Tag Archives: lawyer conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice

Florida lawyer suspended for 18 months for engaging in personal misconduct while acting pro se as a party in a dissolution proceeding

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert which will discuss a Florida Supreme Court opinion wherein the Court imposed an 18 month suspension on a lawyer who engaged in misconduct while representing himself as a party in a dissolution and child support proceeding.  The case is The Florida Bar v. Madsen Marcellus, Jr., No. SC16-1773 and the July 19, 2018 Supreme Court opinion is here:  http://www.floridasupremecourt.org/decisions/2018/sc16-1773.pdf

According to the opinion, a 2010 Order in the dissolution matter required the lawyer to refinance the marital home, remove his ex-wife’s name from the property since he had moved out, or sell the home. Before the closing of a pending sale and the ex-wife had vacated, the lawyer moved back in and the sale fell through.

The lawyer was then unable to refinance the house and, in an attempt to obtain a modification of the mortgage, a friend of the lawyer who was a notary signed the ex-wife’s name on the application in front of the lawyer and notarized it without the ex-wife’s knowledge or consent.

The ex-wife became aware of false notarization after the lawyer failed to make payments under the modified mortgage and she was served as part of a foreclosure filing.  The ex-wife then filed a motion for contempt since her name had not been removed from the house title as ordered. The trial judge withheld a contempt finding, but did order the lawyer to pay $2,500.00 the ex-wife’s fees.

The lawyer was served with discovery requests in the dissolution matter in 2013 related to his alleged failure to pay child support.  He failed to respond and also failed to appear in court when he was ordered to do so by the judge.  The lawyer was later sanctioned and ordered to pay the ex-wife’s fees.  He also remained in violation of several family court orders throughout the disciplinary matter.

The referee rejected the lawyer’s claim he missed some court appearances because he was representing clients, and noted that he made no attempt to advise the court of any conflicts. The referee also found the lawyer was deceptive in the disciplinary process.

The opinion upheld the referee’s factual findings and the findings that the lawyer violated various Bar rules in his actions related to his dissolution and child support matters but increased the referee’s recommended discipline from a 12-month suspension to an 18-month suspension.

The opinion referred to various previous Bar cases where lawyers had committed less serious Bar rule violations and received one-year suspensions.  The opinion also stated, as it has in previous Bar discipline opinions, that “the Court has ‘moved toward imposing stronger sanctions for unethical and unprofessional conduct.’ Fla. Bar v. Rosenberg, 169 So. 3d 1155, 1162 (Fla. 2015).”

In addition, “(the lawyer’s) conduct was entirely unbecoming of a lawyer, who is held within a position of trust and respect in our society, and cannot be tolerated,” the court said in its opinion. “Although [the attorney] committed this misconduct as a party to his own divorce, lawyers ‘do not cast aside the oath they take as an attorney or their professional responsibilities’ just because they are litigants in personal matters. Fla. Bar v. Cibula, 725 So. 2d 360, 365 (Fla. 1998).”

Bottom line:  This case involves a lawyer who engaged in personal ethical misconduct as a party to a personal dissolution matter.  The Supreme Court opinion points out that the Court has “moved toward imposing stronger sanctions for unethical and unprofessional conduct” and lawyers “do not cast aside the oath they take as an attorney….just because they are litigants in personal matters.”  Lawyers must comply with the Florida Bar rules, even while acting as a party in a personal civil matter.

Be careful out there.

Disclaimer:  this Ethics Alert is not an advertisement, does not contain any legal advice, and does not create an attorney/client relationship and the comments herein should not be relied upon by anyone who reads it.

Joseph A. Corsmeier, Esquire

Law Office of Joseph A. Corsmeier, P.A.

29605 U.S. Highway 19, N., Suite 150

Clearwater, Florida 33761

Office (727) 799-1688

Fax     (727) 799-1670

jcorsmeier@jac-law.com

www.jac-law.com

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Connecticut lawyer who was sued for malpractice and included client’s psychiatric records in court document suspended for 2 years

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert which will discuss the recent 2 year suspension of a Connecticut lawyer who was sued for legal malpractice and released his former client’s psychiatric records in retaliation and to embarrass the client.  The case is Office of the Chief Disciplinary Counsel v. Jason E. Pearl, Superior Court, Judicial District of New Britain, Order 418034, Docket No.: HHBCV186043301S.

