Wisconsin Declines To Admit Lawyer Who Was Disbarred in Florida

In the Matter of the Bar Admission of David Hammer, 2019AP1974 (Supreme Court of Wisconsin, June 25, 2020), The Wisconsin Supreme Court refused admission to David Hammer who was previously denied admission in Florida. Given the prior misconduct of Hammer in Florida, culminating in disbarment, the Supreme Court of Wisconsin refused to admit Hammer.

¶3 We focus on the Board’s primary reason for declining to certify Mr. Hammer. On August 23, 2010, four years after his admission to practice law, the Supreme Court of Florida issued an emergency suspension against Mr. Hammer’s law license, alleging that he had misappropriated client trust funds. A formal disciplinary complaint followed. Eventually, Mr. Hammer stipulated that in November 2009, Bilzerian had directed that certain outstanding invoices and cost reimbursements not be paid to Mr. Hammer. Mr. Hammer believed these amounts were valid and owed to him. At the time, Mr. Hammer had access to funds in a trust account belonging to another Bilzerian-related entity. In January 2010, Mr. Hammer began taking money from that trust account for his own personal use. In May 2010, the client requested the money held in trust. By then, the trust fund was approximately $27,000 short of funds. To replace the missing client funds, Mr. Hammer accessed funds from another account to which he was a signatory, paying himself director fees and other amounts.

¶4 On August 30, 2011, the Florida Supreme Court issued an order disbarring Mr. Hammer, nunc pro tunc to September 22, 2010, for misappropriating client funds.[2] Eventually, Mr. Hammer distanced himself from the Bilzerian client group, started a business, regained financial stability, and became chief information officer of Elevant, an entity that licenses a case management software program.

¶5 On January 1, 2018, Mr. Hammer applied for admission to the Wisconsin bar. In February 2018, he took and subsequently passed the Wisconsin bar exam. On January 15, 2019, the Board advised Mr. Hammer that his bar application was at risk of being denied on character and fitness grounds. Mr. Hammer, by counsel, requested a hearing and in May 2019, Mr. Hammer also voluntarily commenced an ethics tutorial with Wisconsin Attorney Dean R. Dietrich.

¶6 On August 2, 2019, the Board conducted a hearing at which Mr. Hammer appeared by counsel and testified. The Board also heard testimony from Mr. Hammer’s prospective employers, who advised the Board that they will employ Mr. Hammer as an attorney if he is admitted to the Wisconsin bar. Attorney Dietrich testified in support of Mr. Hammer’s character and fitness to practice law in Wisconsin.

¶7 On September 19, 2019, the Board issued an adverse decision concluding that Mr. Hammer had failed to demonstrate to the Board’s satisfaction that he has the necessary character and fitness to practice law in Wisconsin. The Board cited Mr. Hammer’s Florida disbarment; abuse of process; extensive traffic record; and its conclusion that Mr. Hammer failed to demonstrate significant rehabilitation. The Board added that Mr. Hammer has not reapplied to the Florida bar.

¶23 While we have, on occasion, overruled the Board and admitted certain applicants despite troubling past conduct, we conclude that Mr. Hammer cannot be admitted to their ranks. We acknowledge that a decade has passed since the misconduct culminating in Mr. Hammer’s Florida disbarment and that Mr. Hammer cannot undo his past misconduct. This conundrum does not mean, however, that we are somehow compelled to offer him a law license. While the passage of time may aid a bar applicant’s case, nothing in our prior bar admission cases should be construed to imply that an applicant enjoys a presumption of admission after some period of time has elapsed. Lathrop v. Donohue, 10 Wis. 2d 230, 237, 102 N.W.2d 404, 408 (1960) (observing that the practice of law is not a right but a privilege).

¶24 With the serious nature of his misconduct, coupled with the number of incidents revealing deficiencies (BA 6.03(d), (i)), Mr. Hammer has created a very heavy burden for himself. In such cases the passage of time may not be sufficient to persuade us that an applicant should be admitted to the practice of law.

¶25 Based on our own review of the non-erroneous facts of record before the Board at the time of its decision, we agree that Mr. Hammer has failed to meet his burden under SCR 40.07 to establish the requisite moral character and fitness to practice law “to assure to a reasonable degree of certainty the integrity and the competence of services performed for clients and the maintenance of high standards in the administration of justice.”[10] Accordingly, we affirm the Board’s decision declining to certify Mr. Hammer for admission to the Wisconsin bar.

¶26 IT IS ORDERED that the decision of the Board of Bar Examiners declining to certify that David E. Hammer has satisfied the requirements for admission to the practice of law in Wisconsin is affirmed.

The opinion also discussed several contempt findings against Mr. Hammer.

Dry Cleaning Lawsuit Results in 90-Day Suspension

This case was covered in the news media. it has now resulted in a 90-day suspension from the practice of law. In re Roy L. Pearson, No. 18-BG-586, June 4, 2020, District of Columbia Court of Appeals. Pearson sued his dry cleaner alleging that the dry cleaner lost a pair of his pants. The sanctions resulted from his approach to the litigation. The facts are summarized in part:

The allegations of misconduct arise from the litigation culminating in Pearson v. Chung, 961 A.2d 1067 (D.C. 2008).[2] In that case, Pearson sued three defendants (Soo Chung, Jin Nam Chung, and Ki Y. Chung) who jointly owned and operated Custom Cleaners, a dry cleaning business. Id. at 1069. The dispute originated with Pearson’s allegation that the Chungs lost a pair of pants that he had brought to Custom Cleaners for alterations. Pearson initially demanded $1,150 in compensation. He then filed a lawsuit in the Superior Court claiming that defendants had violated the District of Columbia Consumer Protection Procedures Act, D.C. Code §§ 28-3901 to -3913 (2013 Repl. & 2019 Supp.) (“CPPA”), and committed common law fraud, negligence, and/or conversion. Pearson’s claims rested on his interpretation of three signs in the Chungs’ store: “Satisfaction Guaranteed,” “Same Day Service,” and “All Work Done on Premises.” In the initial complaint, he sought at least $15,000 in compensation for emotional distress and $15,000 in punitive damages from each defendant.

