Bar Counsel: In re Hager: A Primer on Conflicts of Interest and Other Rule Violations
From Washington Lawyer, April 2003
By Joyce E. Peters
On December 19, 2002, the District of Columbia Court of Appeals decided the disciplinary case of In re Hager, and ordered the respondent suspended from the practice of law for one year with reinstatement conditioned upon the respondent’s providing evidence concerning his disgorgement of, or plans to disgorge, a fee he received from an opposing party. This is the first case in which the court has ordered a fee disgorgement as a condition of an attorney’s reinstatement. It is a textbook case with multiple ethical rule violations.
As Judge Steadman, writing for the court, stated:
[T]he issue in this bar disciplinary proceeding is whether an attorney may ethically enter into an agreement with an opposing party in which his clients are awarded full purchase price refunds (amid other relief) but where the attorney secretly and without the knowledge of the clients 1) receives (together with his co-counsel) $225,000 as attorneys fees and expenses, 2) agrees never to represent anyone with related claims against the opposing party, and 3) agrees to keep totally confidential and not to disclose to anyone all information learned during his investigations.
The answer by a unanimous Board on Professional Responsibility and the court was a resounding no.
Although Bar Counsel originally charged the respondent with 11 violations of the District of Columbia Rules of Professional Conduct, the board concluded that the respondent had violated eight rules by, inter alia, entering into the secret agreement. The court agreed and found that the case presented "a congeries of violations that are, as the board characterized, ’very serious’ and of a type that may cause ’serious public doubt about the integrity of lawyers.’" Recognizing that there were mitigating circumstances in the case, including the respondent’s lack of a disciplinary record and his extensive pro bono work, the court concluded that a one-year suspension was within the permissible range of sanctions for the misconduct, but then added a disgorgement requirement.
The matter began when two health care professionals sought the respondent’s assistance in pursuing legal action against Warner–Lambert concerning what they believed was the ineffectiveness of its head lice shampoo. Both had previously contacted Warner–Lambert regarding their concerns and their belief that lice resistant to the shampoo existed, but Warner–Lambert had refused to make labeling changes or conduct any scientific studies. Both told the respondent that they wanted to protect the public from the apparently ineffective product and compel its manufacturer to change its labeling and its advertising. Each woman entered into a contingent fee agreement in May 1997 with the respondent and another attorney from Massachusetts that provided that the two attorneys would investigate potential bases for a federal class action suit, seeking a refund of the purchase price and other damages against the manufacturer and/or its suppliers. The retainer agreement also stated that 100 consumers had to be joined as class representatives as a requirement for such a suit.
The respondent and his two clients worked to find 100 potential class members. One client set up a Web site to generate interest in the case and also sent solicitation letters to pediatricians in Richmond, Virginia. The other client enlisted the use of broadcast and print media to find others interested in the case. Names of those who expressed an interest were forwarded to the respondent, and by June 1997 about 50 additional consumers had come forward. In response Warner–Lambert initiated settlement negotiations with the Massachusetts lawyer, who kept the respondent involved in the negotiations.
In July 1997 the respondent told the two original clients that negotiations had begun and at the end of the month told them that there was an agreement but did not discuss its terms. On July 25 one of the original clients discharged the two attorneys and requested a list of the names of those who were potential claimants. Both lawyers refused this request, but the respondent sent her $2,500 for her time and effort. On July 26 the Massachusetts attorney advised the other original client that he and the respondent were only seeking refunds from Warner–Lambert and not other forms of relief. The client agreed to let the two lawyers continue to represent her.
On August 8 Warner–Lambert and the two lawyers entered into a secret settlement agreement in which the lawyers agreed not to assert any claims against Warner–Lambert concerning the antilice shampoo in exchange for $225,000 in fees for their work on the case. Warner–Lambert agreed to change its advertising claims and "endeavor" to form a panel of scientists to study lice resistance to its shampoo and to follow up on the panel’s recommendations. It also agreed to pay full–purchase–price refunds (not to exceed $10,000) to those 90 consumers who had contacted the attorneys. The settlement agreement provided that none of the consumers’ claims would be released, that the attorneys would "keep totally confidential and not … disclose in any manner … any and all of the facts, legal theories, names of persons or potential lay or expert witnesses … obtained … as a result of their work" relating to the litigation, and that the agreement itself would be kept totally confidential, except for limited disclosure to the 90 consumers of their refund rights, the change in the advertised effectiveness claim, the future money–back guarantee, and the plan for the panel of scientists. It was undisputed on the record that Warner–Lambert would not have demanded the confidentiality of the agreement if the two attorneys had waived the fees.
