Tag Archives: lawyer discipline

California law requires California Bar to split into mandatory regulatory and voluntary trade association entities

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert which will discuss the recent California law that requires the California Bar to split into separate regulatory and trade association entities, which appears to be in response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s North Carolina dental antitrust case in 2015.  The State Bar of California’s press release announcing the “historic” law is here: http://www.calbar.ca.gov/About-Us/News-Events/News-Releases/ArtMID/10234/ArticleID/525/State-Bar-prepares-to-implement-historic-reforms-followingGov-Brown-signature-on-the-agency%E2%80%99s-annual-fee-bill

According to the State Bar press release: “Today (October 2, 2017) Gov. Jerry Brown signed SB 36 into law, the fee bill for the State Bar of California. In addition to setting the annual licensing fee for lawyers, SB 36 includes historic reforms for the public protection agency.”

Under the law, effective in 2019, the California Bar will act only as the disciplinary and regulatory agency and membership will be mandatory for all of the state’s lawyers.  The current 19-member Bar board will transition into a group of 13 individuals serving four-year terms.  Six of the 13 members must be members of the public.  All board members will be appointed by the California Supreme Court, the state legislature, and the governor and will no longer be elected.

A separate nonprofit entity will be created for trade association activities and will include all Bar sections.  Membership in that entity will be voluntary and will include an annual membership fee.

The California Bar must also comply with a California Supreme Court policy to identify and address any proposed decision of the board of trustees which raises antitrust concerns.  This requirement is clearly an attempt to avoid allegations of antitrust violations which were found by the U.S. Supreme Court in North Carolina State Board of Dental Examiners v. Federal Trade Commission, No. 13–534. (USSC February 25, 2015).

In that 2015 case, the USSC found that the North Carolina dental regulatory board, which was made up of primarily dentists, did not have state-action antitrust immunity in its attempts to prohibit non-dentists from providing teeth-whitening services to the public.

The regulation of lawyers (and other licensed professionals) in Florida and other states is implemented through boards, commissions, committees, or other similar entities which investigate and make findings.  In Florida, there is no separate trade association; however, findings by Bar Counsel, grievance committees, and the Bar Board of Governors are subject to review by the Florida Supreme Court.

I previously blogged about North Carolina State Board of Dental Examiners v. Federal Trade Commission and its aftermath in my Ethics Alerts here: https://jcorsmeier.wordpress.com/2015/03/17/u-s-supreme-court-opinion-finds-that-there-is-no-automatic-antitrust-immunity-for-state-professional-licensing-boards/, here: https://jcorsmeier.wordpress.com/2015/06/24/legalzoom-files-federal-antitrust-lawsuit-against-the-north-carolina-state-bar-citing-2015-ussc-dental-board-case/, and here: https://jcorsmeier.wordpress.com/2015/10/28/legalzoom-settles-multi-million-dollar-antitrust-suit-against-the-north-carolina-state-bar-with-agreement-to-continue-operating/

In some states, these antitrust issues are most likely not in play.   For example, the Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission oversees the registration and discipline of attorneys and all Illinois lawyers are required to pay dues to that entity.  All final disciplinary orders are also issued by the Illinois Supreme Court.  The Illinois State Bar Association is a separate voluntary association which engages in trade association activities.

Bottom line: This California law is clearly in response to (and an attempt to overcome) the antitrust issues identified by the U.S. Supreme Court in North Carolina State Board of Dental Examiners v. Federal Trade Commission.  Will other states follow?  Stay tuned…

…and 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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Indiana criminal prosecutor suspended for 4 years for twice eavesdropping on confidential attorney/client conversations

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert which will discuss the recent Indiana Supreme Court opinion suspending a lawyer for 4 years for eavesdropping on confidential attorney/client conversations with no automatic reinstatement.  The case is In the Matter of Robert Neary, No. 46S00-1512-DI-705 (Ind. SC), and the November 6, 2017 disciplinary opinion is here: http://www.in.gov/judiciary/opinions/pdf/11061701per.pdf

The Indiana Supreme Court Disciplinary Commission filed a two-count disciplinary complaint against the lawyer on December 17, 2015, and later amended the complaint.  The amended complaint charged the lawyer with “professional misconduct in connection with his actions in two criminal cases while serving as the chief deputy prosecutor in LaPorte County (Michigan).”

