Worse, Mr. Parr forged a client's signature to a document, notarized the signature and submitted the forged document to the court. 

It was stated that Mr. Parr's actions violated Tennessee Rules 1.7 (conflicts), 3.1 (meritorious claims), 3.3 (candor toward the tribunal) and 8.4 (misconduct).  In addition to his suspension, Mr. Parr must pay the costs of the disciplinary proceeding as well as be evaluated by the Tennessee Lawyers Assistance Program and any recommendations they offer before he can be reinstated. 

The opinion can be read here.

OVERBILLING LEADS TO SUSPENSION

Richard Lancianese's West Virginia license has been suspended for three years due to overbilling a client.  From 2000 to 2007, Lancianese, "knowingly submitted false [and] inflated bills" to BorgWarner, an automotive parts manufacturer, in asbestos-related defense case.  The amount Lancianese overbilled was totaled at $135,878.68. 
 
After discovering that Liancianese billed two of BorgWarner's insurance carriers for the same work, one of Lancianese's firm's partners began an internal investigation that uncovered additional erroneous billings.  After being notified of the overbilling, one of BorgWarner's corporate attorneys filed an ethical complaint against Lancianese. 

Coupled with the suspension, Lancianese must take an additional six hours of continuing education in law office management beyond the normal 12 hours required for reinstatement, as well as pay the cost of the disciplinary proceeding.

The opinion is West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeal Op. 11-0067.

Monday, March 26, 2012

RETIRED DETROIT PROSECUTOR IS DISBARRED

Retired Detroit prosecutor, Karen Plants, who had been suspended from the practice of law for two years, has now been disbarred.

Plants was accused of using knowingly false testimony from two police officers in order to hide the identity and role of one of their undercover informants in a drug bust.  Both Plants and Judge Waterstone allegedly knew of the falsity of the testimony yet still allowed the police officers to testify that the informant had no connection to the police.  Plants never corrected the testimony.  All of this came to light during the appeals process launched by the accused drug dealer when his attorneys came across a previously sealed transcript of a private conversation between Judge Waterstone and Plants, in which Plants informed the judge of the false testimony.  Judge Waterstone said that she would allow the false testimony in order to protect the informant's life. 

Plants plead guilty to misconduct in office and accepted a six-moth jail sentence.  Retired Judge Waterstone, was also charged with misconduct in office.  She has been reprimanded by the Michigan Judicial Tenure Commission. 

A hearing panel in April 2011 suspended Plants' license for two years.  The state's attorney Grievance Administrator, however, felt that punishment wasn't strong enough to deter this type of behavior.  The Grievance Administrator petitioned for review, arguing that disbarment was the appropriate sanction. 

In its 48-page decision, the Michigan Attorney Discipline Board stated that the legal system cannot tolerate lawyers like Plants who "intentionally procure of countenance false testimony, even for a purpose the lawyer may consider justifiable."  Plants' attorney declined to comment on the decision. 

Plants has two choices if she wishes to regain her law license.  Under Michigan rules, any disbarred attorney can apply for readmission after a five year waiting period, but has to be re-certified by character and fitness as well as retake the bar exam.  She also has the option of appealing the disbarment to the Michigan Supreme Court, but only with the court's permission. 

The Michigan Attorney Discipline Board's opinion can be found here.

Friday, March 23, 2012

NEW YORK BAR & NON-LAWYER OWNERSHIP OF FIRMS

The New York State Bar Association has ruled that lawyers who primarily practice in New York cannot be part of a foreign firm in which non-lawyers hold a stake, even if allowed where the firm is based.  This directly affects firms in areas such as the United Kingdom and Australia where non-lawyers can be owner-investors, and also the District of Columbia which allows non-lawyer employees to share in a firm's equity. 

The association's committee on professional ethics said that such an agreement would violate Rule 5.4 of the New York Rules of Professional Conduct, which bars attorneys from sharing fees with non-lawyers and practicing law for profit with entities that include non-lawyer owners or members.

The United Kingdom's Legal Services Act allows United Kingdom firms to take external ownership once they convert to an alternative business structure - something which is geared toward mainly consumer-focused law firms. 

Currently, the ABA ethics committee is considering whether restrictions on non-lawyer ownership/equity sharing should be eased. As of now, all 50 states prohibit non-lawyer ownership of firms. 

The New York Ethics Opinion can be read here.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

PERSISTENCE PERSISTENCE PERSISTENCE

An interesting story from the New York Post and Reuters.  Neal Wiesner, a University of New York Law School graduate who passed the New York bar exam in 1994 and in his 50s, has finally been given the green light to practice in New York after being repeatedly denied his bar membership due to character and fitness issues relating to his criminal conduct, including attempted murder and a domestic incident, in the 1980s. 

Wiesner, who has previously been admitted in New Jersey and in federal court, was given the "ok" by the Supreme Court Appellate Division, First Department, where witness testimony played a significant factor in the decision.  The court stated in its opinion, "[c]rediting his witnesses and taking into account his postrelease conduct and achievements, the manner in which he makes himself available to help individuals and his contributions to the betterment of society—matters to which all witnesses have attested—as well as the absence of conduct contrary to the ethics governing the legal profession over an extensive period of time, it is manifest that petitioner has rehabilitated himself to such an extent that he satisfies the character and fitness requirement."

NEWS FROM THE "BAR" - 13 YEARS PRACTICING ON SUSPENDED LICENSE

David Walocha graduated from law school and passed the Nebraska bar in 1994.  However, two years later, he let his bar membership lapse by not paying his dues.  Two years later, he was back to practicing law.  There was only one problem though - he still hadn't paid his dues and was still suspended. 