On August 26 the two lawyers wrote to the 90 consumers revealing only what the agreement allowed them to disclose. The letters did not mention their receipt of fees, the continued viability of the consumers’ claims, or the attorneys’ agreement not to pursue the lice shampoo claims. The one original client subsequently received $700 in refunds from Warner–Lambert.
On November 20 the remaining original client contacted both attorneys and asked if Warner–Lambert had paid them to abandon the case. They declined to respond, but the respondent told her that he had not been acting as her attorney during the settlement negotiations. The Massachusetts lawyer, with the respondent’s approval, also sent her a letter on December 2 in which he stated that the two lawyers had no obligation to disclose to her any fees Warner–Lambert might have paid them or any other confidential settlement terms. In addition, he stated that they had never found 100 potential class members, as mentioned in the retainer agreement, so the two lawyers believed they "did not ever represent [her] in claims against Warner–Lambert." He added that the settlement had not released her claims and that she could still pursue legal action against Warner–Lambert.
On December 23 the remaining original client filed a bar complaint concerning the respondent.
So what went wrong here?
First, the court found that the respondent’s conduct, which involved "a classic conflict of interest—his interest in maximizing his fee versus his clients’ interest in maximizing the amount paid to them"—violated Rule 1.7(b)(4). Client consent was missing, and the circumstances revealed that the respondent’s professional judgment on behalf of his clients was adversely affected by his own financial interest. With client consent the negotiations could have continued, after the subject of fees was raised, as the clients themselves could have judged whether they approved of their lawyers’ representation. The court rejected the respondent’s argument that he obtained full relief for his clients, stating that "[o]btaining the best possible outcome for one’s clients is never a viable defense to charges of ethical misconduct; the ends do not justify the means." The court continued: "It is the client, not the attorney, who decides whether full or acceptable relief has been obtained. The conflict of interest rule … is designed to assure that the attorney pursues the client’s objectives as the client views them, unaffected by any personal interest of the attorney in the outcome."
In addition, the court found that the respondent violated another conflict–of–interest rule, Rule 1.8(e), by accepting compensation from a third party without client consent in a situation in which there was interference with the respondent’s professional judgment or the attorney–client relationship. Unpersuaded by the respondent’s argument that an ambiguous clause in the retainer agreement was sufficient prior client consent to permit him to accept fee payments from the opposing party, the court found the provision insufficient to serve as prior consent to such an arrangement, noting that its "obscurity is fatal to the respondent’s contention."
In addition to the conflict–of–interest charges, the court found that the respondent failed to keep his clients reasonably informed about the matter in violation of Rule 1.4(a), by failing to disclose the terms of the settlement and in particular that their claims were not released. Moreover, the court found that the respondent’s failure to disclose the fee provision to his clients and his misstatement to one of his original clients that he was not representing her was dishonest and violated Rule 8.4(c). The dishonesty involved both the respondent’s failure to disclose information and his affirmative misrepresentation to his client.
The court also agreed with the board’s findings that the respondent violated Rules 1.2(a) and 5.6(a). Rejecting the respondent’s argument that the settlement agreement was not a settlement because the clients’ rights to sue were not waived, the court agreed with the board that the clients did lose their attorneys, their attorneys’ work product, and the names of the potential class members, which was "close to the equivalent of a release of their claims." The clients had no ability to accept or reject the settlement, as they didn’t know its terms, and the settlement contained a provision directly contravening the language in Rule 5.6(b) by limiting the respondent’s ability to represent other clients with similar claims. In a lengthy footnote quoting portions of the American Bar Association’s Litigation Section’s "Ethical Guidelines for Settlement Negotiations," published after the events in this case occurred, the court highlighted how the respondent’s conduct conflicted with the guidelines.
