Washington Lawyer

Bar Counsel's Page: Random Thoughts

From Washington Lawyer, March/April 2000

By Wallace E. "Gene" Shipp

Alert! The new Rule 1.15(d) covering entrusted funds is now in effect. Unearned fees and costs advanced by a client are now trust funds and must be handled accordingly, unless the client has agreed in writing that they are the property of the attorney upon receipt. Please review your firm’s or organization’s procedures to assure compliance. Remember: you may suffer vicarious liability for the misconduct of another member of your firm, including support staff. Better we should discuss this rule in the column than in person.

Reminiscing
The Office of Bar Counsel (OBC) has been engaged in the boutique law practice known as ethics enforcement for 26 years. Fred Grabowsky, the first Bar counsel, opened the doors after a career in the U.S. Marine Corps and a lively private practice, primarily in criminal defense. He served as Bar counsel for 10 years. Tom Henderson, now the executive director of the Association of Trial Lawyers of America, was the second Bar counsel, serving a three-year stint after leaving the public integrity section at the U.S. Department of Justice. Tom Flynn retired as the U.S. Navy judge advocate general and became the third Bar counsel, for a three-year cruise. Fred Abramson, the fourth Bar counsel, previously was president of the D.C. Bar and a private practitioner. Fred died far too young-six months after assuming the position. The Abramson Foundation carries on his good work of mentoring the youth of our city and public-interest attorneys. Len Becker, a partner at Arnold and Porter, was Bar Counsel number five. He served a lengthy tour of seven years before returning to A & P.

Introductions
Joyce Peters took the reins as our sixth Bar counsel on January 31, 2000. She comes with more than 22 years of experience in the army judge advocate general’s corps and, most recently, nearly five years at the U.S. Department of Justice. We welcome her to the staff of OBC, where she will assume responsibility for protecting the public, a service so ably discharged by her predecessors. Wallace E. "Gene" Shipp is deputy Bar counsel.

Who are the legal staff who will be assisting her in ethics enforcement?

  • Mike Frisch (16 years with OBC)—formerly a small-firm practitioner and a federal public defender in Baltimore.
  • Betsy Herman (15 years)—formerly a D.C. public defender and an attorney in the criminal enforcement division at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
  • Ross Dicker (14 years)—formerly a D.C. public defender and an attorney in the civil rights division at the U.S. Department of Justice.
  • John Rooney (14 years)—formerly with a midsize law firm.
  • Clay Smith (8 years)—formerly an attorney in large-firm practice.
  • Julia Porter (8 years)—formerly an attorney in large-firm practice.
  • Traci Tait (8 years)—formerly an attorney in small-firm practice.
  • Asma Naeem Shafiq (first year with OBC)—formerly with the Manhattan district attorney’s office.
  • Catherine Kello (first year with OBC)—formerly an attorney in large-firm practice.
  • Gene Shipp (19 years)—formerly a solo practitioner with a Fifth Street emphasis.     

Statistical Recap
Nineteen ninety-nine saw a reduction in cases on most levels, which was very welcome after the record-setting disciplinary year in 1998. It is hard to say what is causing a decrease in the reports of misconduct. We speculate that the excellent job market, strong economy, and ethics awareness are factors. Whatever the reasons, we would like to compliment the Bar and its programs. The Office of Bar Counsel does not seek to be a growth leader. The numbers show:

  • 1458 complaints received in 1999, down from 1687 in 1998.
  • 454 formal investigations undertaken in 1999, down from 560 in 1998.
  • 41 original cases, 41 reciprocal cases, and 8 criminal conviction cases prosecuted in 1999, compared to 68 original cases, 41 reciprocal cases, and 14 criminal conviction cases, respectively, in 1998.
  • 199 complaints from criminal defendants in 1999, down from 246 in 1998.
     We are developing profiles of investigated cases. Our figures for 1999 show:

Misconduct Alleged
Neglect 136
Dishonesty 76
Disbursement irregularities 53
Conduct prejudicial 47
Conflicts 24

Type of Law Involved
Personal injury 71
Probate 51
Criminal law 45
Equal employment opportunity 38
Family law 28
Immigration 25
Administrative law 23
Real estate 20

Decade Attorney Admitted
1950 16
1960 45
1970 126
1980 179
1990 84

Type of Law Practice
Firm 204
Solo 155
Government 22
Public interest 5
In-house 2

Location of Office
District of Columbia 308
Maryland 65
Virginia 42
Out of region 31

The data might cause one to speculate that if you are a personal injury attorney, admitted in the 1980s, practicing in a firm located in D.C., and slow to respond to your clients, you are at risk of having a complaint filed against you. We hope that this is only speculation and not a prediction.

Disciplinary Actions Taken by the Board on Professional Responsibility
In re Michael A. Romansky. December 10, 1999. The board recommends that the court suspend Romansky for 30 days for engaging in conduct involving dishonesty. In response to his firm’s investigation of his billing practices, Romansky dictated a letter to a client’s secretary and submitted it to the firm before the client had read or approved it, caused the letter to be backdated without the client’s authority, and made false statements to the client regarding the letter and its use by him. The board also found that he increased the number of hours shown in his firm’s internal billing records for other lawyers in order to charge premiums not disclosed to clients in two matters.

Disciplinary Actions Taken by the District of Columbia Court of Appeals
In re Floyd W. Anderson. December 9, 1999. The court granted Anderson’s petition for reinstatement. The court disbarred Anderson on March 26, 1984, following his guilty plea in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia to three counts of false pretenses, a crime involving moral turpitude.

