Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert which will discuss the recent New York appellate court opinion suspending a New York lawyer for one year on a reciprocal basis after he was suspended by the Oregon Supreme Court for one year for making false representations regarding his completion of the required Oregon CLE and providing false testimony. The New York case is: Matter of Joseph R. Sanchez, 017 NY Slip Op 01869 (Appellate Division, Second Department March 15, 2017) and the New York opinion is here: http://www.nycourts.gov/reporter/3dseries/2017/2017_01869.htm. The Oregon disciplinary board opinion is here: http://www.osbar.org/_docs/dbreport/dbr29.pdf
The lawyer was admitted to practice in both New York and Oregon. He was required to complete 45 CLE hours for the 2009 to 2011 Oregon reporting period and he purchased on-line CLE courses. Two days later, he certified to the Oregon Bar that he had completed the required 45 hours of CLE although he had not previously completed any CLE for that reporting period.
After receiving the lawyer’s certification, the Oregon Bar’s CLE administrator asked him how he was able to watch 48 hours of CLE courses in about one day. The lawyer responded by providing copies of his CLE completion certificates. He later provided “evasive, incomplete and/or untruthful” answers under oath. The panel also found that the lawyer made the misrepresentations knowingly and intentionally.
According to the New York opinion:
“The trial panel found the respondent’s overall testimony lacking in credibility:
(The lawyer’s) testimony was inconsistent with his prior writings, including an affidavit he prepared and signed under oath in 2012. The testimony he provided at the hearing was inconsistent with the testimony he previously provided at his deposition in this matter on September 3, 2014, which was also provided under oath. The [respondent] presented facts during his testimony that he had never presented before, notwithstanding having had multiple opportunities to have done so during the course of the [Oregon] Bar’s investigation. Put simply, the panel finds that the [respondent’s] testimony was untruthful. Lastly, the panel finds that the [respondent] made his misrepresentations knowingly and intentionally. The [respondent] was provided multiple opportunities to explain how he could have possibly fit 48 hours of work into a shorter (and potentially significantly shorter) period of time and each time he failed to do so. It is clear he changed the facts over time, [and] added explanations’ when prior ones were not accepted, with each subsequent explanation less plausible than the prior.”
The trial panel concluded that the respondent violated his duty to the public and to the legal profession when he intentionally and knowingly misrepresented to both Lawline and the Oregon Bar the fact that he had attended and successfully completed the CLE courses he had purchased.”
Based upon the reciprocal Oregon discipline (and the facts), the New York opinion suspended the lawyer from the practice of law for one year, beginning on April 14, 2017. He was also required to “furnish satisfactory proof that during the period of suspension he (1) refrained from practicing or attempting to practice law, (2) fully complied with this order and with the terms and provisions of the written rules governing the conduct of disbarred and suspended attorneys (see 22 NYCRR 1240.15), (3) complied with the applicable continuing legal education requirements of 22 NYCRR 691.11(a), and (4) otherwise properly conducted himself.”
Bottom line: It should certainly should go without saying that lawyers must never provide false information to the Bar (or at any other time); however, this lawyer apparently very blatantly believed that he could pass under the Bar radar in making the false representations. He compounded the misconduct by providing “inconsistent testimony” that as “lacking in credibility.” Not only is this conduct completely unethical, but lawyers should never assume that the Bar will fail to detect false representations such as these.
As always, if you have any questions about this Ethics Alert or need assistance, analysis, and guidance regarding ethics, risk management, or other issues, please do not hesitate to contact me.
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Joseph A. Corsmeier, Esquire
Law Office of Joseph A. Corsmeier, P.A.
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