The final two violations found by the court involved Rule 1.16(a) and (d). The respondent’s decision to continue to represent his clients while negotiating the secret agreement violated Rule 1.16(a); his failure to provide one client with the contents of her file in an effort to abide by the settlement agreement violated Rule 1.16(d). In every aspect of his negotiations with Warner–Lambert, the respondent’s conduct reflected what the court characterized as "an ethical numbness to the integrity of the attorney–client relationship."
Noting that not once had the respondent indicated any remorse for his conduct and that D.C. Bar Rule XI, § 3(b), has an open–endedness that would permit the imposition of special reinstatement conditions to match particular misconduct, the court found disgorgement to be a suitable condition for reinstatement in this case. Citing the decision by the California Court of Appeals in Cal Pak Delivery, Inc. v. United Parcel Service, Inc., that an attorney who violates ethical duties to the client is not entitled to a fee for his or her services, the court concluded, "It is not a great extension to say that an attorney is not entitled to retain a fee from an opposing party if that payment was the product of multiple ethics violations." The court left the details concerning its order of disgorgement (e.g., how much, to whom, whether legal fees were earned prior to the misconduct, and payment of interest) to be considered upon reinstatement.
The sweeping nature of the violations in this case—conflict of interest, dishonesty, failure to communicate, improper conduct during settlement negotiations, accepting future limitations on practice, failure to withdraw or to protect a client’s interests upon withdrawal, and failure to recognize when conduct will violate the rules—makes this a textbook case for the study of ethics. What is clear is that a lawyer may not enter into secret settlement negotiations in which obtaining fees takes priority over the interests of the client. Each member of the bar would be well advised to read the court’s decision in this case and to consider carefully whenever any possibility of conflict of interest arises in his or her practice.
 In re Hager, No. 01–BG–995 (D.C. 2002).
 Id., slip op. at 1–2.
 Id. at 31. The board and the court found that the respondent had violated the following rules: 1.2(a) (failure to abide by clients’ decisions concerning objectives of representation and/or whether to accept an offer of settlement); 1.4(a) (failure to keep clients reasonably informed about the status of the matter and/or comply promptly with reasonable requests for information); 1.7(b)(4) (representing clients in a matter in which attorney’s professional judgment was or reasonably might have been affected by his own interests); 1.8(e) (accepting compensation from someone other than client without client consent, when there is interference in the lawyer’s professional judgment or with the attorney–client relationship and/or no protection of information related to the representation as required by Rule 1.6); 1.16(a) (failure to withdraw when representation involved a violation of the rules); 1.16(d) (failure to take steps upon withdrawal of representation to protect clients’ interests); 5.6(b) (participating in an agreement in which restriction on right to practice was part of the settlement of the controversy between the parties); and 8.4(c) (engaging in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, and/or misrepresentation).
 The respondent, a tenured law professor, engaged in a part-time legal practice.
 The disgorgement requirement was urged by Public Citizen in its amicus curiae brief to the court.
 This condition was based on the respondent’s plan to file the federal action under the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act, 15 U.S.C. § 2310(d)(3)(C) (2000).
 In re Hager, slip op. at 5 (quoting from the settlement agreement).
 The letters also stated that the two lawyers had not been able to find 100 consumers to serve as class members. It also stated that "the inherent scientific and legal difficulties in successfully prosecuting such a class action, together with the willingness of Warner-Lambert to make what we consider to be reasonable changes in its marketing . . . have led [us] to the decision to abandon any further efforts in this regard." Id. at 6.
 Id. at 7 (quoting from the record).
 Neither the Massachusetts cocounsel nor counsel for Warner–Lambert is a member of the District of Columbia Bar.
 In re Hager, slip op. at 10. Moreover, the court noted that the occurrence of this conflict of interest in the midst of secret settlement negotiations made the conflict "even more pronounced." Id.
 Rule 1.7(b)(4) provides in part that "a lawyer shall not represent a client with respect to a matter if … [t]he lawyer’s professional judgment on behalf of the client will be or reasonably may be adversely affected by the lawyer’s … own financial, business, property, or personal interests." Rule 1.7(c) permits a representation to continue even with such a conflict if there is full disclosure of the conflict and its consequences.