In re Melvin C. Belli. December 20, 1999. In this reciprocal matter from California, the court suspended Belli and directed the Board on Professional Responsibility to determine the nature of the final discipline to be imposed. The California court suspended Belli for four years, stayed execution of all but one year of actual suspension, to be followed by probation for four years with conditions.

In re Charles W. Bills. September 30, 1999. The court disbarred Bills on consent.

In re Richard A. Canatella. December 20, 1999. In this reciprocal matter from California, where Canatella was suspended for 18 months, with execution of all but 30 days’ actual suspension stayed, and placed on probation with conditions for 18 months, the court suspended him and directed the Board on Professional Responsibility to determine the nature of the final discipline to be imposed.

In re Glenn H. Carlson. January 13, 2000. The court disbarred Carlson with the requirement that he make restitution to a third party and to a client prior to reinstatement. In connection with a workers’ compensation matter and a related civil suit, Carlson misappropriated funds that had been entrusted to pay a subrogation lien, thereby causing his client’s wages to be attached. He also engaged in conduct involving dishonesty, neglected his client’s case, intentionally prejudiced his client during the course of the representation, and failed to deliver funds promptly, to maintain complete records of entrusted funds, or to seek his client’s legal objectives. In a separate matter, Carlson engaged in conduct that seriously interfered with the administration of justice by failing to comply with the Board on Professional Responsibility’s order compelling his response to a disciplinary complaint.

In re Leonard L. Casalino. December 9, 1999. The court granted Casalino’s petition for reinstatement. The court had disbarred him effective April 16, 1993, following his guilty plea in the United States District Court for the District of Maryland to tax fraud.

In re Cary D. Dechowitz. December 23, 1999. In this criminal matter from the United States District Court for the Northern District of California, where Dechowitz was convicted of possession with intent to distribute marijuana, a crime involving moral turpitude per se, the court disbarred him, nunc pro tunc to March 18, 1998.

In re David E. Edmonds. January 13, 2000. In this reciprocal matter from Massachusetts, where Edmonds was administratively suspended for failing to comply with a subpoena or a request for information during a disciplinary investigation, the court suspended him and directed the Board on Professional Responsibility to determine the nature of the final discipline to be imposed.

In re Leroy E. Giles Jr. December 23, 1999. The court suspended Giles for 30 days, with the requirement that he demonstrate fitness to practice law prior to reinstatement, for engaging in conduct that seriously interfered with the administration of justice and for failing to cooperate with Bar Counsel or to comply with an order of the Board on Professional Responsibility.

In re James V. Hackney III. December 13, 1999. In this criminal matter from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Indiana, South Bend Division, where Hackney was convicted of four counts of wire fraud, the court suspended him and directed the Board on Professional Responsibility to determine the nature of the final discipline to be imposed.

In re Mary Ann Bell Kenno. January 13, 2000. In this reciprocal matter from Maryland, where Kenno was disbarred on consent, the court suspended her and directed the Board on Professional Responsibility to determine the nature of the final discipline to be imposed.

In re Geoffrey P. Lebar. December 23, 1999. In this reciprocal matter from New Jersey, the court disbarred Lebar, with the right to apply for reinstatement after five years. The New Jersey court found that Lebar had misappropriated funds held in escrow in connection with three real estate transactions and had engaged in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation.

In re Ronald G. Maurice. December 16, 1999. In this reciprocal matter from Maryland, where Maurice consented to disbarment, the court disbarred him, nunc pro tunc to August 6, 1998.

In re Rafael A. Prado. January 10, 2000. In this reciprocal matter from New Jersey, where Prado was suspended for three months, the court suspended him and directed the Board on Professional Responsibility to determine the nature of the final discipline to be imposed.

In re Annette Regent. December 9, 1999. The court disbarred Regent for knowingly making false statements of material fact on applications for admissions to the Arizona and Nevada bars, failing to respond to a demand for information from admissions authorities, and engaging in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation. Regent failed to disclose, on admissions applications or in subsequent correspondence in connection with character and fitness investigations, that she had been the subject of three separate disciplinary investigations in Hawaii; that a criminal complaint had been filed against her and a warrant issued for her arrest in California; that she had applied for admission and had sat for but failed the bar examination in California 11 times; that she had been admitted to the District of Columbia Bar; and that she had been a party to at least three civil lawsuits.

In re Jeffrey C. Taylor. November 8, 1999. In this criminal matter from the Circuit Court for Montgomery County, Maryland, where Taylor pleaded guilty to two counts of felony theft, one count of fraudulent misappropriation by a fiduciary, and obstructing justice, the court suspended him and directed the Board on Professional Responsibility to determine the nature of the final discipline to be imposed.

In re Drew V. Tidwell. December 16, 1999. In this criminal matter from the Superior Court of Erie County, New York, where Tidwell was convicted of leaving the scene of an incident without reporting, the court suspended him and directed the Board on Professional Responsibility to determine the nature of the final discipline to be imposed.

In re Henry J. Wilewski. December 23, 1999. In this reciprocal matter from New Jersey, where Wilewski was disbarred, the court disbarred Wilewski, with the right to apply for reinstatement after five years. The New Jersey court permanently disbarred him based upon a finding that he had engaged in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation in that he knowingly misused funds that his bank had erroneously credited to his law firm’s trust account.

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 membership@dcbar.org.