Pearson’s demands for compensation escalated dramatically as the case went on. His claims for emotional damages increased to $3,000,000 by trial. He asserted that he was entitled to $90,000 to obtain a rental car so he could travel to a different dry cleaner in the city. He claimed that he had expended 1,200 hours of work on the matter, worth $500,000 in attorney’s fees. He sought prospective relief requiring the Chungs to pay him $10,000 within twenty-four business hours if he notified them that they were not providing him with acceptable service.[3] His damages theories often included multiplying his claims by three (for each defendant), by two (for his separate statutory and common law claims), by three (for treble damages under the CPPA), by three (for each sign), by seven (for each CPPA subsection allegedly violated), and/or by every single day that a particular sign had been on display within the statute of limitations (under his theory that each day represented a separate violation of the statute and was independently compensable). By the time the Joint Pre-Trial Statement was filed, Pearson claimed that he was owed more than $67,000,000 in compensatory and punitive damages.

Pearson’s theories of liability likewise expanded — or at least were clarified as being extremely expansive — as the litigation progressed. In his motion for partial summary judgment, Pearson claimed that the “Satisfaction Guaranteed” sign represented “an unconditional and unlimited guarantee of satisfaction, as a matter of law” (emphasis in original) so that any customer who claimed dissatisfaction, regardless of whether the claim was made in good faith, could demand any compensation whatsoever. Custom Cleaners would then have to meet that demand, no matter what it was, in order to resolve the customer’s dissatisfaction. Pearson testified at trial that this would include situations in which the Chungs — or any other provider — knew that the customer was lying and/or when the customer demanded an exorbitant amount of money, such as a trillion dollars. Respondent’s theories regarding the other two signs were similarly expansive. For example, in his trial brief, Pearson listed as an “undisputed fact” that the “Same Day Service” sign meant that “any customer request for any of defendants’ service would be completed the same day” (emphasis in original). The trial court granted judgment for the Chungs on this claim as a matter of law because Pearson’s “Same Day Service” theory was “completely unreasonable,” failing to consider any other factors, such as when customers dropped off the clothes, how many items they wanted serviced, what kind of services they were requesting, and whether customers asked for or even desired same day service.

As the case progressed, the trial court repeatedly expressed concerns about Pearson’s characterizations of case law, statutes, and the court’s own orders. In one instance, the court pointed out that Pearson had misquoted a case, attempting to imply that it had involved an identical “Satisfaction Guaranteed” sign. The court reminded Pearson that he had “an obligation to the Court to be accurate in the representations you make with regard to what cases are about.” Pearson initially conceded that he had misquoted the case and apologized, but later filed a “Correction,” attempting to rescind that admission, because he claimed that there was no “rational basis for distinguishing the meaning of the term `unconditional guarantee’ from the meaning of the term `satisfaction guaranteed’ . . . . In plaintiff’s view, . . . the two terms are indistinguishable in substance and meaning.”[4]

The Hearing Panel and the District of Columbia Court of Appeals concluded that Pearson violated Rules 3.1 and 8.4(d). Rule 3.1 prohibits the lawyer from bringing frivolous litigation. The original claim (for the lost pants) was not frivolous. The theories of liability and the enormous demands for damages were frivolous. The explanation:

In this case, the Board took care to explain that “[a]ttorneys in the District of Columbia should not fear discipline for making aggressive and creative arguments.” It emphasized that “[f]rivolous is more than ultimately meritless, and the good faith exception to a Rule 3.1 violation allows a wide range of creative and aggressive challenges to existing law” (internal quotation marks omitted). But the Board also explained that, while a Rule 3.1 violation may not have been clear at the outset, “[a]s his lawsuit progressed, Respondent’s liability and damages arguments morphed into the preposterous.” It was “the entire course of Respondent’s extreme conduct over the course of the suit,” not a showing “that the claims were frivolous when first made,” that convinced the Board that Pearson had violated Rule 3.1.

We agree that this distinction is crucial and that, as his theories expanded and his tactics grew more extreme, respondent failed to comply with his continuing responsibility to conduct an objective evaluation of the merits of his claims. Yelverton proves instructive. The attorney in that case “filed numerous repetitive and unfounded motions in Superior Court and in this court, and . . . twice asked the trial judge to recuse himself from the case when he lacked any objective reason to do so.” 105 A.3d at 426. The Board found that Pearson’s motions and discovery practices were similarly repetitive — both during the initial litigation and during this disciplinary proceeding — and that his unfounded allegations of bias against Judge Kravitz were strikingly similar to the motion to disqualify in Yelverton.[8] These conclusions are well supported by the record.

Pearson’s liability and damages claims compounded the mischief of his motions and discovery practice. Pearson protests that his liability claims cannot fairly be deemed frivolous, as he survived summary judgment and a motion to dismiss and was allowed to proceed to trial. The trial court also opted not to sanction him. But, while relevant, those decisions are not dispositive of whether the legal theories ultimately were frivolous.[9] Pearson’s claims continually expanded throughout litigation and his liability and damages theories became more clear — and more outlandish — as the case progressed. As noted above, the trial court granted judgment as a matter of law rejecting Pearson’s claims based on the “Same Day Service” sign. In light of the entire record, surviving summary judgment cannot be taken as a dispositive ruling that Pearson’s theories had legal support. Instead, as noted by the trial court and quoted by the Board, once Pearson’s legal theories “clearly were articulated,” they “were unsupported in fact or in law.”

It is also true that, as a technical matter, some of Pearson’s theories presented a matter of first impression. But the lack of a definitive holding precluding a legal theory does not mean that it cannot be frivolous.[10] “Were this not the case, a patently frivolous but novel legal argument — `novel,’ perhaps, because no litigant would dream of bringing it with a straight face — would not be sanctionable.” Ozee v. Am. Council on Gift Annuities, Inc., 143 F.3d 937, 941 (5th Cir. 1998). We agree with the Board that this is one such case. The total damages figure is shocking in itself; simply put, Pearson asked the trial court to award him $67,292,000 because of his dissatisfaction with defendants’ dry cleaning services. But the constituent parts of that $67,292,000 total are equally troubling. Pearson asked for $90,000 to rent a car, a facially disproportionate request in response to the alleged need to patronize another dry cleaner. He claimed that his emotional distress over a few common and innocuous signs and a lost pair of pants was so severe that he was entitled to $3,000,000 in damages. Perhaps most remarkable was his request for a judgment obligating the Chungs to provide him with ongoing services and to pay him $10,000 immediately based on nothing more than his own request, a demand that the Hearing Committee called “patently non-cognizable,” was made after the defendants had already taken down the signs at the heart of the controversy, was tethered to no statutory basis, and was completely out of proportion to any likely shortcoming in dry cleaning service. These damages theories were utterly frivolous, implausible to the point of having “not even a faint hope of success,” and they violated Rule 3.1. Spikes, 881 A.2d at 1125 (internal quotation marks omitted).