The first count of the complaint alleged that the prosecutor had surreptitiously watched video feeds of an attorney/client confidential conversation in March 2014 at the Michigan City Police Department.  A defense lawyer had flipped a switch that was supposed to prevent the conversation from being recorded; however, the police controlled the live video and audio.

The lawyer and police detectives watched the conversation from the police station’s “war room.”  During the conversation, the defendant (Taylor) told his lawyer where a gun could be found.  The lawyer advised the police detectives not to recover the weapon; however, they ignored his advice and recovered the weapon.

The chief of police later learned of the recording and told the lawyer that he should provide the information the defendant’s counsel.  The lawyer subsequently provided the information to the defendant’s lawyer and also reported his misconduct to the Indiana Bar authorities.

The second count alleged that the lawyer listened to an attorney/client confidential conversation that was recorded in December 2012 at the Long Beach (Michigan) Police Department.  The defendant (Larkin) had agreed to speak with police with his lawyer present, in exchange for being charged with voluntary manslaughter rather than murder.

During an 11-minute break in the questioning, the defendant discussed defense strategy and other confidential matters with his lawyer; however, the recording system was not turned off.  The lawyer viewed the recorded interview that included the attorney/client confidential discussion during the break about a month later.

According to the opinion, “Respondent first viewed the DVD of the interview, including the break discussion, about one month later. Respondent watched the entire break discussion even though the privileged status of that discussion either was, or should have been, immediately apparent to Respondent.  Respondent provided a copy of the DVD, including the break discussion, to Larkin’s counsel but did not mention to counsel that the break discussion had been recorded.”

The Larkin’s lawyer later filed a motion to dismiss the voluntary manslaughter charge alleging prosecutorial misconduct because of the recording of the discussion.  The lawyer’s response, which was sealed, provided the contents of the break discussion and included the written transcript and a DVD.  A judge later unsealed sealed the information.

The opinion noted that both of the cases had led to appeals and stated that the lawyer’s conduct had “fundamentally infringed on privileged attorney-client communications and, at an absolute minimum, has caused significant delays and evidentiary hurdles in the prosecutions of Taylor and Larkin, even assuming they still can be prosecuted at all.”  The court had reviewed the Taylor matter on appeal and described the eavesdropping as “egregious,” “flagrant,” “unconscionable,” “shameful,” “abhorrent” and “reprehensible.”

After a hearing, the hearing officer found that the lawyer had committed the Bar rule violations charged in the amended complaint and recommended a sanction ranging from a four-year suspension to disbarment.  The Indiana Bar Commission recommended disbarment.

According to the opinion: “(i)n many respects, these proceedings have painted an even more alarming picture of Respondent, in that they show Respondent gradually has retreated from his initial self-report to the Commission and has given evasive and inconsistent explanations and statements regarding the war room eavesdropping.  As aptly found by the hearing officer, ‘Respondent’s ever evolving narrative points to a lack of honesty.’”

The opinion further states: “(t)he severity of the misconduct and Respondent’s repeated transgressions certainly lend support to the notion that he should be disbarred. On the other hand, Respondent has no prior discipline, he self-reported his conduct to the Commission, and several persons testified to his good reputation in the community (although, as noted by the hearing officer, these persons did not appear to have been particularly well informed of the circumstances giving rise to these disciplinary proceedings). At the end of the day, these considerations persuade us that the door should not permanently be closed on Respondent’s legal career and that he should be afforded an opportunity at an appropriate juncture to prove by clear and convincing evidence his professional rehabilitation and fitness to resume practicing law.”

Bottom line: This prosecutor was involved in two separate serious violations of attorney/client confidentiality by viewing and listening to surreptitious recordings and clearly should have known better.  In my opinion, the lawyer was extremely fortunate that he avoided disbarment for his misconduct.

