Washington Lawyer

Bar Counsel's Page: It's a Great Day to Be Bar Counsel

From Washington Lawyer, May/June 2000

By Joyce E. Peters

petersAnyone who has spent time around an Army post has probably heard the expression "It’s a great day to be a soldier!" Although I don’t know who coined this expression, I heard it many times during my more than 22 years of service as an Army judge advocate. Sometimes I heard it said in jest by a soldier standing in the rain at a muddy field site, or with delight by a fellow soldier as we crossed the parade field on a sunny day at Fort Lewis, Washington, with Mount Rainier towering in the distance. Most often, however, I remember hearing retired general Gordon R. Sullivan, former chief of staff of the Army, and many senior military commanders use this expression at ceremonies, briefings, and meetings when they addressed troops and military leaders.

In many ways this statement is a reflection of their feelings of pride in the competence and professionalism of soldiers all over the world who might be faced with difficult tasks or life-threatening situations in support of national security policy. But more importantly, this statement captures the enthusiasm, energy, commitment, and courage of those who serve the nation. It signals a belief in the importance of each individual’s contribution as part of a much larger organization, and it highlights the camaraderie, teamwork, esprit, and integrity that must exist at the core of any large organization if it is to be respected and effective in accomplishing its mission.
     As I reflected upon how to introduce myself to the D.C. Bar community as the new Bar counsel, I realized that, just as it has been and still is a great day to be a soldier, it is also a great day to be the Bar counsel! The responsibility and trust reposed in the Bar counsel to oversee the disciplinary system for the more than 73,000 members of the D.C. Bar cannot be taken lightly. Nothing is more important than upholding the integrity of the legal profession and its members and ensuring that those who put their trust in their lawyers receive the undivided attention and competent, zealous representation they deserve.
     Being the Bar counsel, like being a soldier, requires dedication, honesty, integrity, fairness, compassion, and absolute professionalism. It also requires perseverance, leadership, and vision to recognize not only the changes in the practice of law resulting from specialization, new technology, and multijurisdictional practice, but also the continuity of the legal profession’s essential nature-service to the client-with its longstanding ideals and standards. These issues concern the Bar generally and all lawyers-regardless of whether they are private practitioners, corporate or organizational counsel, government or public practitioners, or simply entrepreneurs in business. The disciplinary standards in the District of Columbia apply to all lawyers-active and inactive-and they must be applied in a firm, even-handed manner. Lawyers should expect their colleagues to abide by the ethical rules and should have confidence that the lawyer disciplinary system supported by their Bar dues provides fair, consistent, and timely treatment for all. Allegations or instances of lawyer misconduct must be swiftly, fairly, and fully investigated, handled with discretion in a professional manner, and promptly resolved. This is the challenge presented to Bar counsel.
     My own professional experience, starting from my early days in private practice in Cleveland with a firm of about 40 lawyers, through my many years in uniform, and most recently, my more than four years at the U.S. Department of Justice, has prepared me well for these responsibilities. I have seen the practice of law from all sides: prosecution and defense, civil litigation, appellate practice, regulatory practice, legislative practice, and law teaching (including the teaching of ethics). I have managed lawyers and law offices, made prosecutive decisions in difficult cases, worked with law enforcement and legislative personnel and a variety of private and civic organizations, and developed strategies and legal policies on diverse issues. So I am ready for the challenges that lie ahead as Bar counsel in the year 2000 and beyond.
     Already, however, I know that the Office of Bar Counsel, as the prosecutive arm of the attorney disciplinary process, does not and should not work in isolation but rather in partnership with the Bar and its many supporting programs. Keith Soressi, the regulation counsel for the D.C. Bar, runs a variety of programs designed to help lawyers get assistance and avoid the disciplinary process. Preventive programs, such as the services provided by the Legal Ethics Committee to help lawyers find their way through ethical issues, the Attorney/Client Arbitration Board for fee disputes, the Lawyer Counseling Program for lawyers who need assistance with substance abuse, and the Lawyer Practice Assistance Committee, which provides management consultations on office practice, all provide invaluable assistance to Bar members and can help lawyers avoid violations of disciplinary rules. The Clients’ Security Fund promotes public confidence in our profession through reimbursement for losses occasioned by dishonest lawyers. Similarly, the Bar’s extensive continuing legal education programs run by Lalla Shishkevish enable lawyers to gain expertise and confidence in new and evolving areas of the law. The mandatory course for new admittees to the D.C. Bar jump-starts new Bar members by teaching ethics, use of trust accounts, and law office management to help new lawyers get a proper start. These programs and courses help both new and experienced lawyers expand their knowledge and competence, and their effects can already be felt in the attorney disciplinary system with a decline of about 200 complaints over the past year. These preventive and corrective programs must work in tandem with the disciplinary system-but make no mistake about it, Bar counsel will prosecute lawyers who insist upon engaging in serious ethical misconduct.
     Beyond the D.C. Bar itself, there is a whole world of bar counsels. Shortly after I became Bar counsel, I attended the mid-year meeting of the National Organization of Bar Counsel (NOBC) in Dallas. In a few short hours, I met more than 140 lawyers involved in attorney disciplinary matters in 50 states and Canada. To some, an NOBC meeting would be a scary place-a room teeming with bar counsels and lawyers involved in prosecuting or adjudicating attorney disciplinary cases! Now, for me, however, the bar counsel in Alaska, Maryland, Maine, or Florida-each a professional colleague-is only a phone call away! This network is particularly important for our Bar because so many of our members maintain licenses in more than one jurisdiction and can face reciprocal discipline in the District for misconduct that occurs elsewhere.
     While the bar counsel in each jurisdiction confronts his or her own peculiar disciplinary challenges under that jurisdiction’s specific disciplinary rules, many common issues concern all of us: unauthorized practice of law, prosecutorial misconduct, publicity seeking lawyers, assisting clients of sole practitioners who become incapacitated or die, and public discipline for private conduct. The NOBC provides a professional forum for consideration of these disciplinary issues, as well as the panoply of other issues and policies considered or adopted by the American Bar Association and its various sections that may affect attorney discipline.
     Last month the legal staff in the Office of Bar Counsel was introduced to you by deputy Bar counsel Gene Shipp in his "Random Thoughts" column. The Office of Bar Counsel also includes an industrious support staff of law clerks and administrative personnel who work with the legal staff to resolve our many cases. It’s a strong team of dedicated, hardworking individuals and a professional staff with an intense commitment to integrity and fairness.
     Yes, indeed-it certainly is a great day to be the Bar counsel!