The lawyer’s former client, Veronica Perakos, sued him for professional malpractice in December 2014.  According to the complaint, the client hired the lawyer in 2011 to defend her in a lawsuit her condominium association filed regarding alleged failure to pay common fees and monthly special assessment fees.  Her debt to the association was $22,358.00 and the lawyer was alleged to have failed to notify her about the risk of foreclosure if she did not make the monthly payments on the debt.

The lawsuit also claimed the lawyer did not explain to the client what happened after a court hearing, failed to give the client file to the client’s new lawyer in a timely manner, and told the new lawyer that the client’s foreclosure matter would be resolved if she placed the property on the market for a price set by the court.  The lawyer had previously been suspended for 120 days in 2013 for not complying with a random IOLTA audit and the lawsuit claimed that he also failed to notify the client of that audit.

According to court documents, approximately six weeks after the lawsuit was filed, the lawyer filed an electronically filed motion with the court asking that the client be declared “unfit to testify due to her psychiatric history, medical commitment, conservatorship and untruthfulness.” The client’s psychiatric records were also enclosed with the motion without the client’s permission.  According to media reports, the lawyer had represented the client on previous matters, which was how he obtained her medical records dating back to 2006.

The malpractice litigation resulted in a judgment for the client and, after reviewing the information and evidence regarding the publication of the client’s confidential psychiatric records, Superior Court Judge Joan Alexander found as follows:

The Court finds clear and convincing evidence that Jason E. Pearl violated Rule 8.4(4) of the Rules of Professional Conduct. He engaged in conduct that is prejudicial to the administration of justice by his unauthorized public release of a former client’s psychiatric records. The Court finds that the respondent violated Rule 1.9 of the Professional Rules of Conduct in that his conduct was retaliatory and intended to embarrass his former client. As a result of these findings, the Court orders a 2 year suspension on his right to practice law effective immediately. The court orders that the respondent must successfully complete 20 hours of legal ethics training and file notice evidencing the completion of this training. The training must be attended in person and not online. The respondent also must comply with the requirements of Practice Book § 2-47B during his suspension. If the respondent seeks reinstatement to the bar after the period of suspension, he must comply with the procedures outlined in Practice Book § 2-53.

Bottom line:  This case involves a lawyer who was apparently upset that his client had filed a malpractice claim against him and he decided to make an “unauthorized public release of a former client’s psychiatric records”, which “ was retaliatory and intended to embarrass his former client.”

Be careful out there.

Disclaimer:  this Ethics Alert is not an advertisement, does not contain any legal advice, and does not create an attorney/client relationship and the comments herein should not be relied upon by anyone who reads it.

Joseph A. Corsmeier, Esquire

Law Office of Joseph A. Corsmeier, P.A.

29605 U.S. Highway 19, N., Suite 150

Clearwater, Florida 33761

Office (727) 799-1688

Fax     (727) 799-1670

jcorsmeier@jac-law.com

www.jac-law.com

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Nevada lawyer suspended for 6 months and 1 day for displaying a gun at a deposition and other “appalling behavior”

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert which will discuss the recent 6 month and 1 day suspension of a Nevada lawyer for brandishing a gun at a deposition, using derogatory language and repeatedly making inappropriate statements, and other “appalling behavior”.  The case is In re: Discipline of James Pengilly, SC Case No. 74316.  The September 7, 2018 unpublished Nevada Supreme Court Order is here:  file:///C:/Users/jcorsmeier/Downloads/18-35030%20(1).pdf

The lawyer was representing himself as the defendant in a defamation lawsuit and the misconduct is related to the lawyer’s behavior during a deposition of the Plaintiff at his office in September 2016.  The lawyer used vulgarities while questioning the witness, called the deponent derogatory names (including “Dip Shit” and “Big Bird”), aggressively interrupted the witness and opposing counsel, answered questions for the witness, and repeatedly made inappropriate statements on the record.

