The ultimate Overlawyered story? Minnesota: “An Eagan lawyer is suspended indefinitely after having an affair with a client whom he represented in a divorce, then billing her for time they spent having sex. … At various points, Lowe billed the woman for legal services on the dates of their sexual encounters, coding the time as meetings or drafting memos. … [He] won’t have a chance for reinstatement for at least a year and three months after the decision… by the Minnesota Supreme Court.” [St. Paul Pioneer-Press]
“Under the proposed rule change [at the Iowa Supreme Court], lawyers suspended for stealing from clients, drug and alcohol problems, and neglecting important cases could hide what they did and resume practice without clients ever knowing what ethical violations they committed.” [Des Moines Register, more]
Over dissents from two justices, the New Jersey Supreme Court has declined to disbar an attorney who made “repeated, demeaning and offensive suggestions to his clients” in “an effort to barter his professional services for sexual favors.” The punishment instead: suspension for a year and required sensitivity training. Solangel Maldonado at Concurring Opinions thinks the court was too lenient, arguing that an employer charged with similar conduct toward an employee would have faced extensive liability under sexual harassment law.
From Computing (UK):
Law firm Tilly Bailey & Irvine (TBI) has stopped the bulk mailing of legal threats on behalf of rights holders to people accused of illegal file-sharing.
The move follows a campaign by consumer charity Which?, claiming the practice is unfair. It effectively reduces the number of UK law firms involved in bulk litigation against alleged file-sharers to one: London-based ACS Law Solicitors.
It makes a contrast with the situation in the U.S., where there seems to be no shortage of law firms eager to represent RIAA and other rights holders in mass litigation campaigns against consumers. Which? dubbed the mass demand letters “speculative invoices” and called them to bar regulators’ attention as a potential ethical violation.
And a train wreck results, after a Massachusetts lawyer “allowed the client to dictate a misguided strategy involving excessive and improper discovery requests that did not materially advance the client’s cases but did generate large hourly-based fees for the respondent.” [Legal Profession Blog]
Disbarment isn’t always as severe a punishment as it may sound; some states “allow disbarred or suspended attorneys to work as paralegals or law clerks handling legal research or drafting documents under the supervision of an attorney.” One rationale is to ease the path for reinstatement of a lawyer who reforms and lives down past misconduct, but the practice opens the door to evasion, as in a Colorado case in which the disbarred attorney ostensibly turned his law firm over to associates and then was hired by them: “The reality was that the disbarred attorney was still running the firm,” a regulatory official says. [ABA Journal, June 2007 but unnoted here until now]
Because actually disbarring him would just have been too mean, at least in the eyes of the Nevada Supreme Court. Douglas Crawford blamed depression and gambling addiction for his client thefts. [ABA Journal]
Due to work and family commitments today and tomorrow, this may be my final post at Overlawyered. Walter Olson will be returning shortly.
- Eight Los Angeles police officers may face suit from an unwilling Jamie Lynn Spears decoy. Why does the LAPD provide any officers at all to protect B-list celebrities?
- What slippery slope? New Jersey Civil Rights Division finds discrimination in case of Methodist ministry which refused to rent a pavilion for civil union of two lesbians, but otherwise rented the pavilion for marriage without regard for sectarian concerns. Perhaps this makes sense if sexual orientation is protected under New Jersey civil rights law, but I’m pretty sure New Jersey still gets it wrong on the First Amendment;
- Revolutionary breathrough in cellular anti-aging, or journalistic malpractice?
- “But the majority voted not to disbar since they saw a distinction between an attempt to have sex with the minor and actually doing it.“ Like Eric Turkewitz, I’m astonished;
- In building a law firm, perhaps Craigslist is not the best substitute for traditional recruiting practices;
- Great news for British authors of Popeye fan fiction. American fans are still out of luck;
- Talk show hosts whose entertainment relies on “zinging” stupid guests, with the support of an even more stupid audience, should never invite Christopher Hitchens to appear on their shows;
- Thoughts on whether it’s deceptive, or just lame, to call a solo law practice “the Law Offices of John Smith” or “John Smith and Associates” from sole practitioner Scott Greenfield.
In the event that this is my final piece here, I’ve enjoyed my stint guest-blogging, and commend Walter on the hard work he’s done through the years to make this a great site, as well as to build an unusually good commenting audience. Happy new year!
Not that it’s any surprise to anyone who’s been following these matters, but on Tuesday, Chief Justice Roberts finally got around to denying Overlawyered reader-favorite Montgomery Blair Sibley‘s application for a stay of the order automatically suspending him from practice in the District of Columbia. While that stay application was pending, the D.C. Board on Professional Responsibility recommended in November that the suspension last three years, “with his reinstatement conditioned upon a showing of fitness to practice.” The D.C. Bar website still shows Sibley as an “active” member of the bar.