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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Federal prosecutor suspended after lying about intimate relationship with FBI agent who testified in her cases

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert which will discuss the recent Louisiana Supreme Court disciplinary opinion which imposed a one year and one day suspension with 6 months deferred on a federal prosecutor for having an intimate relationship with an FBI agent who was an investigator and witness in her cases and lying about it.  The disciplinary case is In Re: C. Mignonne Griffing, Case No. 2017-B-0874 and the October 18, 2017 disciplinary opinion is here: file:///C:/Users/jcorsmeier/Downloads/17B0874.OPN.pdf

The relationship was revealed during the trial of two Monroe, Louisiana city councilmen and the Ouachita Parish sheriff. “After the sheriff’s counsel raised the possibility of the relationship, (the lawyer) was questioned by the United States Attorney and was not immediately and fully forthcoming.”

The lawyer initially denied the relationship with the (married) FBI agent at that time but it was later confirmed.  The disciplinary opinion adopted the findings of the disciplinary board that the misconduct “led to the government’s decision to relitigate the case against Councilmen Stevens and Gilmore, caused harm in the form of the additional expenditure of resources to retry the case, and adversely impacted the government’s tendered plea bargain offered to Sheriff Toney. The potential for harm also exists, as it is possible that the issue of the relationship may be raised in other cases prosecuted by respondent in which the FBI agent testified. Furthermore, her actions are the type that cause unfavorable opinion by the public towards the legal system and especially, the United States Attorney’s Office in the Western District of Louisiana.”

The lawyer denied that the relationship created a conflict of interest and defended the formal.  She was ultimately found guilty of multiple violations of the Louisiana Bar Rules, including conflict of interest and making false statements in denying the conduct.

According to the opinion, “(b)ecause the relationship with the FBI agent could reasonably give rise to a basis for questioning the interest and/or credibility of the witness by the defense, the existence of the relationship should have been disclosed to the defendants, but (the lawyer) failed to do so.”  “In addition, the disciplinary board found (the lawyer) made assurances to the sheriff’s counsel relative to his client’s indictment and arrest. This conduct, and her phone call threatening the sheriff’s public arrest, were clearly improper.” “(The lawyer’s) actions are the type that cause unfavorable opinion by the public towards the legal system and especially, the United States Attorney’s Office in the Western District of Louisiana.”

The opinion increased the deferred six-month suspension recommended by the disciplinary board.  “When taken cumulatively, including the multiple violations of the Rules of Professional Conduct and specifically considering respondent’s dishonesty and misrepresentation to which she has stipulated, we find that the fully deferred suspension recommended by the board is not appropriate and that respondent must serve an actual period of suspension. We will impose a one year and one day suspension, deferring all but six months of the suspension in light of the substantial mitigating circumstances present.”  The lawyer also served a 19 day suspension from her job as a prosecutor without pay for the misconduct.

Bottom line:  This lawyer was found to have engaged in a relationship with a law enforcement agent who was an investigator and witness in many of the cases that she was prosecuting for the U.S. Attorney’s Office and failed to disclose it (for obvious reasons).  The lawyer paid the price for this misconduct with a suspension of her license and a serious hit to her reputation.

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

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Proposed Florida Bar rule initiated by Florida lawyer would make court finding of frivolousness “conclusive determination” of rule violation

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert which will discuss the Petition initiated by a Florida lawyer to amend the Bar rules and provide that a court determination that an action violates F.S. §57.105, Florida appellate Rule 9.410, or Rule 11, Federal Rules of Civil Procedure “constitutes a conclusive determination of guilt of misconduct by the lawyer(s) who prosecuted such frivolous claim or defense for violation of Rule 4-3.1.”  The Florida Bar published a Notice in the Florida Bar News that the petition will be filed on November 6, 2017 and members may comment on the Petition after it is filed.  The Bar Notice is here: 10-1-17 Bar News Notice of Filing Petition to Amend Rule.

The proposed rule revision would amend Florida Bar Rule 3-4.3 (misconduct or minor misconduct), by adding a section on frivolous actions which would provide if any Florida or federal appellate court has determined that a court action violated F.S. §57.105, Florida appellate Rule 9.410, or Rule 11 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, that “constitutes a conclusive determination of guilt of misconduct by the lawyer(s) who prosecuted such frivolous claim or defense for violation of Rule 4-3.1.”  Upon being notified of the finding, The Florida Bar would open a file, which would be sent to the grievance committee for review.