At one point during the deposition, the lawyer put his hand near his hip and asked the witness if he was “ready for it”. The witness then briefly left the room and when he returned, the lawyer displayed a firearm he had in a holster on his hip to the witness and the opposing counsel.  The deposition was then terminated and the defamation litigation was put on hold.  The Plaintiff filed a Motion for Protective Order and Motion for Sanctions outlining the misconduct.  The Motion for Protective Order and Sanctions and exhibits are here: 9-29-16 Motion for Protective Order and Sanctions.  The lawyer was sanctioned for his misconduct in the litigation.

The unpublished Nevada Supreme Court Order states: “(h)aving reviewed the record on appeal, we conclude that there is substantial evidence to support the panel’s findings that Pengilly violated RPC 8.4(d) (prohibiting an attorney from engaging in conduct that is prejudicial to the administration of justice). Indeed, the deposition transcript, coupled with the testimony at the formal hearing, demonstrates that Pengilly displayed appalling behavior toward the deponent. Additionally, the record is clear, and Pengilly admits, that he displayed a firearm. Accordingly, we agree with the hearing panel that Pengilly committed the violation set forth above.”

“Pengilly argues that his conduct should be viewed under a negligence standard, but we agree with the panel that he acted knowingly as he was consciously aware of his conduct and knew his behavior was inappropriate. His conduct caused actual injury to the proceeding as the deposition concluded early and the discovery commissioner had to issue a protective order, causing the case to be delayed. Both the deponent and his attorney testified they were afraid Pengilly was going to shoot them, and their fears were documented: they immediately called the police, filed police reports the next day, filed for a TPO, and filed bar grievances. Further, there was the potential for serious injury to every one present—the deponent, his attorney, the court reporter, Pengilly’s office staff, and even Pengilly himself–because a deadly weapon was involved.”

Bottom line:  This case involves a lawyer who was clearly lacking in emotional control and anger management, to say the least.  In addition, he was representing himself, and we know how that can go.

Be careful out there.

Disclaimer:  this Ethics Alert is not an advertisement, does not contain any legal advice, and does not create an attorney/client relationship and the comments herein should not be relied upon by anyone who reads it.

Joseph A. Corsmeier, Esquire

Law Office of Joseph A. Corsmeier, P.A.

29605 U.S. Highway 19, N., Suite 150

Clearwater, Florida 33761

Office (727) 799-1688

Fax     (727) 799-1670

jcorsmeier@jac-law.com

www.jac-law.com

 

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Federal magistrate sanctions New York lawyer for lying about family emergency after Instagram posts showed she was on vacation

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert, which will discuss recent opinion of a U.S. District Court magistrate sanctioning a New York lawyer who claimed that she missed a deadline because of a family emergency but was apparently on vacation.  The case is: Siu Ching Ha v. Baumgart Café of Livingston, Civil Action No. 15-5530 (ES) (MAH), and the magistrate’s opinion is here:  Ha v. Baumgart Café of Livingston Instagram sanctions

The lawyer, Lina Franco, and her co-counsel, John Troy, filed for an extension of time to file 16 days past the deadline to file a motion for conditional class certification.  The lawyer said she had to leave the country for the family emergency and submitted a flight itinerary showing she had flown from New York City to Mexico City on Thursday, November 21, 2016 and stayed there until December 8, 2016.

Opposing counsel filed a motion objecting to the extension and for sanctions claiming that Instagram photos from Franco’s public social media account indicated that she was in New York and then Miami during that period.  Franco told the magistrate that she had gone to Mexico City earlier in November and that her mother’s medical diagnosis sent her “into a tailspin” that caused her to miss the deadline and submit an erroneous itinerary.

The magistrate found that “November 21, 2016 was indisputably a Monday, not a Thursday” and, although Franco was in Mexico City in early November 2016, she was apparently in New York City when she missed the Nov. 23, 2016 deadline to file a motion for class certification in a wage-and-hour suit.  The magistrate found that Franco deliberately had misled the court and her co-counsel and that her “misrepresentations to the court clearly constitute bad faith and were unreasonable and vexatious, not simply a misunderstanding or well-intentioned zeal.”   The magistrate granted the motion and imposed sanctions against Franco in the amount of $10,000.00.

Franco was local counsel in the lawsuit and her co-counsel, Troy, was admitted into the case pro hac vice. Troy told the magistrate that he had e-mailed the motion to Franco on the afternoon of the deadline and had expected her to file it and he was unaware of her alleged family emergency. He said he did not follow up with Franco to make sure the motion was filed because he had worked with her in the past and believed that she was reliable.

