2011 Discipline Review

/ 13.Jul, 2011

With a little more than half of the year gone, it is a good time to take a look at why lawyers have been receiving discipline so far this year.  Fifteen attorneys have been disbarred.  Of those, eight have written opinions.  The most common reasons for disbarment have been criminal activity and unauthorized practice of law.  There were disbarments by consent due to allegations of inadequate representation.  The classic diversion of client funds was prominent in several cases.  Controlled substances were also a factor in several cases.  One case involved a charge of tax evasion.  The most commonly cited Rule of Professional Conduct was Rule 8.4.

In one case involving a particularly interesting combination of issues, the attorney took $20,000 of proceeds from drug sales for safekeeping in his escrow account.  The drug money was brought in to the attorney by the client’s mother after the client was arrested.  The attorney then told the mother he no longer had the money because he had given it to the drug cartel which had retained him to represent the son.

There have been 33 suspensions so far this year ranging from 30 days to five years.  The suspensions are generally for the same reasons as disbarments, but with a greater emphasis on malpractice.  There have also been four probations and a public censure.

Four attorneys have been listed as “disabled.”  Disabled is not discipline per se but means that the attorney is unable to continue in the practice of law.  Pursuant to Rule of Disciplinary Enforcement 301, an attorney can be transferred to inactive status when he or she has been declared by a clerk of court to be incapacitated or has been involuntarily committed to an institution.  The Disciplinary Board can also petition the Supreme Court to declare an attorney incapacitated by reason of mental infirmity or illness or because of addiction to drugs or intoxicants.

The professional liability defense lessons from this are obvious: stay away from drugs and gambling, be careful with client funds, and try not to commit any major felonies.

Josh J.T. Byrne, Esquire