We agree with the Board that Pearson’s theories of liability also violated Rule 3.1. Under Pearson’s interpretation of the signs in question, “customers” acting in bad faith could bankrupt any business in the District with such a commonplace sign, as he acknowledged no requirement of good faith by the customer, no limitation on the demands the customer could make, and no allowances for “basic common sense.” Pearson v. Chung, 961 A.2d at 1075. Pearson did not make the required objective inquiry into whether his liability claims had even a faint hope of success. Instead, he did the opposite, steadfastly refusing to acknowledge contrary legal authority, engaging in extensive puffery, and pressing his preferred interpretations of the signs even after they were rebuffed by his own witnesses at trial. Indeed, even in his filings in this disciplinary case, he has continued to refer to his theories as “indisputable.” As the Hearing Committee noted, “Respondent has never, to this day, made the requisite objective appraisal.”

The court also found a violation of Rule 8.4(d) which prohibits interference with the administration of justice. A 90 day suspension was ordered.

Comment: should you have a legal ethics question, do not hesitate to call me to discuss it. My number is 312-357-1515, Extension 1.

http://www.clintonlaw.net

ARDC Recommends Suspension for Lawyer Who Disparaged Opposing Counsel and Judge

The ARDC Hearing Board has recommended a three month suspension for a lawyer who disparaged opposing counsel during a deposition and then disparaged the judge who ruled on a discovery motion arising out of that incident.

Count I

The first violation involved conduct at a deposition that was transcribed by a court reporter.

“Respondent represented William Green, the plaintiff in an insurance coverage declaratory judgment action filed in the Circuit Court of Cook County. Keely Hillison represented defendant American Freedom Insurance Company (American Freedom), and Alvin Becker and Mark Evans represented defendant Insure on the Spot. The case was assigned to the Hon. Franklin U. Valderrama. (Amend. Ans. at par. 1; Tr. 51)

On November 10, 2016, Hillison took Green’s discovery deposition. Respondent, Green, Hillison, Becker, and a court reporter were present. (Tr. 59).

One of the issues Hillison sought to explore in the deposition was whether Green was using his insured vehicle for business purposes, which would not have been covered under his policy. (Tr.55). When Hillison asked Green if he had been provided a vehicle to use in connection with his employment, Respondent objected. When Hillison responded by certifying the question, the following exchange occurred:

Respondent:        Okay. Then certify your own stupidity at this point.

Hillison:             Counsel, I’m not going to sit here and take insults from you.

Respondent:        At this point in time, a man who insults on a daily basis everybody he does business with has now been elected President of the United States. The standards have changed. I’ll say what I want.

(Adm. Ex. 2 at 9-10). 

Hillison testified that Respondent was angry at the time he made these statements. (Tr. 68). Becker perceived Respondent’s demeanor and tone to be “hostile from inception and insulting.” (Tr. 237).

When Respondent said, “certify your own stupidity at this point,” Hillison felt rattled and embarrassed to be insulted in front of Becker, whom she has known for a long time. (Tr. 69, 72). According to Respondent, he was not saying Hillison was generally a stupid person but was referring to her actions at the time. (Tr. 347). 

Another exchange occurred when Hillison began to question Green about attorney fees he incurred. Hillison sought this information because Green’s complaint, which Respondent drafted, included a request for attorney fees under Section 155 of the Illinois Insurance Code. (Tr. 55-57, 78). When Hillison asked Green whether he had received any invoices or bills from Respondent, Respondent said, “Don’t waste your breath.” He then objected and directed Green not to answer. When Hillison asked that the question be certified, Respondent said: “Motion for sanctions; indicate that on the record. I’m going to get sanctions against your firm like you wouldn’t believe, bitch.” (Adm. Ex. 2 at 10).

When Respondent interrupted Hillison and said “don’t waste your breath,” Hillison felt he was deliberately undermining her efforts to take the deposition and represent her client. (Tr. 78). When Respondent threatened Hillison with sanctions and called her “bitch,” she felt verbally abused and again felt rattled and embarrassed. Hillison took Respondent’s use of the word “bitch” to be a derogatory, insulting word for a nasty woman. (Tr. 81-83). 

Respondent thought Hillison’s questions were improper because he forgot that the Green complaint sought attorney fees. He acknowledged that Hillison was not responsible for his mistake, but said he might have backed down if she had brought it to his attention. (Tr. 292). Respondent testified he was protecting Green because Hillison was abusing him and questioning him unfairly and angrily. (Tr. 448-49). 

Hillison viewed her questions as proper. She did not use insulting language toward Respondent or raise her voice. She completed the deposition, although it was difficult and Green refused to answer some of her questions. (Tr. 81-85).

In Becker’s opinion, Hillison did not do anything to provoke Respondent. Becker described Hillison as a “quiet, nice, meek, nonconfrontational person.” (Tr. 237-39). He found her questioning to be professional and routine, both in the types of questions she asked and her demeanor and tone. (Tr. 248). 

Following the deposition, Hillison filed a motion to compel Green to answer the questions he refused to answer, which also mentioned Respondent’s verbal abuse. (Tr. 90; Adm. Ex. 3). The parties appeared before Judge Valderrama on the motion to compel on December 15, 2016. This proceeding is discussed in more detail in Section II below.

On December 22, 2016, Respondent filed a response to the motion to compel. In addressing the comments he made at the deposition, Respondent apologized and further stated, “the comments were intemperate, inappropriate and made in an ill-tempered reaction to what I perceived as bullying and improper questions of the plaintiff by Mrs. Hillison and a general angry tone by her that was quite visible to this counsel though it did not necessarily come out as clearly on the record.” (Adm. Ex. 3). Respondent also made comments about Judge Valderrama, which are discussed in Section II.