Both Franco and opposing counsel sought to have Troy held jointly and severally responsible for the sanction; however, the magistrate did not agree, stating that “(e)ven assuming, solely for the sake of argument, that Mr. Troy had a duty to supervise Ms. Franco and was somehow derelict in discharging that duty, such dereliction falls well short of the standard to impose sanctions”.  Opposing counsel requested $44,283.00 in attorney fees and costs; however, the magistrate found that amount to be “unreasonably high” and ordered sanctions in the amount of $10,000.00 to be divided among the three opposing counsel.

Bottom line:  This is a very clear example of a lawyer whose false statements in court documents and in a court proceeding were exposed because of social media posts, in this case Instagram.

Be careful out there in our digital social media world…oh and don’t lie and post pictures on social media exposing the lie.

Disclaimer:  this e-mail is not an advertisement, does not contain any legal advice, and does not create an attorney/client relationship and the comments herein should not be relied upon by anyone who reads it.

Joseph A. Corsmeier, Esquire

Law Office of Joseph A. Corsmeier, P.A.

29605 U.S. Highway 19 N. Suite 150

Clearwater, Florida 33761

Office (727) 799-1688

Fax     (727) 799-1670

jcorsmeier@jac-law.com

www.jac-law.com

Joseph Corsmeier

about.me/corsmeierethicsblogs

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Florida lawyer is disbarred for “egregious misconduct” and a pattern of disruptive and “obnoxious” behavior

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert which will discuss the recent disbarment of a lawyer in south Florida attorney for, inter alia, engaging in “escalating misconduct,” including loudly kicking a table and muttering “lie, lie, lie” during court proceedings.  The case is The Florida Bar v. Robert Joseph Ratiner, No. SC13-539 (Florida Supreme Court 2/22/18), and the opinion is here:  http://www.floridasupremecourt.org/decisions/2018/sc13-539.pdf

The lawyer was admitted in 1990 and was disciplined in 2007 after engaging in a rant against opposing counsel for DuPont during a deposition.  He represented some orchid growers who had alleged that DuPont’s fungicide called Benlate had killed their plants.  DuPont’s lawyer attempted to put an exhibit sticker on the lawyer’s laptop.  He then attempted to run around the table toward the other lawyer and yelled at him which, according to the referee’s report, caused the court reporter to state “I can’t work like this!”  That conduct resulted in a 60 day suspension and probation.

The lawyer was then involved in a document review session with DuPont in 2009 and, according to the referee’s report, he loudly called DuPont’s lawyer a “dominatrix,” with “no substantial purpose other than to embarrass” her. He later tried to forcibly take papers from another DuPont lawyer after she told him, “Don’t grab (me) ever again.” That conduct resulted in a three year suspension.

The most recent complaint against the lawyer was related to his conduct in Miami-Dade Circuit Court proceedings that began in late 2011.  The presiding judge stated that she heard the lawyer state “lie, lie, lie” while a DuPont lawyer was conducting a direct examination of his law partner; however, he denied making the comment.  The judge also terminated a hearing because the lawyer was kicking his table so loudly that it was disrupted the proceedings.

The assigned referee conducted hearings and The Florida Bar argued that the lawyer should be disbarred. The referee recommended a three year suspension to begin at the end of the lawyer’s current three year suspension.  In its opinion, the Florida Supreme Court found that the lawyer’s cumulative and egregious misconduct required disbarment.  According to the opinion:

“Disbarment is an extreme form of discipline and is reserved for the most egregious misconduct. See Fla. Bar v. Summers, 728 So. 2d 739, 742 (Fla. 1999); see also Fla. Bar v. Kassier, 711 So. 2d 515, 517 (Fla. 1998) (holding that disbarment is an extreme sanction that should be imposed only in those rare cases where rehabilitation is highly improbable).  Ratiner’s intentional and egregious misconduct continues to demonstrate an attitude that is wholly inconsistent with professional standards, and there is no indication that he is willing to follow the professional ethics of the legal profession. As we observed in (The Florida Bar v.) Norkin,

One can be professional and aggressive without being obnoxious.

