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Washington Lawyer

Bar Counsel: A Conversation With NOBC’s 50th President

From Washington Lawyer, October 2014

By Gene Shipp

Illustration by Mick WigginsThe National Organization of Bar Counsel recently concluded its annual meeting in Boston in conjunction with the ABA’s Annual Meeting. Our own Senior Staff Attorney Lawrence Bloom served as NOBC’s 50th president. The NOBC was organized in 1974 by five or six disciplinary counsel, who usually met with the National Association of Bar Executives. On March 11, 1977, the NOBC was incorporated in the District of Columbia. Fred Grabowsky (the first D.C. bar counsel, 1973-1983) served as the 12th president of the NOBC (1977-78) and its incorporator.

I had the honor of being the 27th president (1992-93). Having been with the D.C. Office of Bar Counsel since 1980, I have watched the NOBC grow into an influential organization for attorney discipline, which not only works to protect the public but also to promote ethical behavior of the members of the Bar so they may avoid the disciplinary process.

We turn away from our usual column about ethics to have a conversation with Lawrence about his service as secretary, treasurer, president-elect, and president of the NOBC.
 
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GS: The NOBC is now 50 years old, correct?
LB: Yes, next August we celebrate our 50th anniversary.

GS: Take a minute and tell us what the organization is about.
LB: For me the organization, which really represents the interests of jurisdictions that are different in so many ways, serves as a practical medium allowing people coming from very different places to share ideas and find what they have in common and support each in their day-to-day activities.

GS: Going back to a more fundamental question, what is the NOBC? Who belongs to it? What is the membership?
LB: The membership is made up of disciplinary agencies around the United States and Canada. Because disciplinary agencies are structured differently around the United States, it may include some bar agencies, legal ethics organizations, and federal agencies.

GS: I understand you’ve recently had the SRA join NOBC? Who are the SRA?
LB: The Solicitors Regulatory Authority is the regulatory body for solicitors in England and Wales.

GS: So the NOBC is more than just national?
LB: That’s true.

GS: How many attorneys are employed by discipline agencies in the United States and Canada?
LB: More than 900 members.

GS: How many people attended the Boston conference?
LB: Almost 200 attendees. That’s a large number, and I think that’s in part due to the location. Boston became viable for a lot of people on the East Coast who hadn’t been able to attend in the past.

GS: Taking a moment for a period of reflection, what have you gained from this organization?
LB: I wanted to work in this organization because I was given the privilege of taking part through you. I thought if I’m going to attend, I want to contribute in ways that would be a benefit to the organization and also meaningful to me personally. Then, when I was given the opportunity to run for office, it was with the idea of doing something substantive for the organization, and, in a very personal way, allowing me to feel like I’ve done something of relevance in the industry. My approach was to shore up the foundation, add to all the things that those before me brought to it, help continue to bring the organization into the 21st century, and help continue to make it relevant. As secretary, it was with the idea of looking at the bylaws and the Web site and making sure they were clean and up to date. As treasurer, it was with the idea of creating budgets that were comprehensible and looking at business policy. As program chair (president-elect), I decided that, since so much of the membership was getting to an age that they were either moving on and exploring other aspects of the profession or retiring, I thought that the organization had the immediate need of being invigorated by newer, younger people. The challenge was to show the benefit of belonging to and working with an organization in an era where things might be done differently. So it was the idea of bringing that excitement.

GS: Tell me about your programming ideas.
LB: So, as program chair, I had a two-pronged approach: First, was to encourage new members to join the Program Committee and be involved as much as possible. This entailed them having a lot of face time, introducing their programs, and really engaging the audience. The second thing I wanted to do was to introduce these new members to the organization itself.

And so the theme for the first NOBC conference was “practical things that we each do”—how we’ve done them in the past, how we do them in the present, how we’re going to do them in the future, how we do them the same, how we do them differently. I thought this would be a great way to get somebody that was a newer member to see what had been going on historically, what’s going on currently, what we’re doing in the future, how we’re the same, and how we’re all different. So it really served as an introduction.

Then I had to come up with a theme for the second conference, which is always a real challenge. So I thought, how about third-party entities that we all deal with? This way, it would bring together all the federal agencies, international agencies, and legal ethics entities. And I was fortunate enough to have a talented, hard-working Program Committee to make this all a reality.

GS: Then your year as president seemed to continue your themes.
LB: As president, there was the concept of continuing to nurture that, continuing to bring in new people, and handing it off with the idea that going forth, these new people were going to be part of the organization and take it forward. Something else that’s very interesting, in terms of all the technological things we’re doing today—Facebook, Twitter, and the Web site—we’re trying to find ways that younger people in the industry want to communicate with each other and receive information from the organization. And again, I was fortunate enough to have a smart, enthused, unified board to work with and effectuate all of these goals and projects.