On January 30, 2017, Judge Valderrama entered an Order, a portion of which addressed Respondent’s comments to Hillison. Judge Valderrama described Respondent’s comment that the presidential election altered the standards of professional conduct as “preposterous.” He found Respondent’s abusive statements about Hillison more disturbing and “wholly inexcusable under any and all circumstances.” Judge Valderrama characterized Respondent’s apology in his Response as a “half-hearted or non-apology apology” because he blamed Hillison for bullying Green and asking questions in an angry tone. (Adm. Ex. 8 at 11-14).

Hillison testified that Respondent’s conduct derailed the possibility of settling Green’s case. It also affected her handling of the case because she felt the need to limit contact with Respondent to written communication. (Tr. 114, 194-97). Respondent disputed that his conduct negatively impacted the case because he and Hillison had civil email correspondence following the Green deposition. (Tr. 479-80).”

The ARDC Hearing panel determined that the respondent had violated Rule 3.5(d) (duty to abstain from disruptive conduct); Rule Rule 4.4(a) (harassment) and Rule 8.4(d) (conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice).

Count II

The respondent was also found to have disparaged Judge Valderama involution of Rule 8.2(a). The opinion sets forth the facts as follows:

“When Respondent, Hillison, and attorney Mark Evans appeared on December 15, 2016, on American Freedom’s motion to compel, Judge Valderrama admonished Respondent for the comments he made to Hillison. Evans recalled that Judge Valderrama appeared to be offended by Respondent’s conduct and told Respondent the language he used was inappropriate. (Tr. 207-212). Hillison remembered Judge Valderrama telling Respondent he was lucky the only relief Hillison was seeking was to compel answers to her deposition questions. Both Hillison and Evans testified that Judge Valderrama remained calm and did not raise his voice or appear to be angry. (Tr. 96-97, 207-212). Respondent, on the other hand, believed Judge Valderrama was very angry with him but could not recall the words Judge Valderrama used. (Tr. 353). No court reporter was present. (Tr. 96-97). 

On December 22, 2016, Respondent filed a response to American Freedom’s motion to compel which included statements about Judge Valderrama’s conduct during the December 15, 2016 proceeding. Respondent stated that he would have apologized to Hillison at that time, “but the court, in its anger, refused to let this counsel speak and further made comments attempting to hold me to the statement made in the deposition.” (Adm. Ex. 5 at 8).

Respondent went on to characterize Judge Valderrama as being “in a rage.” He stated that Judge Valderrama “flew into a rage of his own at this counsel for what was said in the deposition.” Respondent acknowledged that Judge Valderrama had made some favorable rulings for his client in the past, but said that “in light of recent events, and most particularly the ?robe rage incident’ of December 15, 2016, it is unclear to this counsel whether the client, who has a meritorious case and said nothing inappropriate at his deposition, will now suffer because of the anger this court holds against his counsel.” Respondent continued, saying “In this case, the judge saw an angry situation develop in a deposition and reacted in anger. It is always preferable if a judge is able to put out fires rather than pour oil on the flames.” Respondent then repeated his questioning of Judge Valderrama’s ability to act impartially toward Green, saying, “On the other hand, such temper as was displayed by the Court calls into question the impartiality of the tribunal.” Respondent said he was sorry if Judge Valderrama considered his words to be a personal attack, but “as an attorney representing a client, it is necessary to protect that client from the judicial anger that clearly occurred on December 15.” (Adm. Ex. 5 at 8-9).

According to Respondent, when he used the term “robe rage” he was merely expressing that Judge Valderrama was angry while he was on the bench. (Tr. 357). He had doubt as to Judge Valderrama’s impartiality because of the anger Judge Valderrama displayed. (Tr. 366).

In the Order entered on January 30, 2017, Judge Valderrama addressed Respondent’s comments about him at length. The Order stated that the court is presumed to be impartial and judicial remarks that are critical or disapproving of counsel ordinarily do not support a bias or partiality challenge. It further stated that “an objective, reasonable person would not conclude that the Court’s impartiality might reasonably be questioned based on the Court’s admonishment of Cohn at the December 15, 2016 Hearing.” (Adm. Ex. 8 at 16-17).”

The Panel found that the lawyer had violated Rule 8.2(a) by making false statements concerning the qualifications or integrity of a judge. The respondent defended himself on the ground that none of the statements was false or defamatory and that he had a First Amendment right to make those statements and that those statements were protected opinions under the First Amendment.

The Panel recommended a three month suspension. In re Charles Andrew Cohn, 2018 PR 00109.

Lawyer Suspended One Year for Violation of Rule 4.2

A lawyer licensed in New York has been suspended for one year for sending emails to a party he knew to be represented by counsel. See In re Matter of Henry Lung, 2018-09536 (Supreme Court of New York, Appellate Division, Second Department, dated April 18, 2020). The email communications surfaced in a domestic relations matter.

Charge one alleges that the respondent, in representing a client, communicated about the subject of the representation with a party he knew to be represented by another lawyer in the matter, without consent, in violation of rule 4.2(a) of the Rules of Professional Conduct ( 22 NYCRR 1200.0 ), as follows:

The respondent represented the father in a matrimonial action in Supreme Court, Queens County. The mother was represented by Morghan Richardson. On or about September 22, 2016, the parties entered into a so-ordered settlement of the matrimonial action, which included a parental access schedule regarding the parties’ minor child. Thereafter, on or about February 8, 2017, the mother filed a pro se family offense petition [*2] against the father in Family Court, Queens County, seeking, inter alia, an order of protection prohibiting him from having contact with her and with their minor child. The petition was granted and an order of protection was issued. Some of the email correspondence is quoted below:

“On May 12, 2017, Richardson emailed the respondent an offer to negotiate outstanding issues between the parties. In response, the respondent sent an email rejecting the offer. His email reply was copied to the mother, and included the following:

“Ever since the beginning of my representation of the father, I have recognized him to be the better parent, meaning the best interests of this child would be met with the child living with him, not your client, as the primary residential parent. Your client has taken enough rope, as the saying goes, and this nonsense needs to come to an end. You are continually advising her to commit acts of contempt of Court & forget about ever asking me to consider anger management.’ What really needs to happen here is your client needs to take classes on how to be a much better parent.

* * *

“But I know the truth Morghan, and the truth is that you are a liar. You lie and lie and continually pump your client’s head with total garbage just so that her parents (the real money train in all of this) continue to pay you. That is the real and only truth that matters in this entire case.”