Attorneys should focus on the substance of their cases, treating judges

and opposing counsel with civility, rather than trying to prevail by

being insolent toward judges and purposefully offensive toward

opposing counsel. This Court has been discussing professionalism

and civility for years. We do not tolerate unprofessional and

discourteous behavior. We do not take any pleasure in sanctioning

[Respondent], but if we are to have an honored and respected

profession, we are required to hold ourselves to a higher standard.

132 So. 3d at 92-93.

Thus, based upon the foregoing discussion, the Court is left with but one course of action, and that is to disbar Ratiner.”

Bottom line:  This lawyer clearly failed to get the message.  The Supreme Court also did not accept his claims of innocence.  As a result, he was disbarred.

Be careful out there.

Disclaimer:  this e-mail is not an advertisement, does not contain any legal advice, and does not create an attorney/client relationship and the comments herein should not be relied upon by anyone who reads it.

Joseph A. Corsmeier, Esquire

Law Office of Joseph A. Corsmeier, P.A.

29605 U.S. Highway 19 N. Suite 150

Clearwater, Florida 33761

Office (727) 799-1688

Fax     (727) 799-1670

jcorsmeier@jac-law.com

www.jac-law.com

Joseph Corsmeier

about.me/corsmeierethicsblogs

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Pennsylvania Supreme Court disbars ex-judge who pled guilty to stealing cocaine held in court cases

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert, which will discuss the recent Pennsylvania Supreme Court opinion disbarring a former judge who pled guilty to stealing cocaine, from an evidence locker in his courtroom for his own personal use for more than a year.  The case is Office of Disciplinary Counsel v. Paul Michael Pozonsky (Case No. 123 DB 2015) (opinion issued January 18, 2018).  The opinion is here: http://www.pacourts.us/assets/opinions/DisciplinaryBoard/out/123db2015-pozonsky.pdf#search=%22Paul Pozonsky%22.

According to the disciplinary opinion, “the judge . . . presided over criminal trials, juvenile delinquency hearings, and also directed the rehabilitative disposition of drug offenders in that county’s Drug Court, which he founded. Using his position as a jurist, he directed police officers and court personnel to bring cocaine, which was evidence in the cases over which he was presiding, to an evidence locker in his courtroom; whereupon, for over a year, he stole quantities of this illegal drug from that locker and used it for his own recreational purposes, all while continuing to preside over criminal prosecutions and imposing sentences on defendants for committing crimes which he himself was contemporaneously engaging in.”

“After Pozonsky’s illicit activities were discovered, he resigned his judicial commission and was convicted for his crimes. After considering all the relevant facts and circumstances surrounding Pozonsky’s egregious misconduct while a commissioned judge, and taking into account the mitigating evidence he offered, the Disciplinary Board of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania (“Disciplinary Board” or “Board”) issued a unanimous report detailing its factual findings and its recommendation that he be disbarred.”

The opinion further stated that “(t)here are few transgressions which more seriously undermine the public’s confidence and trust in the integrity of their judicial system, and which are as offensive to the high standards and principles which other members of the bench and bar strive so faithfully to uphold in the performance of their duties, than those committed by Pozonsky.”

The ex-judge pled guilty in 2015 to charges related to the theft of the cocaine, including misdemeanor theft, obstruction of justice, and misapplication of entrusted property and served one month in jail.

Oral arguments were held in April 2017 and the ex-judge stated in mitigation that he had accepted full responsibility for his conduct and engaged in community service, including working at a homeless mission and counseling others with addiction as mitigating factors in an effort to reduce the disciplinary sanction.  The court rejected the ex-judge’s argument that his addiction should be considered as a mitigating factor.

The disciplinary opinion concluded: “Because the evidence of record amply supports the Board’s findings and corresponding recommendation of disbarment, we order Pozonsky’s disbarment to both protect the public and to preserve the integrity of the legal profession.”

Bottom line:  This is an extremely egregious case of an apparently addicted judge who asked law enforcement to bring cocaine to his courtroom to “hold” in criminal cases (not sure how that would happen) and then stole the cocaine from the locker and used it for “his own recreational; purposes.”  A concurring opinion stated that disbarment was not automatic and mused that it was ironic that the ex-judge was not able to mitigate the disbarment by showing that he was addicted but agreed that disbarment was appropriate.

