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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.