The same day, Richardson replied and asked the respondent to refrain from contacting her further if he intended on “name-calling” and refusing to work collaboratively. The respondent replied on May 12, 2017, and copied the mother, stating:

“Your client is going to lose custody & if you doubt me, keep sending useless emails like this. The gravy train’ will end for you soon enough. Yes I absolutely do think of you as a liar insofar as you are actively advising your client to continue her current position.'”

Charge two alleges that the respondent, in representing a client, [*4] used means that had no substantial purpose other than to embarrass or harm a third person, in violation of rule 4.4(a) of the Rules of Professional Conduct ( 22 NYCRR 1200.0 ), by sending emails to opposing counsel, copied to opposing counsel’s client, which criticized opposing counsel, and accused opposing counsel of engaging in professional misconduct, based upon the conduct described in charge one.

Charge three alleges that the respondent engaged in conduct that adversely reflects on his fitness as a lawyer, in violation of rule 8.4(h) of the Rules of Professional Conduct ( 22 NYCRR 1200.0 ), based upon the conduct described in the two charges above.

The referee (somewhat akin to a hearing officer) recommended a one year suspension.

After consideration the Appellate Division sustained the recommendation of the Referee.

The Grievance Committee moves to confirm the report of the Special Referee, and for the imposition of such discipline upon the respondent as this Court deems just and proper. The respondent, by his counsel, moves to confirm in part and to disaffirm in part the report of the Special Referee. The respondent submits that the Special Referee properly sustained the three charges of professional misconduct, and requests that this Court consider the evidence in mitigation in determining the appropriate measure of discipline to impose.

“Based on the respondent’s admissions and the evidence adduced, we find the Special Referee properly sustained the charges. The Grievance Committee’s motion to confirm the report of the Special Referee is granted, and the respondent’s motion to confirm in part and disaffirm in part the report of the Special Referee is granted to the extent that the charges are sustained and is otherwise denied.

In determining the appropriate measure of discipline, the respondent seeks leniency, and asks this Court to consider: (1) the findings of the Special Referee, who concluded that his actions, while improper, were motivated by his desire to zealously represent his client; (2) that his misconduct was isolated to this one client matter and will not be repeated; and (3) the character evidence provided on his behalf. Notwithstanding the mitigation advanced, we find that the respondent’s claims that he acted out of frustration do not justify his violations of the Rules of Professional Conduct. He repeatedly sent emails to a party he knew to be represented, sometimes sending multiple emails on the same day and at inappropriate nonbusiness hours, which emails contained disparaging information in an aggressive tone. We find the [*6] respondent did so in an effort to criticize opposing counsel, to accuse her of engaging in professional misconduct, and to try to undermine the relationship between opposing counsel and her client. Even though the respondent knew his actions were improper, and despite being put on notice by opposing counsel that his actions were improper, he continued undeterred and without regard to the Rules of Professional Conduct. We have also considered as an aggravating factor the respondent’s extensive disciplinary history, which includes a public censure from this Court (Matter of Lung112 AD3d 148 ), four Admonitions, and two Letters of Caution.

Under the totality of the circumstances, we find that the respondent’s conduct warrants his suspension from the practice of law for a period of one year.”

Comment: Rule 4.2 prohibits this type of conduct. In this case, the sanction was more severe than typical because the lawyer used the emails to criticize his opposing counsel. The fact that he copied opposing counsel on the emails was not a mitigating factor.

Ed Clinton, Jr.

https://www.clintonlaw.net/legal-ethics.html

ARDC Charges Lawyer With Providing False Documents

The ARDC has filed a complaint against a lawyer arising out of his representation of a convicted murderer. The lawyer filed a motion for reduction of the sentence, but failed to take action to obtain a decision on the motion. Unfortunately, the lawyer is also accused of created false correspondence and submitting that correspondence to the ARDC. Count II sets forth the allegations:

“8. On July 12, 2019, the Administrator docketed an investigation of Respondent after receiving a request for investigation from McBride. McBride’s request for investigation stated that Respondent had not communicated with him after an initial contact immediately after Respondent’s appointment to represent McBride. McBride stated that he had made telephone calls and written letters to Respondent but had not gotten responses.

9. On July 23, 2019, Counsel for the Administrator sent a copy of the report to Respondent and requested that he respond to the report within 14 days. Respondent did not respond.

10. On August 14, 2019, Counsel for the Administrator sent Respondent a second letter stating that his response had not been received, he had a duty to comply, and that he should provide his response within seven days.

11. On August 25, 2019, Respondent provided a written response to the ARDC in which he stated he had had two telephone calls with McBride and that he had responded to correspondence from McBride.

12. Respondent’s statements in his August 25, 2019 response were false, because he had not had two telephone calls with McBride and he had not responded to McBride’s correspondence.

13. Respondent knew at the time he provided the August 25, 2019 response in paragraph 12 that the response was false.

14. On February 14, 2019, Respondent appeared for a sworn statement in the ARDC’s Springfield office. Prior to the commencement of the sworn statement, Respondent provided Counsel for the Administrator with 15 letters and represented that the letters were the correspondence he had mailed to McBride.

15. Respondent’s representation that he had mailed the 15 letters to McBride was false, because he did not mail the letters to McBride and created them at a later date.

16. Respondent knew at the time he provided the 15 letters to Counsel for the Administrator that they were false.

17. Respondent generated the letters described in order to mislead the Administrator.

18. During his February 14, 2019 sworn statement, Respondent stated that he provided 15 letters to Counsel for the Administrator which represented his correspondence he had sent to McBride.

19. Respondent’s representation during his sworn statement that he had corresponded with McBride in 15 letters was false, because he had not sent the letters to McBride.

20. Respondent knew at the time he made the statement in paragraph 18 that it was false.

21. During his sworn statement, Respondent also stated “I can’t speak to why he [McBride] wasn’t getting the letters. I mailed them to him.”

22. Respondent’s statement in paragraph 21 that he had mailed the letters to McBride was false, because he generated the letters at a later date to mislead the Administrator.

23. Respondent knew at the time he made the statement in paragraph 21 that it was false.

24. By reason of the conduct described above, Respondent has engaged in the following misconduct:

1, engaging in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation, in violation of Rule 8.4(c) of the Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct (2010), by conduct including knowingly making the false statements described in paragraphs 11, 14, 18, and 21 and by creating and presenting 15 letters to Counsel for the Administrator which Respondent falsely represented that he had sent to McBride.”