The proposed rule also provides that, unless there are aggravating circumstances, the referee or grievance committee considering the complaint can resolve the matter with an admonishment or referral of the lawyer to the Bar’s diversion program (lawyers would be eligible for diversion once every five years under the proposed rule).

The proposed rule would also require a lawyer who has had an appellate ruling that the a lawyer has violated the rules or state law on frivolous actions to notify the Bar within 10 days with copies to opposing counsel. Bar counsel would then docket the case “and The Florida Bar shall prosecute the misconduct in accordance with the rules considering the conclusive determination of a violation of Rule 4-3.1.”

The proposal would also amend the comment to Rule 4-3.1 to refer to the amendment to Rule 3-4.3. The comment to Rule 3-4.3 also provides that, “A lawyer shall not use any funds held in his trust account for payment of any personal obligation imposed upon the lawyer or the lawyer’s law firm as to sanctions pursuant to Section 57.105, Fla. Stats., Rule 9.410 of the Florida Rules of Appellate Procedure, Rule 11 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, or any other similar statute or rule.”

The Florida Bar Rules allow members to directly propose amendments to Bar rules if the there is a petition filed with the Supreme Court signed by 50 Bar members.  This petition was signed by 55 Bar members.  The Board of Governors’ Disciplinary Procedure Committee (DPC) will review the proposed petition and rule amendments and will have a special meeting to discuss it.  A report by the DPC on the petition is expected at the Dec. 8, 2017 BOG meeting.

Bottom line:  This is rare member initiated petition to amend the Florida Bar Rules.  The amendment certainly appears to be well intended; however, since an order finding that a claim or defense is frivolous does not involve a criminal conviction, I am very concerned that the proposed rule that would make an order finding a frivolous filing by an appellate court on a civil matter “a conclusive determination of guilt of misconduct by the lawyer(s) who prosecuted such frivolous claim or defense for violation of Rule 4-3.1.”  I believe (and continue to believe) that a lawyer should be able to challenge such a court order since, among other things, the action and parties are different and the evidentiary requirements underlying such an order are not necessarily the same as those required for the Bar to prove a violation of the Bar rules.  In addition, the courts have inherent authority to sanction lawyers for frivolous filings as well as under the relevant statutes and court rules.

According to the Bar’s October 1, 2017 Notice in the Florida Bar News:

“Members who desire to comment on this proposed amendment may do so within 30 days of the filing of the above-referenced petition. Comments must be filed directly with the clerk of the Supreme Court of Florida, and a copy must be served on the executive director of The Florida Bar and Thomas O. Wells, Esq. Rule 1-12.1 and Rule 3-7.15 of the Rules Regulating The Florida Bar govern these proceedings.”

Stay tuned…and 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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Louisiana lawyer suspended for submitting false billable hours because he believed his partnership status required them

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert which will discuss the recent Louisiana Supreme Court Opinion suspending a lawyer for 30 months with all but one (1) year deferred for false billable hours that he believed were necessary to maintain his partnership position and “in an effort to make himself look better on paper each month.”   The disciplinary case is:  In re: Kenneth Todd Wallace, Case No. 2017-B-0525.  The disciplinary opinion is dated September 22, 2017 and is here:  http://www.lasc.org/opinions/2017/17B0525.OPN.pdf

According to the opinion, the lawyer “joined the law firm of Liskow & Lewis as an associate attorney in 1998. After his promotion to shareholder in 2005, he served as the firm’s hiring partner and head of recruiting. He also chaired the firm’s diversity committee as the firm’s first minority recruiting and retention partner. In 2012, respondent was elected to the firm’s board of directors and served as the board’s junior director through April 2015.”

The lawyer stated that he made the false billing entries because he was concerned that his correct billable hours (along with an insufficient number of clients) were not adequate for a partner with his status.  “When his practice began to decline, (the lawyer) gave in to his own internal pressures and began to submit false time on a dismissed contingency fee matter, and eventually other matters, in an effort to make himself look better on paper each month.”

After the law firm became aware of his false billing in some client matters, the lawyer assisted the firm in conducting a full investigation.  The firm’s investigation showed that, between 2012 through 2015, the lawyer submitted 428 billing entries that the firm believed were “certainly false” and another 220 entries that the firm believed could be false or inflated; however, the law firm concluded that none of the false billing entries adversely affected any of the firm’s clients.