Walocha, while working as a bartender would pick up cases from his customers as well as refer customers to other lawyers.  From 1998 to 2011, Walocha represented at least 60 people, tried felony cases and appeared before as many as 15 judges, none of whom thought anything was amiss or suspicious.  Even Walocha's wife, a real estate attorney, was apparently unaware of his practicing on a lapsed bar membership.

What finally got Walocha caught was having a client sentenced to jail.  When prison officials asked Walocha's now sentenced client, P. Vanderpool, to give his lawyer's name and phone number in order to prevent these calls from being monitored (due to lawyer-client privilege), they told Vanderpool that Walocha's name did not appear on the list of active attorneys.  Vanderpool then contacted his mother about the situation and she contacted the Nebraska State Bar Association to see what the problem was. 

On March 9, 2012, the Nebraska State Supreme Court disbarred Walocha, calling his behavior over the past 13 years "egregious and unacceptable.".  The court denied his plea for a reduced sanction, stating "[e]very pleading, every court appearance, every meeting with a client constituted a separate act of dishonesty." 

On a side note, Vanderpool is now appealing his conviction, claiming ineffective assistance of counsel.

To read the Nebraska Supreme Court statement, click here.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

HOW TO GET DISBARRED - THREATEN WITNESSES!

The New York Appellate Division, First Department, granted the State's Disciplinary Committee's petition to disbar defense attorney Robert M. Simels.  Simels started as a prosecutor, but later became a defense attorney, had represented notorious clients, including drug kingpins and mob informant Henry Hill (On whom the movie Goodfellas was based off of).  Simels has "developed a reputation as a dogged advocate for his clients and a meticulously prepared trial lawyer.  He also found himself in much-publicized ethical scrapes and was barred from at least one courtroom by a judge" reported the New York Times. 

Simels was convicted on 12 out of 13 counts, which included conspiracy, bribery, obstruction of justice, and witness tampering, in 2009.  Arienne Irving, an associate in Simels' firm, was also convicted in the case, but U.S. District Judge Gleeson set aside the Irving's conviction.  Simels was convicted after being caught on tape stating that there was a need to "eliminate" or "neutralize" witnesses who were going to testify against his client who was a suspected drug kingpin.  He was sentenced to 14 years and fined $225,000.  A federal appeals court affirmed 10 of his 12 convictions. 

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

WATCH YOUR MOUTH! PSEUDONYM'S COMMENTS HURT (NOW FORMER) FEDERAL PROSECUTOR

New Orelans Federal Prosecutor Sal Perricone has admitted to making hundreds of posts under pseudonym Henry L. Mencken1951 and possibly three others on the website NOLA.com.  In these posts, Mencken1951 complained that U.S. Attorney Jim Letten was "great for taking credit for other people's hard work.  It is the assistants and agents who do the work and should be congratulated."  Mencken 1951 also claimed that a U.S. District Judge "loves killers."  He even called President Obama's Cabinet the "West Wing of Bolsheviks."

Perricone was discovered after a forensic linguistics expert, hired by a landfill owner who is the subject of a probe by U.S. Attorney's Office, examined the nearly 600 posts by Mencken1951 and a brief written by Perricone.  The expert tied Perricone and Mencken1951 together due to the use of alliteration and antiquated words, i.e., "dubiety" and "redoubt." 

U.S. Attorney Lim Letten has stated that Perricone has been removed from all matters on which he commented on at NOLA.com.  Perricone's actions have been referred to Justice Department's Office of Professional Responsibility.  Perricone has since resigned from the Department of Justice. He likely will be charged with breaching the DOJ Policy on disclosing non-public information without permission. 

Perricone, 60, was a federal prosecutor for nearly20 years.  Previously, he was an FBI agent, a New Orleans police officer and a Jefferson Parish sheriff's deputy. At the time of these comments, he held the post of senior litigation counsel, generally considered the No. 3 job in the office.

Monday, March 19, 2012

DAILY GROUP COUPONS: INDIANA BAR SAYS NO!

Indiana's State Bar Association's Legal Ethics Committee, in its Ethics Op. No. 1 of 2012, determined that using group coupons or daily deal marketing, such as "Groupon", would likely be unethical if used to market legal services.  The Ethics Committee stated that using such services likely violated a number of rules of professional conduct, namely Rule 2.1 (exercise of independent professional judgment and render candid advice), Rule 1.15 (Client Trust Account), Rule 1.16 (declining/terminating client representation), Rule 5.4 (prohibition of fee sharing with non lawyers), and Rule 7.2 (prohibition on paying for channeling professional work). 

Two of the strongest reasons Indiana advocated for not allowing these types of coupons was that the Committee was concerned about having a person "purchasing services," without ever meeting with the attorney in order to create a "course of conduct best fitting the client's situation."  The Committee emphatically stated that "the creation and establishment of an attorney-client relationship is the non-delegable duty of the lawyer."  The other issue was Rule 1.15, which requires attorneys to deposit into a client trust account any legal fees and expenses paid in advance, and to withdraw funds only as fees are earned.  Having advanced legal fees (which is what the coupon would be) being held by a party who is not the attorney, clearly violates this Rule. 

While Indiana was not the first state to tackle this issue, it was the first to state that using these daily deal coupons were likely unethical.  North Carolina, Missouri, South Carolina and New York all have issued ethics opinions allowing the use of daily deal coupons.  See North Carolina Ethics Op. 2011-10, South Carolina Ethics Op. 11-05, and New York State Ethics Op. 897,

The Indiana opinion is available here.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Under Construction

Welcome to the Legal Ethics Blog.  Currently, this site is under construction until 19 March 2012.  Once completed, daily posts will arrive dealing with numerous topics affecting the legal world.  This site will be useful for lawyers, judges and law students.  Please check back soon!