Comment: I have not included the lawyer’s name because these charges have not been proven or admitted. The obvious point here is that if you make a mistake you should tell the truth and own up to it and accept the consequences. Creating false paperwork is only going to make the result worse than it otherwise would have been. Should you have a question concerning an ARDC inquiry, do not hesitate to contact me. I am always available to take calls from lawyers who have questions about the ARDC process.

Ed Clinton, Jr.

http://www.clintonlaw.net

ARDC Claims That Lawyer Created Websites To Make False Statements About A Judge

Note: this is a complaint filed by the ARDC. The allegations are not proven. There has been no trial and no opportunity to defend the case. The ARDC obtained the factual basis for its allegations from, presumably, a subpoena to Godaddy, an internet provider. The ARDC also placed the lawyer under oath so that the lawyer was required to answer the questions. (Because this is a complaint, I have not included the respondent’s name in this post.)

The Complaint’s main allegations are quoted below:

1. On or about September 11, 2018, Respondent purchased the domain name “firetheliarjudge.com” from GoDaddy, and used GoDaddy to create a website for “firetheliarjudge.com”.

2. Respondent created the firetheliarjudge.com website as part of an anti-retention campaign against Judge Andrew Gleeson, the Chief Judge of the 20th Judicial Circuit, who was running for retention in the November 6, 2018 general election.

3. Respondent linked the firetheliarjudge.com website to a Facebook page entitled “Madeline M. Dinmont”. Madeline M. Dinmont was a fictitious name created and used by Respondent.

4. In or around October 2018, Lori Friess (“Friess”) organized an anti-retention campaign against another judge in the 20th Judicial Circuit, Judge Zina Cruse. Friess called the campaign “Justice For Kane”, in recognition of her two year-old grandson, Kane Friess-Wiley, who had been killed in April 2017. Friess’ daughter’s former boyfriend, Gyasi Campbell (“Campbell”), had been charged with Kane’s murder. On April 2, 2018, Judge Cruse reduced Campbell’s bond from $1 million to $150,000 which allowed Campbell to post bond and be released from custody pending trial.

5. On or around October 4, 2018, Respondent posted the following entry on the firetheliarjudge.com website:

A FAILURE TO VOTE IS A YES VOTE ON RETENTION!

Kane’s founder has a vendetta against a judge who followed the law.

Why Judge Gleeson Must Go!

Judge Zina Cruse is a female African American Judge from East St. Louis. The Justice For Kane anti-retention campaign is the brain child of Gleeson & others to run a female minority judge off the bench in order to preserve their white male privilege.

6. Respondent’s statements described above, that the Justice For Kane anti-retention campaign was the “brain child” of Judge Gleeson and others and Judge Gleeson wanted to run a female minority judge off the bench to preserve his white male privilege was false because Judge Gleeson had no involvement in the Justice For Kane group or any group or effort seeking to remove Judge Cruse from the bench.

7. Respondent knew her statements described in paragraph 5, above, were false at the time she made them and posted them to the firetheliarjudge.com website or she made them with reckless disregard as to their truth or falsity.

8. On or about October 4, 2018, Respondent posted the following entry on the firetheliarjudge.com website:

JFK [Justice For Kane] is a WHITE SUPREMACIST GROUP!

JKF is a front for a WHITE SUPREMACIST GROUP called the National Association for Majority Equality which Judge Gleeson supports. That is why they are targeting judges of color and that is why their members ares [sic] exclusively white.

9. Respondent’s statement that Judge Gleeson supports a white supremacist group called the National Association for Majority Equality (“NAME”) was false because Judge Gleeson did not support or have any involvement with NAME or any white supremacist group or with the Justice For Kane campaign.

10. Respondent knew her statement described in paragraph 8, above, was false at the time she made it or she made it with reckless disregard as to its truth or falsity.

11. By reason of the conduct outlined above, Respondent has engaged in the following misconduct:

  1. making statements the lawyer knows to be false or with reckless disregard as to their truth or falsity concerning the qualifications or integrity of a judge, adjudicative officer, or public legal officer by making the statements set forth in paragraphs 5 and 8, above, in violation of Rule 8.2(a) of the Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct (2010).

COUNT II
(False and or reckless statements about the qualifications or integrity of a judge
on Facebook page entitled “Madeline M. Dinmont”)

The Administrator realleges and incorporates paragraphs 1 through 10, of Count I above.

12. On or before September 14, 2015, Respondent created a Facebook page entitled “Madeline M. Dinmont” (“Dinmont page”). Respondent used the fictious name Madeline Dinmont in her interactions with GoDaddy concerning the firetheliarjudge.com website.

13. On or about October 5, 2018, Respondent posted the following entry on the Dinmont page:

Gleeson is part of the St. Clair County Secret Order of the
 Hibernians. That’s why he uses the Irish clover. Wanna [sic]
 guess how many of its members are persons of color? None.
Wanna [sic] see Gleeson in his “chief” regalia?

Respondent then posted a photograph of a Klu Klux Klansman dressed in a white robe and hood with the name tag “Gleeson” pinned to his chest over an Irish clover. The picture also depicted a noose and a confederate flag and was captioned “Vote No Retention!” (see Exhibit 1 attached)

14. Respondent’s posts described in paragraph 13, above, were false because Judge Gleeson was not a member or part of a “secret order of the Hibernians”, he was not a member of the Klu Klux Klan, and the person depicted by Respondent on the Dinmont page was not Judge Gleeson.

15. Respondent knew her postings described in paragraph 13, above, were false at the time she made them or she made them with reckless disregard as to their truth or falsity.

16. By reason of the conduct outlined above, Respondent has engaged in the following misconduct:

  1. making statements the lawyer knows to be false or with reckless disregard as to their truth or falsity concerning the qualifications or integrity of a judge, adjudicative officer, or public legal officer by making the statements set forth in paragraph 13, above, in violation of Rule 8.2(a) of the Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct (2010).

COUNT III
(False statements to the Administrator)

The Administrator realleges and incorporates paragraphs 1 through 15, of Counts I and II above.

17. On July 2, 2019, Respondent appeared at the Springfield ARDC office to provide sworn testimony related to matters described in this complaint.