The lawyer had received $85,000.00 in merit bonuses between 2012 through 2015 and the firm concluded he would have received some or all of the bonuses even if he had not inflated his billable hours. The lawyer had also spent significant time with his firm management and committee responsibilities and had also met or exceeded billable targets during the years in question.  The lawyer resigned from the firm in 2015 and gave up his available bonus.

The disciplinary opinion imposed a 30 month suspension with all but one-year deferred.  The suspension was also made retroactive to January 2016, when the lawyer had been suspended on an interim basis pending the outcome of the matter.

Bottom line:  This is a very clear and unfortunate example of a lawyer who most likely destroyed his legal career after succumbing to the stress and pressure of a law partner’s need for large billable hours and a large number of clients (book of business).  I would imagine that, if asked, this lawyer would tell you that it was not worth it.

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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Filed under Attorney discipline, Attorney Ethics, Attorney misrepresentation, fraud, joe corsmeier, Joseph Corsmeier, Lawyer discipline, Lawyer discipline false client billings, Lawyer ethics, Lawyer Ethics and Professionalism, Lawyer false statements, Lawyer sanctions, Lawyers false billings discipline

Virginia lawyer previously suspended after disrupting CLE seminar suspended for 5 years on new candor violations

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert which will discuss the recent 5 year suspension of a Virginia lawyer who was previously suspended for 6 months in 2015 for disrupting a CLE seminar and suspended for 3 years in 2016 when he failed to undergo treatment required pursuant to the 2015 suspension.  The 6 month suspension Order dated March 27, 2015 is here: http://www.vsb.org/docs/Hartke-050615.pdf and the 3 year suspension Order dated October 27, 2016 is here: http://www.vsb.org/docs/Hartke-110416.pdf.

According to the Virginia State Bar website, “on August 25, 2017, the Virginia State Bar Disciplinary Board suspended Wayne Richard Hartke’s license to practice law for five years effective October 27, 2019, for violating professional rules that govern candor toward the tribunal.  The suspension will be consecutive to a three-year suspension issued on October 27, 2016.”

According to the March 27, 2015 Disciplinary Board Order, the lawyer was intoxicated and disruptive at a Continuing Legal Education program.  Witnesses at the CLE seminar said that the lawyer was sleeping and loudly snoring during the morning session and then yelling at the video screen during the afternoon session.  A witness also said he smelled of alcohol and had a bottle of liquor with him at the seminar.  The lawyer was led from the seminar room by another person attending the seminar.

The lawyer was suspended for six months for that CLE disruption and for “failing to correct misrepresentations that he made to the Virginia State Bar during the disciplinary proceedings”.  The Order also required him to enroll in a two-year treatment and monitoring program stated that any notice of noncompliance would result in an order to show why his license should not be suspended for an additional three years.  According to the October 27, 2016 disciplinary Order, the lawyer failed to comply with the terms of the 2015 Order.  He also failed to show up for the disciplinary hearing.  The Disciplinary Board found that the violation was proven and suspended the lawyer for three (3) years, effective October 27, 2016.

The lawyer had previously been reprimanded in 2010 after settling a legal malpractice lawsuit which alleged that he failed to protect the interests of the members of the board of directors of a corporate client.  He was reprimanded again in 2011 when he was held in contempt and served 10-day jail sentence after his blood alcohol content was found to be .127 during a court appearance.

Bottom line:  According to the facts set forth in the disciplinary Orders, this lawyer has some serious and ongoing issues with both alcohol and candor.  The ultimate result was a 5 year suspension effective October 27, 2019 after he completes his current 3 year suspension and, unless that suspension is modified, it will continue until October 27, 2024.

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

Leave a comment

Filed under Attorney discipline, Attorney Ethics, Attorney misrepresentation, dishonesty, joe corsmeier, Joseph Corsmeier, Lawyer discipline, Lawyer discipline sanctions for failure to appear at hearing, Lawyer ethics, Lawyer Ethics and Professionalism, Lawyer false statements, Lawyer false statements in response to Bar complaint, Lawyer false testimony, Lawyer sanctions, Lawyer sanctions alcohol and substance abuse, Lawyer violation of court order, Lawyer wilful failure to comply with court order