Disciplinary Actions Taken by the Board on Professional Responsibility
In re Douglas Abraham. January 28, 2000. The board recommends that the court disbar Abraham on consent.

In re John E. Anderson. March 6, 2000. The board recommends that the court suspend Anderson for six months for negligent misappropriation, commingling, and failing to promptly pay a third party with an interest in entrusted funds in connection with a personal injury matter.

In re Paul C. Bland. March 3, 2000. In this reciprocal matter from Virginia, where Bland was publicly reprimanded in two separate matters, the board recommends that the court suspend him for 30 days. In an estate matter, Bland represented in pleadings filed in lower and appellate court proceedings that he represented heirs who had not retained him and gave to his client funds that a creditor of the estate had asked the respondent to deliver to other heirs. In a domestic relations matter, the Virginia court found that Bland failed to attend promptly to matters undertaken for a client, to deposit an advance fee in a trust account, or to keep a trust account subsidiary ledger. The board concluded that, although reciprocal discipline is warranted, identical discipline should not be imposed. The board instead recommended a 30-day suspension in light of Bland’s prior disciplinary record in the District of Columbia.

In re Everette John Domingues. February 14, 2000. In this reciprocal matter from Maryland, the board recommends that the court suspend Domingues for nine months, nunc pro tunc to January 13, 1999, and place him on probation for two years under the supervision of a practice monitor. Domingues entered into an agreement with Maryland disciplinary authorities while disciplinary charges alleging, among other things, negligent misappropriation, commingling, conduct involving dishonesty, and conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice were pending against him. The Maryland court indefinitely suspended him by consent, with the right to apply for reinstatement after nine months.

In re Larry Gordon. February 8, 2000. The board recommends that the court issue Gordon a public censure for failing to represent a client zealously or diligently. Gordon, who was appointed pursuant to the Criminal Justice Act, failed to seek postconviction relief as requested by his client or to advise his client of his decision not to do so.

In re Brian P. Hanchey. February 14, 2000. In this reciprocal matter from Virginia, the board recommends that the court disbar Hanchey. The Virginia court revoked Hanchey’s license when he resigned while disciplinary charges were pending against him.

In re Richard A. James. February 24, 2000. The board recommends that the court disbar James on consent.

In re Bernard M. Mogil. March 6, 2000. In this reciprocal matter from New York, where Mogil was disbarred, the board recommends that the court disbar Mogil. Mogil, while a judge in a New York court, sent numerous anonymous, threatening communications to an attorney, distributed a statement at a bar association dinner warning attorneys of the consequences of complaining against a judge, made false representations to local police and to judicial authorities, and gave false testimony under oath in a judicial conduct proceeding. The New York court found that his actions constituted conduct adversely reflecting on his fitness to practice law and conduct involving dishonesty.