GS: I’ve heard it said by old-timers in the NOBC that the discipline people in the United States who participate in the NOBC are family. Any thoughts?
LB: Well, when I first heard that, I thought that’s a wonderful thing, that’s a very welcoming thing, but for newer family members, there’s the issue of potential exclusion. That was a concern to me. So much of this year was telling the officers that we want to promote the organization as not so much family where there’s the idea of being inclusive and exclusive, but rather a useful entity that is there to support them, to give to them, and to take whatever they can develop and put back into the organization. But when that was all said and done, I came back to this concept that, well, in effect, isn’t that really what a family is? So I’ve totally come full circle with it.

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I would like to thank Lawrence for all the work he put into the NOBC and for representing the District of Columbia disciplinary system on both the national and international stage. We are proud of our favorite son, g.

Gene Shipp serves as bar counsel for the District of Columbia.

Disciplinary Actions Taken by the Board on Professional Responsibility
Original Matters
In re Robert W. King. Bar No. 922575. July 25, 2014. The Board on Professional Responsibility directs the Office of Bar Counsel to informally admonish King for failure to provide an engagement letter. Rule 1.5.

In re Andrea Merritt-Bagwell. Bar No. 434943. July 31, 2014. The Board on Professional Responsibility recommends that the D.C. Court of Appeals disbar Merritt-Bagwell for reckless misappropriation and misconduct in violation of other rules, that it stay execution of the disbarment pursuant to In re Kersey, 520 A.2d 321, 326-27 (D.C. 1987) with mitigation based upon respondent’s depressive disorder, and that it place respondent on three years of monitored probation subject to terms and conditions. This case arises out of respondent’s appointment as the guardian of the estate of a minor. In that role, respondent missed deadlines for filing accounts, missed court appearances, and paid herself legal fees without prior authorization from the Probate Court. Merritt-Bagwell violated the following rules: 1.15(a) (intentional or reckless misappropriation); 1.1(b) (failure to act with skill and care); 1.3(a) (failure to act zealously and diligently); 1.3(b)(2) (intentionally damaging or prejudicing a client); 1.3(c) (failure to act promptly); 8.4(c) (dishonesty); and 8.4(d) (serious interference with administration of justice).

In re Lathal Ponder Jr. Bar No. 434951. July 31, 2014. The Board on Professional Responsibility recommends that the D.C. Court of Appeals disbar Ponder. This matter consolidated five separate cases. The board found that despite the differences in the underlying claims, Ponder engaged in a similar pattern of misconduct in connection with his representation of all clients involved in this matter. Ponder failed to represent his clients’ interests; lied to them about the status of their respective cases; falsely reported the supposed outcomes of court proceedings and settlement negotiations; fabricated court documents and settlement agreements; and continually led his clients to believe that settlement payments were forthcoming when, in fact, no settlements were ever reached. Ponder violated one or more of the following rules: Rules 1.1(a) and (b) (lacking competence, skill, and care); Rules 1.3(a) and (b)(1)–(2) (failing to provide diligent and zealous representation, intentionally failing to seek client’s lawful objectives, intentionally prejudicing or damaging client); Rules 1.4(a) and (b) (failing to keep client reasonably informed and to explain matters reasonably necessary to permit the client to make informed decisions); Rules 1.5(b) and (c) (failing to provide a written basis of fees and failing to provide method of calculating a contingent fee); Rule 1.16(d) (failing to surrender papers and property to which the client is entitled); Rules 8.1(a) and (b) (making false statements in a disciplinary matter and knowingly failing to respond to lawful demands for information from Bar Counsel); Rule 8.4(b) (committing criminal acts that reflect adversely on honesty, trustworthiness, or fitness as a lawyer including fraud and forgery in violation of D.C. Code §§ 22-3221 and 22-3241, respectively); Rule 8.4(c) (engaging in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation); Rule 8.4(d) (engaging in conduct that seriously interferes with the administration of justice); and D.C. Bar R. XI, § 2(b)(3) (failing to comply with orders of the board and court).