 In re Hager, slip op. at 13 (citations omitted).
 Id. at 14.
 Id. at 16. The court indicated that the provision did not contemplate the particular conflict with sufficient clarity to make the client’s consent fully informed so that the client would know that circumstances such as occurred here were possible.
 The court devotes several pages of its opinion to a discussion of the issue of dishonesty, which encompasses many different types of misconduct. Dishonesty is the most general term used in Rule 8.4(c), which prohibits engaging in conduct involving "dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation." Although the board described the respondent’s conduct as deceitful, the court declined to explore the board’s finding in light of its other finding of dishonesty.
 Rule 1.2(a) provides in part that "[a] lawyer shall abide by a client’s decision whether to accept an offer of settlement…." Rule 5.6(b) prohibits a lawyer from entering into an agreement in which "a restriction on the lawyer’s right to practice is part of the settlement. …"
 In re Hager, slip op. at 23.
 Rule 1.16(a) requires a lawyer to withdraw from a representation "if the representation will result in violation of the rules…." Rule 1.16(d) provides that in connection with the termination of a representation, "a lawyer shall take timely steps to the extent reasonably practicable to protect a client’s interests, such as … surrendering papers and property to which the client is entitled…."
 In re Hager, slip op. at 29.
 60 Cal. Rptr. 2d 207, 215 (Cal. Ct. App. 1997).
 In re Hager, slip op. at 33.
Disciplinary Actions Taken by the Board on Professional Responsibility
IN RE JOEL CHASNOFF. PO Box 490, Olney, Maryland. December 23, 2002. In a reciprocal matter from Maryland, the board recommends that the court suspend Chasnoff for 90 days with reinstatement conditioned upon a showing of fitness to practice law. The Maryland court indefinitely suspended Chasnoff for multiple violations of the Maryland Rules of Professional Conduct during the course of his representation of three clients. In one matter Chasnoff failed to act with reasonable diligence and promptness in violation of Maryland Rule 1.3; charged an excessive legal fee in violation of Maryland Rule 1.5(a); failed to keep client property safe when Chasnoff deposited the yet-to-be-earned fees into his own account rather than a trust account, in violation of Maryland Rule 1.15; and failed to give reasonable notice of his withdrawal from a first appeal so as to allow a client to find substitute counsel, in violation of Maryland Rule 1.16. In a second matter Chasnoff failed to act with the skill, thoroughness, and preparation reasonably necessary to represent his client, in violation of Maryland Rules 1.1 and 1.3; failed to communicate with his client about his case generally and about the filings of the medical experts, in violation of Maryland Rule 1.4; and improperly divided a legal fee with a lawyer not in the same firm without a written agreement, in violation of Maryland Rule 1.5(e). In a third matter Chasnoff failed to act with reasonable diligence and promptness in preparing a document requested by a client, in violation of Maryland Rule 1.3; failed to respond to the client’s request for a billing statement and for information on the status of her separation agreement, in violation of Maryland Rule 1.4; and charged an unreasonable fee in violation of Maryland Rule 1.5(a). In addition, Chasnoff failed to cooperate with Maryland Bar Counsel during the investigations of the disciplinary complaints in violation of Maryland Rule 8.1(b).
IN RE DAVID E. EDMONDS. 3525 Davenport Street, Washington, D.C. December 23, 2002. In a supplemental report and recommendation, regarding this reciprocal matter from Massachusetts, the board recommends that the court suspend Edmonds for one year and one day with reinstatement conditioned upon a showing of fitness to practice law. In its initial report and recommendation filed with the court on June 19, 2001, the board originally recommended that Edmonds be suspended from the practice of law for 30 days and be required to prove his fitness to practice law as a condition of reinstatement. However, on August 14, 2002, the Supreme Judicial Court for Suffolk County, Massachusetts, which originally administratively suspended Edmonds with leave to apply for reinstatement, issued an order suspending him for one year and one day. The two-count petition for discipline that was brought by the Massachusetts Bar Counsel charges Edmonds with violating Rule 1.16 of the Massachusetts Rules of Professional Conduct for withdrawing from 38 open cases without protecting his client (the commonwealth of Massachusetts), violating Massachusetts Rule 8.4(g) for failing without good cause to cooperate with Massachusetts Bar Counsel, and violating Massachusetts Rule 8.4(d) for engaging in conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice by failing to comply with the terms of the administrative suspension.
