Remember California Attorney Mary Frances Prevost, Who Plagiarized Ethics Alarms? Guess What!

Yup, I saw THIS coming...

Yup, I saw THIS coming…

She’s been suspended.

For the third time.

Good.

To recap…Back in 2012, Mary Frances, who  describes herself on her website as “California’s Top Criminal & DUI Attorney,” posted an essay allegedly authored by her called  “The Trayvon Martin Case Trainwreck: George Zimmerman’s Attorneys Need To Shut Up!”

Oddly, it was posted the same day and shortly after my Ethics Alarms post, “Next To Board The Trayvon Martin Ethics Train Wreck? Why, The Lawyers, Of Course!”

Mary Frances’s was almost word for word the same post, plus some original material at the end. She had ripped me off. She hadn’t even tried to disguise it. This is called stealing, and I believe, shows that an individual lacks the honesty and trustworthiness to practice law.

I took three deep breaths, wrote a post about her plagiarism, e-mailed Prevost and required four things. First, an explanation if she had one; then an apology, a retraction, and proper credit. I didn’t demand damages, as I could have.

Mary Frances’s response was astounding. She didn’t have the courtesy to respond to my e-mail, but went on Facebook to accuse me of plagiarizing her, a neat trick, since my post pre-dated hers. Then she insulted me repeatedly, apparently unaware of how hypocritical it is to claim another lawyer is lacking in legal analysis skills and writing ability when you just published his essay as your own. I posted her whole rant here; it is deranged, making it especially funny that she accused me of being “off my meds.”

The Facebook post was defamation per se: malicious, and deliberately false. I contacted a California attorney, who agreed it was defamation, but said that based on her reputation, he felt it would  not be worth the money, the trouble or all the attacks she was capable of to go to war with her. He also dissuaded me from filing an ethics complaint, saying that unlike some states, California frowns on ethics complaints when there are grounds for lawsuits, and also tends to discount complaints from non-California lawyers.

“Just wait,” he said. “She’ll get hers. Lawyers like this almost always do.” Continue reading

A Fake Judge Disqualifies Herself From Becoming A Real Judge

This is ridiculous.

Well, sure it's OK to impersonate a judge ON STAGE...

Well, sure it’s OK to impersonate a judge ON STAGE…

The Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission is asking for the immediate suspension of a judicial candidate Rhonda Crawford, who is running  for a judgeship covering parts of Chicago and its suburbs. The request asks the Illinois Supreme Court to block Crawford from becoming a judge if she wins the election, which is likely, since she is running unopposed. The reason she has been deemed unfit to be a judge is that she already pretended to be one, in essence impersonating a judge and ruling on cases in traffic court.

Crawford admitted last month that she wore a judicial robe and sat at the bench as part of a “shadowing process”  under the direction Judge Valarie Turner, who was reprimanded and  reassigned to administrative duties after pulling the stunt. Near the end of the afternoon court call, Judge Turner announced that “we’re going to switch judges” and gave her judicial robe to Crawford. Crawford didn’t correct the misstatement, and began acting as the judge. Judge Turner, who appears to have taken leave of her senses, told the prosecutor earlier in the day that Crawford was a judge, and Crawford did not correct the misstatement. When an officer in the courtroom congratulated Crawford on her judgeship, Crawford did not correct him, either. Judge Turner later told the presiding judge investigating the incident that she thought Crawford really was a judge, which is odd since she was employed as a law clerk and staff attorney, and real judges tend to have their own robes while not requiring second judges to stand behind them. Continue reading

Ethics Tip To The Michigan Bar: Disbar Incompetent And Unethical Lawyers, The Justice System Works Better

There are too many stories like this. The Detroit News reports that Davontae Sanford, who spent his teen years and early 20s behind bars for multiple murders he didn’t commit, will be released today after the judge who presided over his 2008 trial vacated his sentence. It seems that he was innocent of the crimes, as a confession by someone else shortly after he was locked up should have suggested. Read the whole tale. I spit out a mouthful of coffee, however, when I got to this part, near the end of the article.

Sharing criticism for this miscarriage of justice, along with police and prosecutors,  is Sanford’s original attorney, Robert Slameka.  Sanford’s current attorney told reporters,

“One of the really tremendous failures of the system was his defense attorney. There was not one pretrial motion that was brought. Davontae’s confession had all the hallmarks of a false confession; (it was) never challenged. The failures are manifest, but a lot of it falls to the one person who was supposed to protect Davontae in this process, and that was his attorney. And that wasn’t done, and when that’s not done, the system sort of collapses.”