In re Juan L. Rodriguez-Quesada. Bar No. 487484. July 31, 2014. The Board on Professional Responsibility recommends that the D.C. Court of Appeals suspend Rodriguez-Quesada for two years with reinstatement conditioned upon the respondent making restitution to several clients or to the Clients’ Security Fund, as appropriate, of unearned fees, plus interest at the legal rate. This case involved respondent’s representation of multiple clients in four matters wherein he failed to represent his clients competently, failed to communicate with them, neglected their cases, made false statements to the Immigration Court (in one matter), and failed to return unearned fees and/or files upon termination of his representation. The board found respondent’s misconduct was serious and that there was a consistent pattern of neglect in each case. Respondent did not communicate with his clients, did not explain the issues or the risks, and did not adequately explain his strategy to address their problems. In all four cases, the clients were required to seek assistance from new counsel. Respondent also was slow to return files and did not return any unearned fees. The board concluded that Rodriguez-Quesada violated the following rules: Rules 1.1(a) and (b) (lack of competence); 1.3(a) and (c) (lack of diligence and promptness); 1.3(b)(2) (intentionally prejudicing his client); 1.4(a) and (b) (failure to keep his client reasonably informed and to explain a matter to the client); 1.16(d) (failure to return files and unearned fees); 3.3(a)(1) (making a false statement to a tribunal and failure to correct that statement before the tribunal); 8.4(c) (dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation); and 8.4(d) (conduct that seriously interferes with the administration of justice).

In re Sherri L. Wyatt. Bar No. 390314. July 7, 2014. The Board on Professional Responsibility recommends that the D.C. Court of Appeals suspend Wyatt for six months. While representing a client in a personal injury matter, Wyatt failed to address issues surrounding payment of a medical provider and to keep the client informed of the status of her dealings with the medical provider, commingled her funds with entrusted funds, failed to maintain complete records of entrusted funds, and committed negligent misappropriation. Rules 1.1(b), 1.4(a), 1.4(b), 1.15(a), and D.C. Bar R. XI § 19(f).

Disciplinary Actions Taken by the District of Columbia Court of Appeals
Original Matters
In re Abigail Askew. Bar No. 497703. July 31, 2014. The D.C. Court of Appeals suspended Askew for six months, with all but 60 days stayed, with a concurrently commencing period of one year of supervised probation with all conditions recommended by the board. While appointed to represent a single client on appeal to the District of Columbia Court of Appeals from the denial of his motion to vacate his criminal conviction, Askew failed to communicate with her client and to keep him informed; failed to file the brief with the court; failed to comply with the court’s orders to file the brief; and failed to timely provide her client’s files to successor counsel, as ordered by the court. Rules 1.1(a), 1.1(b), 1.3(a), 1.4(a), 1.4(b), 1.16(d), 3.4(c), and 8.4(d).

In re Sandy V. Lee. Bar No. 361460. July 17, 2014. The D.C. Court of Appeals disbarred Lee, effective 30 days from the date of the opinion. Lee intentionally misappropriated funds in which a third party had a “just claim” in violation of Rule 1.15(c) (which is now Rule 1.15(d)).

Interim Suspensions Issued by the District of Columbia Court of Appeals
In re Augustine H. Kim. Bar No. 458605. July 30, 2014. Kim was suspended on an interim basis based upon his failure to respond to a board order.

Informal Admonitions Issued by the Office of Bar Counsel
In re Robert A. Remes. Bar No. 199711. June 23, 2014. Bar Counsel issued Remes an informal admonition. While retained to represent a client in an immigration matter on appeal, Remes failed to represent the client with the requisite skill and care afforded by immigration attorneys and failed to represent the client zealously and diligently with reasonable promptness. Rules 1.1(b), 1.3(a), and 1.3(c).

In re Harold Brazil. Bar No. 190124. July 1, 2014. Bar Counsel issued Brazil an informal admonition. While representing a client in a personal injury matter, Brazil failed to safeguard the property of clients, failed to promptly deliver client property to the client, failed to keep the client property in a trust account, failed to represent a client zealously and diligently within the bounds of the law, and failed to act with reasonable promptness in representing a client. Rules 1.15(a), 1.15(c), 1.3(a), and 1.3(c).

In re Ian A. Williams. Bar No. 417772. June 5, 2014. Bar Counsel issued Williams an informal admonition based on his representation of clients in two separate felony criminal matters. In the first matter, Williams failed to consult with the client about issues the client may have wished to raise on appeal. In addition, Williams failed to communicate with the client. In the second matter, where Williams was appointed to represent a second unrelated client on appeal of his conviction, Williams failed to communicate with the client. Rules 1.1(a), 1.1(b), 1.2(a), 1.4(a), and 1.4(b).


The Office of Bar Counsel compiled the foregoing summaries of disciplinary actions. Informal Admonitions issued by Bar Counsel and Reports and Recommendations issued by the Board on Professional Responsibility are posted at www.dcattorneydiscipline.org. Most board recommendations as to discipline are not final until considered by the court. Court opinions are printed in the Atlantic Reporter and also are available online for decisions issued since August 1998. To obtain a copy of a recent slip opinion, visit
www.dccourts.gov/internet/opinionlocator.jsf.