IN RE S. EDWARD FIRESTONE. 5225 Pooks Hill Road, Bethesda, Maryland. December 17, 2002. The board recommends that the court disbar Firestone based upon his conviction of 18 counts of mail fraud in the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts. The board noted that mail fraud is a crime of moral turpitude for which disbarment is mandated by D.C. Code § 11-2503(a) (2001).
IN RE RONALD L. KLINGENBERG. 927 15th Street NW, Washington, D.C. December 18, 2002. The board recommends that the court disbar Klingenberg based upon his affidavit of consent to disbarment.
IN RE LISA MARIE MACCI. 2255 Glades Road, Boca Raton, Florida. December 4, 2002. In a reciprocal matter from Florida, the board recommends that the court publicly censure Macci as functionally equivalent reciprocal discipline. Macci was publicly reprimanded in Florida for violating Florida Rule 3-4.3 when she entered into a marriage ceremony in Hawaii before her divorce decree from her prior marriage had been finalized—a petty misdemeanor, if proven, in Hawaii.
IN RE G. RICO MCGOWAN. 87 Gentry Court, Annapolis, Maryland. December 31, 2002. In a reciprocal matter from Maryland, the board recommends that the court impose identical reciprocal discipline and disbar McGowan. The Court of Appeals of Maryland found that McGowan misrepresented his competence and capabilities to perform real estate closings; misrepresented to borrowers that he had authority to act for a real estate title company; failed to complete recordation on the majority of closings he conducted; failed to use funds collected for recordation of documents, release of liens, insurance premiums and payment of taxes, judgments, and other costs for those purposes; and otherwise failed to account for the funds entrusted to him. The Maryland court also found that McGowan failed to respond to numerous requests for information by the Maryland disciplinary authorities, to pursue competently and diligently the legal matters for which he was employed, and to communicate with clients about the status of their legal matters. In addition, he failed to safeguard property entrusted to him, to account for funds entrusted to him, and to disburse funds as required by his representations and obligations in connection with real estate transactions he undertook to close. Finally, the Maryland court determined that McGowan abandoned his clients and the legal matters entrusted to him.
IN RE JONATHAN S. RESNICK. 3635 Old Court Road, Baltimore, Maryland. December 3, 2002. In a reciprocal matter from Maryland, the board recommends that the court publicly censure Resnick. Based on a joint petition for reprimand by consent, the Maryland court publicly reprimanded Resnick for entering into a business transaction with a client concerning certain literary or media rights relating to the representation without advising the client to seek independent counsel in connection with the transaction. In addition, at the end of the representation, the escrow account of the client contained $324.16 in funds unaccounted for. Resnick was charged with violating Rules 1.8(a) and 1.15(a) and (b) of the Maryland Rules of Professional Conduct.
IN RE DONALD L. SCHLEMMER. 1815 H Street NW, Washington, D.C. December 27, 2002. The board recommends that the court publicly censure Schlemmer for violating Rules 1.3(a) and 1.4(a). During his representation of a client in an immigration matter, Schlemmer failed to file an appeal from the immigration court’s decision and failed to communicate anything about the appeal, including not only his unwillingness to file notice of the appeal without additional payment, but also the fact that the appeal had not been filed.
IN RE JOEL STEINBERG. 21231 Eisenhower Avenue, Alexandria, Virginia. December 30, 2002. In a reciprocal matter from Virginia, the board recommends that the court revoke Steinberg’s license to practice law in the District of Columbia with the right to apply for reinstatement in five years. Steinberg surrendered his license to practice law in Virginia to resolve a disciplinary matter involving allegations of misappropriation of client funds, failure to pay over client funds in a timely manner as ordered by the bankruptcy court, failure to maintain proper records of client funds, and neglect of client matters. The Virginia board, in accepting Steinberg’s resignation, ordered his licensed revoked.
