What the legal profession will regard as conduct that calls into question a lawyer’s honesty sufficiently to disbar him is a mysterious and unpredictable area. Remember, John Edwards never received as much as a rap on the wrists for his exorbitant lying to hide the fact that he had a mistress and a love child while he was running for President in 2008. Now the Michigan Attorney Discipline Board has been affirmed in its decision to disbar lawyer Ali Zaidi for having false credentials and representations on his professional resumé.
I would expect that to send chills down many a lawyer’s spine, since professional resumés of lawyers and non-lawyers alike are so frequently loaded with puffery that it is almost an “everybody does it” ethical breach. (This is my favorite, the long-time lie of Clinton crony Bill Richardson.) Fortunately for most of them, the Rules of Professional Conduct involving honesty are narrowly interpreted to exclude all but violations of law, breaking official pledges, defaulting on loans and lying under oath, unless they involve the actual practice of law. (Lying to a judge, to a client or in a brief is career suicide.) Does a resumé fudge qualify as the unethical practice of law? Not usually: Ziadi’s must have been something special.
According to the Jan. 11 opinion of the discipline board, Zaidi’s false claims “run the gamut from outlandish and extravagant to what might be termed modifications of his record inspired by some actual events.” He extended the time of his various employments, invented fictional summer associate positions at law firms, falsely claimed that he was admitted to practice in Connecticut and Missouri, and then got really creative. Zaidi falsely claimed to have a master of liberal arts from Harvard, and that he was a member of the U.S. field hockey squad that competed in the 1996 Olympics. He also had a website that represented that his law firm, Great Lakes Legal Group, was working with multiple lawyers at several locations around the country. There was no law firm. Zaidi admitted to disciplinary authorities that it was just an “idea that is still in progress.”
The lawyer did not endear himself to the disciplinary board by trying to avoid his hearing. First he claimed he couldn’t attend because of one child’s birthday party, and then swore that he couldn’t find child care on the scheduled date. The hearing went on without him. Zaidi later claimed in a petition for review that he missed the hearing because his daughter was recovering from surgery. The board was unsympathetic. Given his fantastic resumé, the board must have wondered if his “children” were like Harvey the rabbit or Norman Bates’ mother.
“So there’s no question that I made misrepresentations on my resume. I was not a summer associate where I listed where I was a summer associate at. And the reason for that was, to be quite frank, there’s no good reason for it. I understand that was wrongdoing on my part. And I need to be sanctioned for that, which is why I’m here. But at the same time, I just want to draw attention to the fact as to what I did incorrect or what I did wrong or what my wrongdoing specifically was. I wanted to create an impression because of personal circumstances of what had gone on. . .. What I was trying to accomplish was that I was scared nobody would hire me if they realized why I was moving around so much. And I wanted to create this impression of longevity and create this impression of consistency of my movements.”
Well that explains it, then!
Said the board in its sanction order…
“It is interesting to note that the parts of respondent’s resume that have not been proven false in these proceedings are quite impressive. However, whatever the truth may be, the doctored versions are more impressive…”
(As a complete tangential aside, this reasoning nicely rejects one of the popular rationalizations for electing Barry Bonds to the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame: yes, he cheated by using steroids, but he didn’t need to. He was a great player already. Yeah, but just as lying made the lawyer’s good credentials better, the player’s cheating overwhelmed the legitimate achievements. I’d disbar Barry Bonds in a heartbeat,)
Pointer and Facts: ABA Journal