18. During the sworn statement, Respondent was asked the following questions and gave the following answers:

Q: Okay. What do you know about the website firetheliarjudge.com?

A: It was a website set up for the anti-retention campaign

Q: And who set it up?

A: I don’t know.

Q: What role did you have in creating either the website or the domain name?

A: I was asked how you go about setting up a domain name and I suggested that they go through GoDaddy.

Q: When you say you were asked, who asked you?

A: Judge Duebbert.

Q: Okay. So did Judge Duebbert set up this website firetheliarjudge.com?

A: I don’t know if he did it or if he had somebody else do it.

Q: You had no involvement in setting up the site?

A: No, and I didn’t manage it either.

Q: Have you ever posted anything to the site firetheliarjudge.com?

A: No.

19. Respondent’s statement above that she did not know who set up the firetheliarjudge.com website was false because Respondent set up and paid for the website through GoDaddy.

20. Respondent’s statement above that she did not manage the website was false because she managed the website, she linked it to the Dinmont page and she linked it to another website she created entitled “firejudgegleeson.com”.

21. Respondent’s statement above that she never posted anything on the firetheliarjudge.com website was false because she made posts on the website, including the conduct described in Counts I and II in this complaint.

22. Respondent knew that her statements described in paragraphs 19 through 21, above, were false at the time she made them.

23. During the sworn statement on July 2, 2019, Respondent was asked the following questions and gave the following answers:

Q: Okay. So my question is with regard to these entries on firetheliarjudge.com, did you have anything to do with creating, making, or responding to these entries?

A: No. I tried to help them set it up and then it was taken over by somebody who was a non-lawyer.

Q: Okay. And when you said you tried to help them set it up, who are you talking about?

A: Well, the people that were involved in the anti-retention campaign by telling them you can go to GoDaddy and they have templates, that kind of thing.

Q: Okay. And who was that? Who specifically are you talking about?

A: It was Judge Duebbert and his web person.

Q: Who was that?

A: I don’t know. I don’t even know when this was set up.

Q: Were you the domain – did you own the domain name firetheliarjudge.com?

A: No.

Q: Did you set it up?

A: No, but I tried to help them set it up.

Q: Well, specifically what does that mean?

A: To get into GoDaddy and set up an account.

Q: But you didn’t set up the account at GoDaddy?

A: No, nor did I have control over it.

Q: Do you know what e-mail address they used when they set up the firetheliarjudge.com?

A: I don’t.

Q: Do you know if they used Madeline Dinmont’s e-mail address?

A: I don’t know.

24. Respondent’s statement above that she had no role in creating, making or responding to entries on the website firetheliarjudge.com was false because she did create the website and she did make various postings to the website as described in Counts I and II above.

25. Respondent’s statements above that she did not know when the website firetheliarjudge.com was set up and that she did not own the domain name “firetheliarjudge.com” were false because she set up and paid for the domain name and website firetheliarjudge.com through GoDaddy on or about September 11, 2018.

26. Respondent’s statements above that she did not set up or “have control” over the firetheliarjudge.com website were false because Respondent set up and controlled the domain name and website using her GoDaddy account.

27. Respondent knew that her statements described in paragraphs 24 through 26, above, were false at the time she made them.

28. By reason of the conduct outlined above, Respondent has engaged in the following misconduct:

  1. knowingly making a false statement of material fact in connection with a disciplinary matter by making the false statements described in paragraphs 19 through 21 and 24 through 26, above, in violation of Rule 8.1(a) of the Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct (2010); and
  2. conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation by making the false statements described in paragraphs 19 through 21 and 24 through 26, above, in violation of Rule 8.4(c) of the Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct (2010).

COUNT IV
(False or reckless statements about the qualifications or integrity of a judge – GoDaddy)

The Administrator realleges and incorporates paragraphs 1 through 27, of Counts I, II and III above.

29. On September 17, 2018, Respondent contacted GoDaddy customer service concerning the website firetheliarjudge.com. Respondent identified herself to the operator as Madeline Dinmont. Respondent also identified herself as the administrator of the website firetheliarjudge.com.

30. During the telephone conversation, Respondent told the operator that she wanted to pay for the firetheliarjudge.com website through PayPal on a “month to month” basis because she would not need the site to be operational after the November 5, 2018 general election.

31. During the telephone conversation, the following exchange occurred:

Operator: That’s why you want to go month to month?

Respondent: Yeah.

Operator: Makes sense,

Respondent: Because the election will be over the 5th.

Operator: Yeah. And you hope these people read it and do the right thing, right?

Respondent: If only you knew.

Operator: I was glancing through the website, so I hear you.

Respondent: No. I mean, it’s not a very nice person [Judge Gleeson]. And he’s done a lot of things to hurt a lot of people. So that’s part of the reason that we’re getting all the crank calls.

Operator: That’s too bad.

Respondent: You know, this part of the United States, politics is a blood sport.

Operator: True.

Respondent: I mean, I will tell you how evil it is. They’ve attempted to set up another judge of a different political party for murder if that tells you anything.

Operator: Wow.

Respondent: And this is the guy who orchestrated it.

Operator: That’s crazy.

Respondent: So we had the Department of Justice in here. No, I’m not kidding you.

Operator: You wonder how people like that stay elected.

Respondent: Well, that’s what we’re working on. And frankly, I’ve never practiced law in a jurisdiction where it was like this.

32. Respondent’s statements in paragraph 31, above, that Judge Gleeson “orchestrated” an attempt to set up another judge for murder were false because Judge Gleeson never engaged in the conduct which Respondent described to the operator.

33. Respondent knew her statements in paragraph 31, above, were false or she made them in reckless disregard of their truth or falsity.

34. By reason of the conduct outlined above, Respondent has engaged in the following misconduct:

making statements the lawyer knows to be false or with reckless disregard as to their truth or falsity concerning the qualifications or integrity of a judge, adjudicative officer, or public legal officer by making the statements set forth in paragraph 31, above, in violation of Rule 8.2(a) of the Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct (2010).

Typical Fraudulent Scam Email

Now that many lawyers are working from home be aware of email scams like this one:

My Name is Micheal Crowe,I am requesting to know if you can help to enforce a loan agreement. I assisted a business associate/friend Mr.James Smith(who lives in your state and had the agreement in accordance with the laws of the same)a loan and he has defaulted to make payment at the stipulated time.I want to take legal action to see that the money is repaid back to me.Please let me know if you can be of assistance to me or make a referral.