IN RE C. CRADY SWISHER. 610 Smithfield Street, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. December 9, 2002. In a reciprocal matter from West Virginia, the board recommends that the court suspend Swisher for 30 days with the requirement that he demonstrate fitness to practice law prior to reinstatement. Swisher failed to cooperate with the West Virginia disciplinary investigation in violation of Rule 8.1(b) of the West Virginia Rules of Professional Conduct. The West Virginia court also found that Swisher’s failure to make any payment on the amount he owed in connection with a malpractice settlement agreement during the five years following the agreement was a violation of West Virginia Rule 8.4(d). This latter conduct does not constitute a violation in the District of Columbia. The West Virginia court suspended Swisher from the practice of law until he demonstrates to the satisfaction of the West Virginia Office of Disciplinary Counsel that he has satisfied in total the judgment and interest thereon entered against him in federal district court; successfully completes the Multi-State Professional Responsibility Examination; and pays all costs incurred in the investigation and hearing of the matter.
Disciplinary Actions Taken by the District of Columbia Court of Appeals
IN RE MICHAEL ABBELL. 8417 Carlynn Drive, Bethesda, Maryland. January 16, 2003. The court disbarred Abbell based upon his conviction of conspiracy to launder money and of RICO conspiracy in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida, finding that the RICO conspiracy conviction involves moral turpitude per se for which disbarment is mandated by D.C. Code § 11-2503(a) (2001).
IN RE JAMES F. CHILDRESS. PO Box 7173, Arlington, Virginia. December 5, 2002. In a reciprocal matter from Maryland, the court suspended Childress for one year with the requirement that he affirmatively demonstrate fitness to practice law prior to reinstatement. The Maryland suspension was based on a conclusion by the Court of Appeals of Maryland that Childress had committed criminal conduct under Virginia law when, over the Internet, he proposed to engage in sexual conduct with a child under the age of 14 years. Finding that Childress had violated Rule 8.4(b), the court noted the Maryland court’s observation that Childress’s proposal of inappropriate sexual activity to vulnerable adolescent girls "seriously undermined public confidence in the legal profession."
IN RE MARK M. HAGER. 4801 Massachusetts Avenue NW, Washington, D.C. December 19, 2002. The court suspended Hager for one year with reinstatement conditioned upon proof of rehabilitation under D.C. Bar Rule XI, § 16(d), with inquiry thereunder primarily directed to the fee disgorgement issue, in connection with his representation of individuals in a potential class action consumer claim. Hager, together with cocounsel, accepted a $225,000 fee from an opposing party in exchange for agreeing not to assert claims on behalf of his clients or any other party, to keep the terms of the agreement secret (including the fact that he was paid the fee and its amount), and to withhold his work product from his clients. Although his clients received some relief and were not required to release their potential claims, Hager failed to disclose to all but one client that they were free to pursue their claims. The court concluded that Hager engaged in a conflict of interest by representing clients when his own professional judgment on behalf of his clients might be adversely affected by his financial or personal interests, in violation of Rule 1.7(b)(4); accepted third-party compensation that interfered with his professional judgment without notice to his clients or obtaining his clients’ consent, in violation of Rule 1.8(e); failed to inform his clients about the terms of the agreement with the potential defendant, in violation of Rule 1.4(a); misrepresented facts to his clients by advising one client that he was not representing her in negotiations with the potential defendant, withholding the fact that he had been paid a fee, and failing to advise his clients of their right to pursue their claims against the defendant, in violation of Rule 8.4(c); accepted a settlement offer without his clients’ consent, in violation of Rule 1.2(a); participated in making a settlement agreement that included in its terms a restriction on his future practice, in violation of Rule 5.6(b); failed to protect his clients’ interests once the representation ended by agreeing with opposing counsel not to turn over his work product (including facts and legal theories) to his clients, in violation of Rule 1.16(d); and continued to represent his clients when to do so would result in a violation of the ethical rules, in violation of Rule 1.16(a).
IN RE RONALD L. KLINGENBERG. 927 15th Street NW, Washington, D.C. January 23, 2003. The court disbarred Klingenberg by consent.