This lawyer didn’t stutter (that is, I don’t think so) but  convinced Sanford to plead guilty to second-degree murder, telling him prosecutors had an iron-clad case, and that if he pleaded, he’d get out of prison earlier. While allegedly defending the teen,  Slameka waived making an opening statement (maybe he DID stutter!) , and never cross-examined the detective who questioned Sanford. Continue reading

Ethics Quiz: The Lawyer’s Ned Beatty E-Mail

miss piggyArizona Supreme Court Rule 41(g), permits attorney discipline based on the bar’s determination that an Arizona lawyer has engaged in “offensive conduct.” Now Dennis Wilenchik, an Arizona lawyer who got in a nasty e-mail exchange with a client over a fee is challenging his “admonishment,” a significant form of bar discipline, based on the surprise declaration of his contentious client that he was never offended. An admonished lawyer will usually accept discipline by consent, which in Wilenchik’s case includes a one-year probation period and anger management treatment.

The e-mail exchange began getting heated when Wilenchik called his client, who owned a medical marijuana consulting business, a “cheap asshole.” Later he threatened to sue for his fee, to which his client replied,“Bring it, bitch!”

Wilenchik’s evocative response: “OK drug dealer—I look forward to the many nights and mornings when you think of my name and squeal—you mean nothing to me. Check out the movie Deliverance.

You know, like in this classic film moment…

Yes, cultural references to film classics are very useful. Still, it was this reference that clinched it with the disciplinary committee.

Wilenchik’s lawyer says there is newly discovered evidence showing that the client’s complaint to the bar was based on a claim that the client feared he would be gang raped because of the reference to “Deliverance.”

In a declaration, the complaining client now says he wasn’t offended by anything in Wilenchik’s emails:

“In fact, I thought that Mr. Wilenchik’s last Deliverance email to me was rather humorous actually, and stated in such a manner that neither I nor any reasonable person would or could seriously construe this to be a real intent to harm me or my family. Moreover, Mr. Wilenchik’s last Deliverance email to me was exactly what I would expect anyone, including a lawyer, to write after I sent an email saying, ‘Bring it bitch.’ In other words, these emails were harmless banter which I instigated and therefore it is impossible for me to have been offended.”

Your Ethics Alarms Labor Day Weekend Ethics Quiz is this:

Does someone have to be offended for a lawyer’s conduct to be sufficiently offensive to warrant discipline?

Continue reading

Here’s A First: Kansas Suspends A Lawyer For Facebook Bullying

It's unethical for a lawyer to play a sad violin over Facebook??? Why yes, it is!

It’s unethical for a lawyer to play a sad violin over Facebook???  Why yes, it is!

Eric Michael Gamble was representing a biological father opposed to the adoption of his daughter, which had been approved by the 18-year-old mother.

After Gamble deposed the young woman, he messaged her on Facebook in a shamelessly manipulative fashion, saying…

‘I wish to offer you some reasons why you should stand up and fight for your daughter. As you know, I am the attorney for [the biological father]. We held your deposition in my office. I wanted to give you the chance to make things right. This may be your last opportunity to be a mom for [the baby]. As I told you after your deposition in my office, it is not too late. You still have a wonderful opportunity to have a real relationship with your daughter if you so choose. I have attached a document for you to consider signing and bringing to court or to my office. It is a revocation of your consent to adopt. If you sign this document there is a very good chance that you will be able to call [the baby] your own and [the baby] will call you her mom. I can’t begin to explain how beautiful and wonderful parenthood is. I have a little girl myself and she is my world just like you are your dad’s world. [The baby] deserves to know her parents. She deserves to know that you love her and care for her as well. Do not let this opportunity pass you by because you will live with this decision the rest of your life and [the baby] will know someday what happened. [The adoptive parents] do not legally have to ever let you see her again after court (although they are probably trying to convince you otherwise with the idea of an ‘open adoption’). The reason why you don’t know about the trial was because they don’t want you there because that doesn’t help [the adoptive parents] case. This is your time to get rid of the guilt and standup and do what is right and what [the baby] deserves. She deserves to have her parents love and care for her. She deserves to know her grandparents and extended family. If she’s adopted, she won’t have that chance. [The biological father] wants to be her dad and to love her. She deserves that. I urge you to print, sign, and notarize this document and bring it to my office before court. Trial is June 27, 2013, at 9:00 a.m. at the Johnson County Courthouse, Division 15. I hope to see you and your father there.’