There are several red flags in this email. First, the debtor has a common name “Mr.James Smith.” Second, he states that the debtor “who lives in your state and had the agreement in accordance with the laws of the same.” Third, note that the debtor “has defaulted to make payment at the stipulated time.” This is clearly someone who is not familiar with the English language.

Comment: if you have a question about a potential scam, talk to a colleague or the ARDC or an ethics attorney.

Ed Clinton, Jr.

ARDC Hearing Board Recommends Disbarment for Former Governor

The case captioned In re Rod R. Blagojevich, 19 PR 00061, the ARDC Hearing Board recommended disbarment for the former governor. He was placed on interim suspension in 2011, but his disciplinary case was not completed until his prison sentence was commuted by President Trump. The Hearing Board, in a brief opinion, explained why disbarment was appropriate:

The hearing in this matter was held on February 25, 2020, at the Chicago offices of the Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission, before a Hearing Board Panel consisting of Carl (Carlo) E. Poli, Chair, Jennifer W. Russell, and Jim Hofner. Respondent was not present. Sheldon M. Sorosky appeared on Respondent’s behalf. Christopher R. Heredia and Jonathan M. Wier appeared on behalf of the Administrator and recommended that Respondent be disbarred.

We have considered the following: the Administrator’s one-count Complaint, a copy of which is attached as Exhibit 1; the Order entered on September 10, 2019, deeming the allegations of the Complaint admitted, a copy of which is attached as Exhibit 2; and the Administrator’s Exhibits 1-6, which were admitted into evidence.

Respondent, the former Governor of the State of Illinois, was convicted of committing numerous crimes while he was in office. Those crimes included wire fraud, attempt to commit extortion, corrupt solicitation, conspiracy to commit extortion, conspiracy to commit corrupt solicitation, and making false statements to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, in violation of Title 18, U.S.C. secs. 371, 666(a)(1)(B), 1001(a)(2), 1343, 1346, and 1951(a). Respondent’s convictions of these crimes were upheld by the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. The Supreme Court of the United States denied Respondent’s petitions for writ of certiorari. On October 26, 2011, the Illinois Supreme Court placed Respondent on interim suspension, which is still in effect.

Respondent was represented by counsel throughout this proceeding but elected not to file an answer, comply with discovery requests, appear for deposition, or appear at the hearing in this matter. While he was incarcerated, Respondent’s appearance at the hearing had been waived. The Panel takes judicial notice, however, that Respondent’s sentence was commuted and he was released from prison on February 18, 2020. Therefore, it was possible for Respondent to appear for his disciplinary hearing.

There are numerous factors that aggravate Respondent’s misconduct. As a former Assistant State’s Attorney and elected official, Respondent was well aware of his obligation to uphold the law, and, as governor, he took an oath to faithfully discharge the duties of the office of governor to the best of his ability. Instead of doing so, he sought to further his own interests by engaging in a pattern of dishonest and deceptive conduct. While Respondent, by his attorney, acknowledged the fact of his convictions, he has not acknowledged that his conduct was wrongful or expressed any remorse. His failure to appear for his disciplinary hearing demonstrates a lack of respect for the disciplinary process and the legal profession. We have considered that Respondent has no prior discipline, but this minimal mitigation does not impact our recommendation.

The following cases cited by the Administrator support the recommendation of disbarment: In re Pappas, 92 Ill. 2d 243 (1982); In re Rosenthal, 73 Ill. 2d 46 (1978).

Based on Respondent’s egregious misconduct, the substantial amount of aggravation, the case law presented by the Administrator, and the lack of case law or any mitigation evidence  presented by Respondent, we conclude that a recommendation of disbarment is warranted.

Accordingly,

  1. “Respondent’s counsel accepted electronic service of the Complaint and accompanying documents. A copy of the Entry of Appearance and Acceptance of Service Pursuant to Rule 214(d) filed on August 8, 2019 is attached as Exhibit 3.
  2. The allegations of the Complaint were deemed admitted in an Order filed on September 10, 2019. A copy of that Order is attached as Exhibit 2.
  3. In consideration of the Order deeming the allegations of the Complaint admitted, we find Respondent committed the misconduct charged in the Complaint.
  4. Given Respondent’s serious misconduct, the significant aggravation, and the case law cited by the Administrator, we recommend that Respondent, Rod R. Blagojevich, be disbarred.
  5. The Panel has concluded that this report format will adequately and appropriately communicate its recommendation to the Court.”

North Carolina Issues Advisory Opinion On Responding to Negative Reviews

One of the more common problems lawyers face is the negative online review. (Yes, I am proud to say that I have earned the ire of two prospective clients who published reviews of me). Lawyers tend to get into trouble when they share confidential client information in response to a negative review. Like most gaffs the information is true and accurate, but it is confidential to the lawyer. Lawyers have been disciplined for disclosing confidential information in responses to online reviews.

My advice is that any negative review should receive a response such as “I respectfully disagree with this review.” The North Carolina Bar Association has issued an advisory opinion that makes a similar recommendation. The recommendation can be found here https://www.ncbar.gov/for-lawyers/ethics/proposed-opinions/

In response to the former client’s negative online review, Lawyer may post a proportional and restrained response that does not reveal any confidential information. The protection of client confidences is one of the most significant responsibilities imposed on a lawyer. Rule 1.6(a) of the Rules of Professional Conduct provides that a lawyer may not reveal information acquired during the professional relationship with a client unless (1) the client gives informed consent, (2) the disclosure is impliedly authorized, or (3) one of the exceptions set out in Rule 1.6(b) applies. Rule 1.6(a) applies to all information acquired during the representation. Under Rule 1.9(c), a lawyer is generally prohibited from using or revealing confidential information of a former client. Therefore, Lawyer may not reveal confidential information in response to the negative online review unless the former client consents or an exception set out in Rule 1.6(b) applies. See 2018 FEO 1 (lawyers are cautioned to avoid disclosing confidential client information when responding to a negative review).

Comment: when you receive a negative review you should (a) assess the situation privately; (b) determine if it is something you can control; and (c) respond in a low-key fashion. Remember that negative reviews are just part of practicing law in the digital age. Take your lumps and move on. You will be just fine.

Ed Clinton, Jr.