In re Vincent D. Paragano. February 10, 2000. In this reciprocal matter from New Jersey, the board recommends that the court suspend Paragano for six months, nunc pro tunc to April 19, 1999. The New Jersey court suspended him for six months as a result of his stipulation that he had engaged in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation by mischaracterizing personal disbursements as business disbursements. He was reinstated in New Jersey on October 20, 1999.

In re Andrew L. Singer. February 28, 2000. The board recommends that the court disbar Singer on consent.

In re Russell G. Small. January 19, 2000. The board recommends that the court suspend Small for three years, nunc pro tunc to January 24, 1994, with the requirement that he demonstrate fitness to practice law prior to reinstatement. Small was involved in an accident in which his passenger was killed while he was driving under the influence of alcohol and on a suspended license. He was convicted in the New York State Supreme Court of the felony of negligent homicide and the traffic violation of operating a motor vehicle while impaired. At the time of the accident, his application for admission to the District of Columbia Bar was pending, but he never advised the admissions committee of his arrest following the accident. The board concluded that his actions constituted a criminal act that reflected adversely on his fitness as a lawyer and, in connection with his admissions application, a failure to disclose a fact necessary to correct a misapprehension that he knew to have arisen in the matter or to respond reasonably to a demand for information from the admissions committee.

In re Andrew M. Steinberg. November 24, 1999. The board recommends that the court suspend Steinberg for 30 days for engaging in conduct that seriously interfered with the administration of justice and for failing to comply with a board order compelling his response to Bar Counsel inquiries.

Disciplinary Actions Taken by the District of Columbia Court of Appeals
In re Samuel E. Dixon Jr. February 15, 2000. In a reciprocal matter from Connecticut, where Dixon was suspended for nine 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 Alvin G. Douglass. February 3, 2000. The court publicly censured Douglass for failing to act with competence, to represent a client with the skill and care commensurate with that offered by other attorneys in similar matters, to pursue a client’s legal objectives, to represent a client diligently, or to act with reasonable promptness in connection with an estate matter.

In re Robert C. Freed. February 15, 2000. In this reciprocal matter from Maryland, where Freed was indefinitely suspended, the court suspended him and directed the Board on Professional Responsibility to determine the nature of the final discipline to be imposed.

In re Kevin C. McDonough. March 2, 2000. In this reciprocal matter from California, the court suspended McDonough and directed the Board on Professional Responsibility to determine the nature of the final discipline to be imposed. The California court suspended him for two years, stayed the execution of all but 60 days of actual suspension, and imposed a two-year probation with conditions.

In re Lorenzo Randle. February 3, 2000. In this reciprocal matter from Maryland, where Randle consented to a 60-day suspension for commingling, the court suspended him for 60 days.

In re Jordan L. Ring. February 17, 2000. In this reciprocal matter from Massachusetts, where Ring was suspended for three months, the court suspended him for three months, nunc pro tunc to October 28, 1998. In connection with his own divorce proceeding, Ring transferred marital assets to private accounts overseas and failed to comply with child support orders. He was adjudicated in contempt on seven occasions and twice incarcerated for his actions.

In re Mark J. Rochon. March 2, 2000. In this reciprocal matter from the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, the court publicly censured Rochon for engaging in conduct that seriously interfered with the administration of justice. The federal court publicly reprimanded Rochon for repeatedly ignoring briefing deadlines and filing a motion to withdraw as counsel one week before a briefing deadline that already had been extended.

In re Kevin M. Sabo. January 24, 2000. In this criminal matter from the Circuit Court of Arlington County, Virginia, where Sabo was convicted of attempted malicious wounding, the court suspended him and directed the Board on Professional Responsibility to determine the nature of the final discipline to be imposed.

In re Robert J. Sheridan. February 4, 2000. In this reciprocal matter from Maryland, where Sheridan was indefinitely suspended, the court suspended him and directed the Board on Professional Responsibility to determine the nature of the final discipline to be imposed.

In re Gerald S. Susman. February 15, 2000. In a criminal matter from the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey, where Susman pleaded guilty to a violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 1027 and 2, and a reciprocal matter from Maryland, where he was suspended by consent, the court suspended him and directed the Board on Professional Responsibility to determine the nature of the final discipline to be imposed.

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/dccourts/appeals/opinions_mojs.jsp. 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.