What’s wrong with this? The legal ethics rules protect unrepresented parties in a matter from exactly this sort of pressure. Rule 4.3, in Kansas and elsewhere, prohibits a lawyer from giving advice to adversaries of his or her client, which statements like “This is your time to get rid of the guilt and standup and do what is right and what [the baby] deserves” clearly are. The rules also require lawyers to treat all participants in the justice system with fairness and respect. That message constitutes neither. Rule 4.4 says that “In representing a client, a lawyer shall not use means that have no substantial purpose other than to embarrass, delay, or burden a third person.” Gamble has a defense, of course: his substantial purpose was to have the adoption dropped like his client wanted, but since he wasn’t supposed to be talking to her anyway (other than to advise her to get a lawyer), that wasn’t going to fly. Rule 8.4, meanwhile, says that a lawyer must not “engage in conduct that is prejudicial to the administration of justice.”

After he lost the case, Gamble reported himself for the Rule 4.3 violation. This is usually a good tactic to encourage lenient treatment, but in this case, it didn’t work. In suspending Gamble for six months, the Kansas Supreme Court seemed to invoke all three of the violated rules, as it wrote,

“…As the hearing panel noted, respondent “attempted to manipulate the biological mother and, as a result, interfered with justice.” Respondent’s conduct “amounted to emotional blackmail” of an unrepresented 18-year-old who was dealing with a process that was already “’emotionally exhausting.'” His “electronic message was designed to embarrass, burden, and create guilt in the mind of the biological mother.” These “bullying tactics directly reflect on [respondent’s] fitness to practice law as an attorney.” Consequently, we hold that the respondent should be suspended for a period of 6 months. A minority of the court would impose a longer period of suspension. We unanimously order a reinstatement hearing under Rule 219.”

And the social media claims another victim.

Addendum: I was remiss, in posting this, not noting that the underlying issue in the lawsuit is a far more serious and complex ethical and legal one than the topic of this post: the matter of unwed mothers putting their new borns up for adoption without the father’s consent or participation. That has been a battle royale on Ethics Alarms twice, and you can review it here.

_________________________

Pointer: ABA Journal

Facts: Legal Profession Blog

The Persecution of Paul Ogden, The Justin Carter Of Legal Ethics

When you become a lawyer, Justin, don't do it in Indiana. Ask Paul Ogden why.

When you become a lawyer, Justin, don’t do it in Indiana. Ask Paul Ogden why.

He hasn’t been jailed like his teenaged, online-gaming counterpart, but Indiana attorney Paul Ogden is also facing government sanctions for what was an unequivocal First Amendment communication. In Ogden’s case, he may lose his right to practice law. His offense is insulting a judge…in a private e-mail.

Ogden represented a client before Superior Court Judge David H. Coleman, and was not happy with Coleman’s handling of the case. Neither were Coleman’s supervisors, who removed Coleman from the case for failing to act within an appropriate period of time, under the so-called “lazy judge” act.  Attorney Ogden, who also blogs about politics, commented to a fellow attorney in a private email that Coleman “should be turned in to the disciplinary commission for how he handled this case. If this case would have been in Marion County with a real probate court with a real judge, the stuff that went on with this case never would have happened.” 

Somebody, perhaps the original recipient of the e-mail, forwarded it to the judge (lawyers can be a back-stabbing bunch), and the judge, insulted, demanded an apology. Ogden refused (lawyers can also be stubborn and have a tendency to stand on principle even when it is going to get them in trouble). Because Ogden declined to grovel, Judge Coleman invoked Indiana Rule of Professional Conduct 8.2 and filed a grievance against him to the Indiana Attorney Disciplinary Commission. The Rule, which is essentially identical to the American Bar Association version, prohibits a lawyer from… Continue reading

Ethics Quiz: How Unethical Is This Lawyer?

"Dr." Susan Friery with "Bowser", who for the last ten years has claimed to be a poodle.

Newburyport (Mass.) lawyer Susan Friery, a partner at the New York-based law firm Kreindler & Kreindler, has been suspended from being able to practice law in Massachusetts until February 2014.

Why? Two years..that seems pretty stiff. Well, it seems that from the time she joined the firm as a part-time paralegal and medical consultant in 1986 to her resignation, she represented her self to the firm and its clients as an MD.  Friery joined the law firm in August 1986 . In truth, she had only completed taken four semesters of medical courses at SUNY Buffalo School of Medicine, and never got a degree. But she got her entre into the  firm by falsely claiming that she had graduated from another school, the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Columbia University in New York. In 1989, the firm paid most of her tuition to law school,and by 1993, Friery became an associate, specializing in medical malpractice cases and personal injury law suits with medical injuries. Her name appeared with the title MD or Dr. on the firm’s letterhead, business cards, legal correspondence and other documents filed in numerous courts.