IN RE ROBERT L. KOVEN. 110 North Washington Street, Rockville, Maryland. January 30, 2003. In a reciprocal matter from Maryland, the court disbarred Koven. Koven was disbarred in Maryland by consent. Koven conceded he could not successfully defend himself against charges that he engaged in misappropriation and unauthorized practice of law while suspended and failed to respond to Bar Counsel’s inquiries, to communicate with his clients, to forward client files in a timely manner after termination, and to forward in a timely manner funds owed to a third party.
IN RE LISA MARIE MACCI. 2255 Glades Road, Boca Raton, Florida. January 30, 2003. In a reciprocal matter from Florida, the court publicly censured Macci. Macci was publicly reprimanded in Florida based on her violating the laws of the state of Hawaii by getting married in Hawaii while separated from but still married to someone else.
IN RE JAMES S. MAXWELL. 51 Monroe Place, Rockville, Maryland. January 23, 2003. In this reciprocal matter from Maryland, following the court’s rejection of the board’s original sanction recommendation and a remand to the board for reconsideration, the court publicly censured Maxwell, the functional equivalent of the reprimand issued by the Maryland Court of Appeals.
IN RE MICHAEL J. SMITH. 1 North Pennsylvania Street, Indianapolis, Indiana. December 19, 2002. In a reciprocal matter from New York, the court publicly censured Smith for failing to respond to a lawful demand for information from a disciplinary authority. The Appellate Division of the Supreme Court of New York, Second Judicial Department, had publicly censured Smith for failing to cooperate with the grievance committee and failing to reregister with, and submit fees and his change of address to, the Office of Court Administration.
IN RE MICHAEL V. STATHAM. 8401 Corporate Drive, Landover, Maryland. January 30, 2003. In a reciprocal matter from Maryland, the court disbarred Statham. Statham was disbarred in Maryland by consent. Statham conceded that he could not successfully defend himself against charges that he had intentionally misappropriated funds when in six instances he had deposited into his personal account checks given to his firm as retainers or payments for legal services.
IN RE CHRISTOPHER TRIKERIOTIS. 9505 Reisterstown Road, Owings Mills, Maryland. January 16, 2003. The court disbarred Trikeriotis based upon his conviction of bank fraud in the United States District Court for the District of Maryland. The court noted that bank fraud is a crime of moral turpitude for which disbarment is mandated by D.C. Code § 11-2503(a) (2001).
IN RE VINCENT C. UCHENDU. 12016 Beltsville Drive, Beltsville, Maryland. December 19, 2002. The court suspended Uchendu for 30 days and ordered him to complete at least two continuing legal education courses totaling six hours within one year of the entry of the order. In various probate matters Uchendu affixed his clients’ signatures to documents requiring their personal signatures (albeit with the clients’ consent). In some cases he failed to place his initials next to the signatures and/or notarized the signatures, falsely affirming thereby that the clients had appeared before him, and personally signed the documents. The court accepted the board’s conclusion that Uchendu made false statements to the court in violation of Rule 3.3(a), engaged in dishonest conduct in violation of Rule 8.4(c), and seriously interfered with the administration of justice in violation of Rule 8.4(d).
Informal Admonitions Issued by the Office of Bar Counsel
IN RE KURT BERLIN. Obergh & Berlin, 1424 K Street NW, Washington, D.C. September 27, 2002. Bar Counsel issued Berlin an informal admonition for failing to serve a client with skill and care in that he failed to identify and hire an expert witness in a personal injury lawsuit, causing the court to disallow consideration of lost income as damages.