Phrased thus (at Legal Ethics Forum) it seems like a rather loaded question, doesn’t it? Who’s supposed to come down in favor of haunting? (The controversy arises from the suit filed by Greenwich attorney Barbara Shea to force a Connecticut grievance committee to remove online records of disciplinary run-ins she had between 1997 and 2002). A contrasting way of posing the same question might be: how far should we go in letting lawyers curtail the public availability of embarrassing information about events that 1) really did happen; 2) were a matter of public record at the time; and 3) are of natural and legitimate interest to at least some clients?
I’m not sure I have an entirely satisfactory answer to that question, but I’m pretty confident that it’s an unsatisfactory approach for grievance committees to have to fear getting beaten up in court actions if they don’t strike the balance as leniently as lawyers might like. (Douglas S. Malin, “Trying To Make The Past Disappear”, Connecticut Law Tribune, Sept. 29; Elefant/Legal Blog Watch, Oct. 3).
P.S. Many interesting reader comments of which my favorite was this one from z0l0ft:
The year is 2020 –
Hey Honey, I was checking the internet and I found all this great information about a true pioneer of the fight against the corruption of our youth by the videogame industry. His name was Jack Thompson. I could find nothing negative about him, so he must have been great.
Wheeling, W.V.: the West Virginia Supreme Court has annulled the law license of Mark Blevins, an attorney and candidate for county prosecutor who was accused in disciplinary complants of having solicited a convicted felon to procure a “throwaway” gun and to help him collect money from clients. (AP/Law.com; Wheeling News-Register). Our earlier post drew protests from readers who didn’t think it relevant whether the other party to the discussion was a felon or not.
The Louisiana Attorney Disciplinary Board’s charges against attorney John M. Sharp, formerly managing partner in the firm Sharp Henry Cerniglia Colvin Weaver & Davis, may possibly recall the old joke: lawyer finds satchel of someone’s misplaced cash, followed by wrenching dilemma of legal ethics: should he tell the partners? (Karina Donica, “Attorney involved in city-Cleco case faces possible disbarment”, Town Talk (Alexandria, La.), Aug. 22)(via ABA Journal).
Updating our previous story, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel reports that the Florida Bar has taken action against the law firm that may have ripped off millions of dollars from consumers.
State documents filed in Broward County Circuit Court claim that in 2006 and 2007 the law firm run by Laura Hess and an affiliated company managed by Edward Cherry paid $12 million to friends and relatives, and to businesses run by former employees or associates of Hess and Cherry.
In the meantime, the firm did not negotiate with clients’ creditors or review credit records as promised, resulting in some consumers being sued for their debts or having to file bankruptcy, records showed.
Hess Kennedy Chartered LLC and The Consumer Law Center collected “exorbitant” upfront fees, usually up to 15 percent of the client’s unsecured debt, according to the Florida Bar’s Tuesday filing with the Florida Supreme Court.
Melbourne Mills’s defense that he was too drunk to know what was going on when he and two other attorneys stole tens of millions of dollars appears to have created reasonable doubt in the mind of a Kentucky jury. Mills may have been helped by the revelation that his two co-counsel tried to hide $50 million from him, too, permitting his attorney to more plausibly blame the scheme on others. Or the jury may have believed the argument of Mills’s attorney that the three attorneys were too stupid to understand the settlement agreement and didn’t intend to steal any money (though they transferred a lot of money from their personal account to their clients when they learned the bar was investigating, and lied to the bar about how much money their clients received). (Jim Hannah, “One cleared in diet drug case”, Cincinnati Enquirer, Jul. 2; Beth Musgrave, “Fen-phen lawyer Mills is found not guilty”, Lexington Herald-Leader, Jul. 2; Beth Musgrave, “Jury hears closing arguments in fen-phen trial”, Lexington Herald-Leader, Jun. 24; AP/Kentucky Post, Jun. 23). The jury, today in its seventh day of deliberations, claims a deadlock on the other two attorneys, no doubt confused by why Judge Jay Bamberger and co-counsel and Democratic bigwig Stanley Chesley have not also been indicted. Defendants Cunningham and Gallion have sought to blame the tens of millions they stole on the fact that Bamberger (who was indirectly paid millions) judicially approved the settlement and Chesley (who was directly paid tens of millions) was allegedly the architect of the settlement that ensured lawyers would get far more than their contracts with their clients provided. Since there is no dispute that those two were indeed intimately involved in the scheme, the jury isn’t the only one confused why the Kentucky fen-phen three are being treated differently than the judge, the judge’s former law partner, and Stan Chesley, who all profited mightily.
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As we noted, it was a foregone conclusion under Local Rule 83 after the District of Columbia suspended Sibley, but we now have written confirmation (see Exhibit A at pp. 6-7).
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