Attorney Misconduct

Judge Emily Dean

Here at Above the Law, we write about judges who bring shame to the judiciary all the time, but the subject of today’s foray into judicial misconduct is a wicked pisser — literally. We know things must get boring out in flyover country, Iowa specifically, but this is just crazy (and sad, but mostly crazy).

Let’s meet a judge who once got so wasted as she attempted to report to work at the courthouse that she later spent three days in an intensive care unit for severe alcohol intoxication…

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‘Hey, everybody! I just wanted to let you know I’m an a-hole!’

Law is a profession that attracts some of the most cunning of linguists modern society has to offer. The ability to speak eloquently about dense legal concepts is an art that takes years to perfect, and is a skill that some lawyers can only hope to someday achieve. Until that time rolls around, other lawyers are happy to roll up their sleeves and employ the usage of a language they’re all fluent in to prove their respective points: sarcasm. It’s the lazy lawyer’s key to success — but it can also serve as his undoing.

Sometimes, being overly sarcastic can earn a lawyer a reputation for being a loveable jokester. Other times, being overly sarcastic can earn a lawyer a seat at his very own disciplinary hearing. For example, asking opposing counsel if he’s “grow[n] a pair” yet would probably land a lawyer in the hot seat.

The subject of today’s foray into ethical lapses definitely grew a pair of his own, because not only was he censured for his over-the-top sarcastic remarks, but he also admitted that he’d been ignoring his work in favor of golf trips and exotic vacations. Fore! Watch out for that legal career hitting the sand trap…

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Keith Lee

Last week I wrote about a complaint I heard from a client after they had been billed for two bottles of water served to them by their former lawyers at a meeting. I got numerous emails from people saying it was one of the most shocking behaviors that they had ever heard, the lowest of the low — a lawyer billing a client for a bottle of water that they had given to the client. When I wrote about it, it was the most egregious thing I had ever heard that a lawyer had billed to their client. But as a lawyer I know often says, “Take your expectations, then put even lower. Try the gutter.”

Less than a week later, there’s something worse in the news. A lawyer got sanctioned for his incompetent representation — then billed the sanctions to the client….

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If you’re going to steal millions from clients, at least make a good story out of it. Like blowing hefty sums on luxurious private air travel and wiring millions to casinos to cover gambling debts. Make it a rock star story right up until the very end.

Of course, it’s hard to imagine a lawyer successfully stealing millions. There are just too many checks in place to let it get that far. It felt like the only thing anyone needed to know to pass professional responsibility was to respect escrow accounts. You just make sure all the money you’re watching for your customers, consumers, lenders and employees is always accounted for. There’s inevitably more than one person handling the bank statements. It’s just hard to lose millions.

Nonetheless, one law firm with offices around the country thinks it’s discovered more than a minor problem in its accounts. In fact, it just filed a lawsuit against its former managing partner, alleging that he siphoned off a cool $30 million from client escrow accounts to live like a proverbial rock star….

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This week, a Texas campaign ad and a Pennsylvania death penalty appeal each illustrate what happens when lawyers lose sight of for what — and whom — they claim to be working.
Wendy Davis, in the final throes of her Texas gubernatorial race against Attorney General Greg Abbott, launched a controversial campaign ad a few days ago. The ad accuses Abbott of “siding with a corporation over a rape victim,” spotlighting a 1998 Supreme Court of Texas case brought by a woman seeking damages from a vacuum manufacturer after a door-to-door salesman of the vacuums allegedly raped her in her home. A background check should have revealed that the man had a criminal history. Abbott was then a justice on the Texas court. He dissented from the majority’s decision in favor of the woman. Davis’s ad ignited heated debate, with even her supporters questioning the propriety of the ad. Abbott’s campaign called the ad “despicable.”

Meanwhile, on the other side of the country, the United States Supreme Court on Monday issued a highly unusual order in a Pennsylvania death penalty case. The Court asked the Pennsylvania Supreme Court Disciplinary Board to investigate and take appropriate actions against Marc Bookman, an attorney who filed a petition for review of Michael Eric Ballard’s death sentence. Ballard slaughtered four people in 2010: his former girlfriend, her father, her grandfather, and a neighbor who tried to help the family when he heard screams coming from the home. Ballard was sentenced to death in 2011. In November 2013, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court upheld the sentence. On June 23 of this year, SCOTUS denied Bookman’s petition to review Ballard’s case, but the Court then ordered Bookman to file additional responses about his relationship to Ballard. Apparently not satisfied by Bookman’s replies, the Court referred the case to the state disciplinary authority.

So, what’s the problem in either of these situations? Why the controversy? And what do they have in common?

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Could this investigation spell doom for Beau Brindley’s legal career?

“At the Law Offices of Beau B. Brindley, it is our policy to respond to all criminal charges with a relentless attack on the government. We aggressively pursue every case as if we were the accused.”

Those words, from the website of prominent Chicago defense lawyer Beau Brindley, have proved prescient. Now Brindley might get to feel exactly what it’s like to be in the shoes of the accused.

As we mentioned yesterday, Brindley finds himself the subject of a federal criminal probe. What are the allegations against him?

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You’d think that a lawyer who is allegedly skeevy enough to be banned from representing women by his own state bar would warrant a total disbarment from the legal profession.

But no, that’s not how they roll in Connecticut. In Connecticut, even if there have been enough ethics complaints by your female clients to warrant a suspension, you are still good as long as you are only accused of being unsuitable to represent half of the population…

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For the past few weeks, I’ve been writing about law school hoping that it would help would-be law students make an informed decision. I exposed some misperceptions about law school that no one discussed. I also suggested some cost-effective and possibly lucrative alternatives to a legal education. And I wrote about some last-minute things to consider before going to law school.

But some of you will still go to law school for the wrong reasons and pay rip-off prices. Ego, familial expectations, and peer pressure may play a role in your decision. So I want to finish the law-school-themed posts by issuing a warning to students and their parents about the consequences of graduating without a meaningful job and with six figure, nearly nondischargeable student loan debt….

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Litigators get away with a lot of obnoxious stuff during discovery. For better or worse, the pre-trial discovery phase of civil litigation is every lawyer’s opportunity to relive those times when parents leave kids alone for the first time: every slight, disagreement, and jealousy on a slow boil explodes into anarchic back-biting once there’s no authority figure around to enforce civility. Bring on the mean-spirited letters and smack-talking RFAs.

When it comes to depositions, it doesn’t always reach “fatboy” levels, but a federal deposition isn’t a deposition until someone threatens to call the magistrate — though never does.

Which is why this benchslap, where a federal judge levies a sanction straight out of elementary school, is so appropriate….

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Here’s something I’m envious of as a Canadian lawyer. The United States is filled with celebrity lawyers: Robert Shapiro, Gerry Spence, Harvey Levin (thank you, TMZ), Judge Wapner, Judge Judy, Judge Joe Brown, Judge Lance Ito.

Bobby and Teddy—lawyers.  John, Jr., a prosecutor.  Bill and Hillary and the current POTUS and FLOTUS, lawyers all.

And, of course, the most celebrated American lawyer, Geraldo Rivera (you forgot that, didn’t you?).

The U.S. loves to gawk at its lawyers, making them famous for defending ex-Hertz pitchmen, or for screaming at people on crappy daytime television where they make all judges look like arrogant cork smokers.

What about celebrity lawyers in Canada?

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