ARDC Hearing Board Recommends Suspension for Abusive Voicemails

Filed September 9:

The ARDC charged a lawyer with wrongful conduct for leaving abusive voicemails for clients, apparently to get the clients to pay their bills.

This is the panel’s description of the voicemail message left by the respondent:

Buchanan testified that during the phone calls from Respondent, Respondent cursed Buchanan and his family and used demeaning language, which was very upsetting for Buchanan. Buchanan began taping the telephone calls and eventually played the tape for a representative of the ARDC. Buchanan no longer possesses the recordings due to a problem with his phone, but confirmed that Respondent made the following statements:
You are a piece of garbage. All black people are alike. You’re slovenly, ignorant.
You better give me my money or your son’s case is going to be delayed.
I’m sick of you, you piece of shit.
I don’t know who’s the biggest bitch. You or [family]. I’m going to lock you up.
Low class n—–s. I’m going to have you all locked up.
You call me with stupid shit. Wait until next court date.
You have until 5:00 on Thursday. $300, no $500 check… Or on Friday I’ll withdraw. I already told the State’s Attorney to writ your son over.
You are such a pussy. They are going to writ him over. I tried to tell your stupid ass. Other lawyers would charge $10,000 for this case. Start planning for another lawyer.
You’re ugly, low class, ignorant. I’ll finish with you when he gets off. You’re demeaning your son.
Help your son. Pay. Stop delaying case.
(Tr. 33, 36-41, 67, 85-86).
During the time period of the phone calls, Leon was in jail waiting for his trial. The messages caused Buchanan to worry, feel disgraced, and think his son’s case would be jeopardized if Respondent did not receive more money. Buchanan recalled acting like a gentleman toward Respondent and denied ever being rude or disrespectful to him, but he did acknowledge being upset at Respondent for cursing and hanging up on him. Respondent had not been previously disrespectful to Buchanan. (Tr. 33, 35, 38-41, 73-76, 79, 84-85).

Respondent admitted making the statements set forth above. He testified that after money became an issue, Buchanan was consistently rude and disrespectful and began criticizing Respondent’s representation of Leon and hanging up on him. Respondent believes Buchanan is a “typical deadbeat.” (Tr. 128-30, 142, 197-98).
The Hearing Board found that the respondent used “means to embarrass, delay or burden” in violation of Rule 4.4(a). Another count in the complaint accused the respondent of leaving abusive voicemail messages for another client.
The Hearing Board also found that the respondent failed to prosecute an appeal for a convicted defendant and thus failed to act with diligence and promptness. The client was later able to reinstate the appeal after a public defender was appointed.
The Hearing Board recommended a 60-day suspension.
Comment: It is unusual to see a lawyer leave angry messages by voicemail. The panel may have decided on a short suspension because the lawyer did represent poor defendants in the criminal justice system.  This is speculation but the panel may have felt sympathy for a lawyer who accepted such low paying work and such a thankless job.
Edward X. Clinton, Jr.

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