IN RE STEPHANIE Y. BRADLEY. 300 Decatur Street NW, Washington, D.C. September 27, 2002. Bar Counsel issued Bradley an informal admonition for failing to provide a client competent representation in an estate matter; failing to represent a client zealously and diligently within the bounds of the law and act with reasonable promptness; failing to keep a client reasonably informed about the status of a matter and comply with reasonable requests for information; failing to withdraw when a physical and/or mental condition resulting from an automobile accident impaired her ability to represent a client; failing to make reasonable efforts to ensure a nonlawyer assistant over whom she had direct supervisory authority engaged in conduct that was compatible with the professional obligations of the lawyer; failing to maintain complete records of all entrusted funds for a five-year period; and engaging in conduct that seriously interfered with the administration of justice, resulting in the removal of her client as personal representative of an estate. This informal admonition was in part based upon Bradley’s promise to meet with an adviser from the D.C. Bar Lawyer Practice Assistance Program and take steps to improve her practice, including talking a continuing legal education class within a specified time. Bar Counsel reserved the right to bring formal charges based upon the violations found if Bradley fails to take the agreed-upon steps in a timely manner.
IN RE STEPHANIE Y. BRADLEY. 300 Decatur Street NW, Washington, D.C. September 27, 2002. Bar Counsel issued Bradley an informal admonition for failing to provide a client competent representation in an estate matter and serve that client with skill and care commensurate with that generally afforded to clients by other lawyers in similar matters; failing to represent a client zealously and diligently within the bounds of the law and act with reasonable promptness; failing to keep a client reasonably informed about the status of a matter and comply with reasonable requests for information; and failing to maintain complete records of all entrusted funds for a five-year period. This informal admonition was in part based upon Bradley’s promise to meet with an adviser from the D.C. Bar Lawyer Practice Assistance Program and take steps to improve her practice, including taking a continuing legal education class within a specified time. Bar Counsel reserved the right to bring formal charges based upon the violations found if Bradley fails to take the agreed-upon steps in a timely manner.
IN RE JAMES E. BROWN. 8038 16th Street NW, Washington, D.C. October 31, 2002. Bar Counsel issued Brown an informal admonition for (1) failing to make reasonable efforts to ensure that all lawyers in a firm in which he is a partner and has direct supervisory authority conformed to the rules of professional conduct; (2) violating and knowingly assisting another in violating the rules of professional conduct; and (3) assisting a person not a member of the District of Columbia Bar in the unauthorized practice of law.
IN RE MELVIN I. KRAMER. 15321 Bitterroot Way, Rockville, Rockville, Maryland. November 22, 2002. Bar Counsel issued Kramer an informal admonition for making a false or misleading communication about his services and improperly using the professional designation of esquire while in inactive bar status and not entitled to practice law.
IN RE RICHARD J. MUDD. PO Box 36018, Washington, D.C. December 2, 2002. Bar Counsel issued Mudd an informal admonition in connection with a medical billing matter for failing to provide a client with a written fee agreement in circumstances in which the attorney had not previously represented the client and failing, upon withdrawal from representation, to turn over promptly all papers and property to which the client was entitled.
IN RE C. EDWARD SHACKLEE. 1201 South Courthouse Road, Arlington, Virginia. October 25, 2002. Bar Counsel issued Shacklee an informal admonition for practicing law while administratively suspended for nonpayment of bar dues.
IN RE TODD A. SHEIN. 10 South Adams Street, Rockville, Maryland. September 27, 2002. Bar Counsel issued Shein an informal admonition for failing to communicate the rate or basis of his fee in writing.
IN RE RONALD L. THOMAS. 11606 Chantilly Lane, Mitchellville, Maryland. December 2, 2002. Bar Counsel issued Thomas an informal admonition in connection with a criminal appeal for failing to provide competent representation and serve his client with skill and care commensurate with that generally afforded to clients by other lawyers in similar matters; engaging in conduct that seriously interfered with the administration of justice; and failing to keep a client reasonably informed about the status of a matter and comply promptly with reasonable requests for information.
The Office of Bar Counsel compiled the foregoing summaries of disciplinary actions. Reports and recommendations issued by the Board on Professional Responsibility, as well as informal admonitions issued by the Office of Bar Counsel, are posted on the D.C. Bar Web site at www.dcbar.org. Court opinions are printed in the Atlantic Reporter and, for decisions issued since mid-1998, are also available online. To obtain a copy of a recent slip opinion, visit www.dccourts.gov/internet/opinionlocator.jsf. Please note that in some cases Bar members may have the same name. To confirm the identity of individuals who have been subject to discipline, contact the D.C. Bar Member Service Center at 202-626-3475 or firstname.lastname@example.org.