Court documents also show that Friery presented herself as a doctor at seminars and meetings. By 1998, the law firm had included Friery’s alleged medical credentials in its web-based advertising.

Your Ethics Quiz for today, therefore, is this…TWO YEARS??? I’m sorry, let me calm down. <big breath> Ok, here’s the question:

Do you think a suspension of two years for 25 years of falsely holding oneself out to the public as well as colleagues as a medical doctor is sufficient punishment? Continue reading

Ethics Quote of the Week: David Argenter, of the Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Professionalism

"Yes, she's my legal secretary. Yes, she's exactly what I advertised for. Why are you looking at me like that? What??"

“Often, issues of ethics and professionalism raise complicated questions, involve shades of grey, and require serious thought and contemplation to resolve.  Sometimes, however, all it takes to figure out whether a given action or decision is the right one is to ask: ‘Is this stupid?'”

David Argenter, attorney and member of the Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Professionalism, commenting on the mind-boggling case of a lawyer recently suspended from the practice of law for one year for several ethics violations, including one that will live in legal ethics infamy.

Hold onto your hat.

The lawyer in question sought secretarial assistance for his law office on Craigslist.  Oddly, he posted his ad in the “Adult Gigs” section of the site, with the heading “Loop lawyers hiring secretary/legal assistant.” The ad continued…

“Loop law firm looking to hire am [sic] energetic woman for their open secretary/legal assistant position. Duties will include general secretarial work, some paralegal work and additional duties for two lawyers in the firm. No experience required, training will be provided. Generous annual salary and benefits will be provided, including medical, dental, life, disability, 401(k) etc.”

The ad also requested asked for “a few pictures along with a description of your physical features, including measurements.”

Hmmm!

When an applicant  responded with an e-mail inquiring about the “additional duties” referred to in the ad, the lawyer responded,

“As this is posted in the “adult gigs” section, in addition to the legal work, you would be required to have sexual interaction with me and my partner, sometimes together sometimes separate. This part of the job would require sexy dressing and flirtatious interaction with me and my partner, as well as sexual interaction. You will have to be comfortable doing this with us.” Continue reading

Now THIS is Sexual Harassment!

The Arizona Supreme Court has both censured  former municipal court judge Theodore “Ted” Abrams, prohibiting him from serving as a judge again, and disciplined him as an attorney, suspending his law license for two years. Why, you may well ask?

Well, it seems that before he resigned as a judge there was  a bit of a woman problem: if an attractive woman appeared before Abrams as an attorney, she had a problem.

The State Bar of Arizona determined that Abrams, while serving as a judge, “engaged in a prolonged and relentless effort to sexually harass a female assistant public defender who appeared in his court,” as well as, “in a gross misuse of his power, … inflict[ing] his retribution from the bench for the victim’s refusal to yield to his pursuit.”  Over a 14-month period, Abrams sent the woman at least 28 voice mails and 85 text messages, many of which were sexually overt, including one in which he described a sex act he wanted to perform on her. He repeatedly pressured the lawyer for sex, made slurping noises—I’m pretty sure there is something in the judicial code of conduct that prohibits that-– and once fondled her buttocks. Continue reading

Ethics and the Case of the “Large-Breasted Woman”

 

Now SHE'S what you call a distraction...

Illinois attorney Thomas W. Gooch III became the object of great hilarity in legal circles this week when he reacted to what he felt was an unethical courtroom tactic by his opposing counsel in a lawsuit by filing this motion in limine:

 Defendant’s counsel is anecdotally familiar with the tactics and theatrics of Plaintiff’s counsel . . . . Such behavior includes having a large breasted woman sit next to him at counsel’s table during the course of the trial. There is no evidence whatsoever that this woman has any legal training whatsoever, and the sole purpose of her presence at Plaintiff’s Counsel’s table is to draw the attention of the jury away from the relevant proceedings before this court, obviously prejudicing the Defendant’s in this or any other cause. Until it is shown that this woman has any sort of legal background, she should be required to sit in the gallery with the rest of the spectators and be barred from sitting at counsel’s table during the course of this trial.

Not surprisingly, the motion failed, and predictably, Gooch has become the latest villain in the gender wars, reducing a competent legal professional (according to attorney Dmitry Feofanov’s answer to the complaint) to the size of her bra cup and denigrating women generally. Continue reading