Be careful out there.

Disclaimer:  this e-mail is not an advertisement, does not contain any legal advice, and does not create an attorney/client relationship and the comments herein should not be relied upon by anyone who reads it.

Joseph A. Corsmeier, Esquire

Law Office of Joseph A. Corsmeier, P.A.

29605 U.S. Highway 19 N. Suite 150

Clearwater, Florida 33761

Office (727) 799-1688

Fax     (727) 799-1670

jcorsmeier@jac-law.com

www.jac-law.com

Joseph Corsmeier

about.me/corsmeierethicsblogs

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Wisconsin lawyer suspended for, inter alia, smuggling heavy toothbrushes and red pepper into prison for client

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert which will discuss the recent Wisconsin Supreme Court opinion which suspended a Wisconsin lawyer for four months for, inter alia, bringing heavy toothbrushes to client in prison and failing to adequately communicate with a drunken driving client.  The case is In the Matter of Steven Cohen, Case No.: 2015AP1350-D and the opinion is here: https://www.wicourts.gov/sc/opinion/DisplayDocument.pdf?content=pdf&seqNo=202686

According to the opinion, the lawyer was admitted to practice law in Wisconsin in 1996. He received a private reprimand in 2007 after his conviction for one count of misdemeanor disorderly conduct which resulted from an dispute involving the lawyer and his wife.

One count of the disciplinary complaint alleged that, in 2013, the lawyer smuggled two heavy toothbrushes and red pepper to a client who was in prison after being convicted on homicide charges.  Prison authorities found the items in a search of the client after discovering a discarded white pastry bag containing a doughnut and an empty toothbrush package.  The authorities also said that the toothbrushes were heavier than the toothbrushes given to inmates and could be made into shanks (sharpened weapons), and that the crushed red pepper could be made into pepper spray.

The opinion states that: “(w)hen correctional officers interviewed Attorney Cohen about the items, he denied knowing anything about them.  Following additional investigation, Attorney Cohen was arrested for delivering contraband into the Columbia Correctional Institution. In February of 2014, the Columbia County district attorney filed a complaint charging Attorney Cohen with one felony count of delivering illegal articles to an inmate and one misdemeanor count of resisting or obstructing an officer.”

In November 2014, the lawyer pled no contest and was found guilty of a felony count of delivering illegal articles to an inmate, along with two misdemeanors.  Judgment on the felony charge was deferred.  The lawyer said that he brought the items to the prison after his client requested a toothbrush and some food and that his only motive was “from concern for the care of the inmate, and desire to serve.”

The second, third, and forth counts of the complaint alleged that the lawyer accepted a $2,500.00 fee from a DUI client without a written fee agreement and then failed to adequately communicate with the client.  When the client demanded a refund, the lawyer returned half of the fee. He denied that he failed to communicate with the client, but did not provide any documentation to support the denial.  The lawyer also claimed that he had e-mailed the client; however, the client said he did not have an e-mail address.

According to the opinion, the lawyer testified that he did not respond to the client’s telephone calls because he was not ready to speak with the client, which was “a normal trial tactic.”  He also said he did not respond since he tells his clients to call him on his cell telephone rather than his land line, and the client called on his land line. He also claimed his secretary does not take messages on the land line.

The lawyer was suspended for 4 months effective December 29, 2017 and required to pay $8,608.20 in disciplinary costs.

Bottom line:  This lawyer appears to have been attempting to provide an imprisoned client with the tools to injure other inmates, whether in self defense or otherwise.  Obviously, this was improper and the lawyer was suspended for 4 months for those actions, as well as his failure to communicate with another client and charging an improper fee.

Be careful out there.     

Disclaimer:  this Ethics Alert is not an advertisement, does not contain any legal advice, and does not create an attorney/client relationship and the comments herein should not be relied upon by anyone who reads it.

Joseph A. Corsmeier, Esquire

Law Office of Joseph A. Corsmeier, P.A.

29605 U.S. Highway 19 N. Suite 150

Clearwater, Florida 33761

Office (727) 799-1688

Fax     (727) 799-1670

jcorsmeier@jac-law.com

www.jac-law.com

Joseph Corsmeier

about.me/corsmeierethicsblogs

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