Last decade — back in the aughts — a Holland & Knight real estate partner got up to some very bad things. While we have heard that coke can be an aid for sleep-deprived attorneys, it caused problems for Theodore Silva Jr.
Silva was formerly a partner in Holland & Knight’s D.C. office. According to the National Law Journal, in 2005, Silva forged signatures and created fictitious notaries for an easement agreement. Then he lied to his clients and bar counsel about that and about his cocaine use:
[Silva] attributed his conduct to stress, cocaine use and drinking. The incident cost the firm about $150,000 in expenses plus 50 hours’ work from another Holland & Knight partner who had to rectify the problems.
Silva, who had made partner in 1995, was fired by Holland & Knight in 2006. The District of Columbia Board of Professional Responsibility just issued its report [PDF] and its recommendation for discipline last week.
The Legal Blog Network is surprised that this conduct was not enough to get Silva disbarred. We’re surprised to learn that Silva had a coke use criminal charge in 2002 and that it passed the sniff test at Holland & Knight. As long as the snow helped Silva make it rain, it seems the firm didn’t mind what he did with his dollars.
According to the report, Biglaw partners can get away with a coke rap sheet:
Respondent admitted that he had been using cocaine since college and that he was using cocaine daily when he became a partner at Holland & Knight in 1995. In July 2002, he pled guilty to felony possession of cocaine and was sentenced to two years probation. Respondent continued to use cocaine during the first year of probation, and entered treatment only when his probation officer threatened to report him.
Silva was not let go from the firm until after the 2005 signature-forging-and-lying-to-clients incident. According to the Legal Blog Network, his work product was otherwise excellent.
The LBN is not happy with the Board’s decision to discipline Silva with a three-year suspension:
The board cites cases where the Court of Appeals (usually at its urging) declined to impose a full measure of reciprocal discipline on lawyers disbarred in Maryland for serious dishonesty. It finds distinguishable at least two original cases where disbarment was imposed for serious dishonesty absent prior discipline.
If the board is correct, it’s a sad commentary of the state of legal ethics in the District. False document, false notarizations, multiple lies to client, severe harm to firm, lies to the disciplinary system, lies to treatment facility. Lies, lies, lies.
I understand that the proposed sanction is not all that different from a disbarment. However, disbarment is a meaningful sanction that identifies the type of behavior that a self-regulating profession must condemn. If an informed public infers that a big-firm lawyer got special treatment, so much the worse. This is a disbarment case.
Cocaine was not Silva’s only addiction, says the ABA Journal:
The lawyer, Theodore Silva Jr., had testified that he had trouble telling the truth and he was “an addict of privilege … not of money but of something that allows me to get out of trouble.”
Prestige: a stronger drug than crack.
D.C. Court of Appeals Considers Suspension for Coke-Addicted Attorney [National Law Journal]
What Does Someone Have To Do To Get Disbarred Around Here? [Legal Blog Network]
Suspension Recommended for Ex-H&K Partner, an ‘Addict of Privilege’ [ABA Journal]