Tag Archives: bar discipline

Now THAT’S A Trump Bribe…Wait, Wait, I Mean The APPEARANCE Of An ALLEGED Bribe!

Why is Pam smiling?

Why is Pam smiling?

After his election victory, Donald Trump agreed to pay out $25 million in settlement  of claims against the new defunct Trump University. In September, before the election, the Florida Attorney General’s office had announced that that there were “insufficient grounds” to proceed with a fraud probe of the school. Three years earlier, it had announced that it was considering such a probe in anticipation of legal action against Trump University.

Four days after that threat, Donald Trump’s personal charity illegally donated $25,000 to a political group supporting Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi’s re-election campaign. Bondi personally solicited that donation from Trump just as her office was deciding whether to pursue the Trump U. investigation. (This is almost certainly an prosecutorial ethics violation, as well as being obviously corrupt.) This revelation by the Associated Press emerged during the campaign, and was swamped by all the other Trump controversies at the time.

Yesterday, Trump’s transition team told Bloomberg that Pam Bondi has accepted a job in Trump’s White House. Continue reading

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A Slap On The Wrist For The Lawyer Who Demanded 65 Million Dollars For A Lost Pair Of Pants

And they weren't even Elvis' pants...

And they weren’t even Elvis’ pants…

There has been a lot of beating up on judges and lawyers lately, on this blog and elsewhere, so what better time to revisit the weird case of foormer administrative law judge and current attorney Roy Pearson, Jr? He was the D.C.  judge who carried on such a vendetta against a dry cleaner because they lost a pair of his pants that it became national news…which is to say, it was discussed on The View and the women made fools of themselves. Not as big fools as the judge made of himself, though.

Pearson claimed that in 2005, the dry cleaners gave him the wrong pair of pants and refused to pay him the $1,150 he demanded as compensation. His suit—his $67 million suit!— against the dry cleaners alleged that the business violated Washington, D.C.’s consumer protection law by failing to comply with its sign promising “satisfaction guaranteed,” which Pearson claimed was unconditional. You know, even if a customer was deranged.

In his testimony in this wacko lawsuit, Pearson argued that “satisfaction guaranteed” meant the dry cleaner was legally obligated to pay a customer who demanded $1,000 for a supposedly lost sweater even if the owners knew they had delivered the correct sweater to the customer.

By that logic, the owner would also have to let the customer have sex with his teenage daughter, if that’s what it took to “satisfy” him. Continue reading

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From “The Ethics Incompleteness Theorem” and “The Ends Justify The Means” Files, The Pautler Case: My Favorite Legal Ethics Dilemma Ever!

"Irena's Vow" Pictured L to R: Maja Wampuszyc, Tracee Chimo, Tovah Feldshuh (kneeling), Gene Silvers

The Sundance Channel was doing a “Law and Order” marathon this week, and I happened to see an episode from 2002 that I had missed. It was based on the Pautler case in Colorado from the same year.

In “DR 1-102,”  Assistant DA Serena Southerlyn (Elisabeth Rohm) deals with a hostage crisis in which a man suspected of bludgeoning two women to death claims he will release his captive, held at knifepoint (above), if he can consult with an attorney. Southerlyn volunteers to enter the scene, and obtains both the hostage’s release and the killer’s  surrender, but only by deceiving him into believing that she is his lawyer, and not a prosecutor working for the police and the State. Although Southerlyn is hailed as a hero, the bar seeks to disbar her, charging her with violating Disciplinary Rule 1-102 (now New York RPC 8.4 d., which prohibits lawyers from lying.  .

Actually, Serena did a lot more than that, as did her model, Mark Pautler, the Jefferson County (Colorado) assistant D.A. whose real life conduct created a legal ethics dilemma that is debated to this day.

On June 8th, 1998, Chief Deputy District Attorney Mark Pautler  arrived at a gruesome crime scene where three women lay not just murdered, but chopped in the skull.  All had died from hit in the head with a wood splitting maul. The killer was William Neal, who had apparently abducted the three murder victims, one at a time, and killed them over a three-day period. Now, police said, he was at another locale, having released three hostages he had held in terror for about 30 hours. Neal left in the apartment a tape recording that detailed all of his crimes, including a fourth murder and rape at gun point.

Neal contacted police at the apartment using his cell phone and personally described his crimes in a three-and-a-half hour conversation. The officer speaking with Neal took notes of the conversation and occasionally passed messages to Pautler and other officers at the scene. A skilled negotiator, she urged the maniac to surrender peacefully. Efforts to ascertain the location of Neal’s cell phone were unsuccessful, and it was feared that if Neal did not surrender, others would die.

Neal made it clear he would not surrender without legal representation. The police did not trust the public defenders office to handle the situation, fearing that a defense counsel’s advice might lead Neal not to place himself in police custody. Pautler also believed that a public defender would advise Neal not to talk with law enforcement. Neal was savvy enough, he felt, that a police officer could not effectively pretend to be his lawyer, so Pautler agreed to impersonate a defense attorney over the phone He told Neal that his name was was “Mark Palmer.”

Though in the ensuing phone conversation Pautler tried to avoid giving direct legal advice, it was clear that Neal believed “Mark Palmer” worked for the public defender’s office and represented him. And the deception worked: Neal eventually surrendered without further incident.

Not surprisingly, the Colorado Bar had problems with Pautler’s conduct. He was charged with violating two ethics rules, the equivalent of the one used in the “Law and Order” episode and also Colorado Rule 4.3, which requires a lawyer to inform an unrepresented party so it is clear that he isn’t representing him, and to give no legal advice other than to get an attorney. They could easily have charged him with violating others. like Rule 1.3, requiring diligent representation (Call me a stickler, but trying to trick your client into surrendering to police isn’t what the rule has in mind), Rule 1.4, which requires a lawyer to keep a client informed (“Oh: I’m really a prosecutor!“), Rule 1.6, Confidentiality (Pautler shared what Neal told him with police; a lawyer can’t do that! ) Rule 1.7, Conflicts of Interest (Ya think?) and Rule 4.1, which prohibits lawyers making false statements of fact, like “I’m here to help you.” Continue reading

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Professionalism Tales: The Hilarious Prosecutor

Clown lawyerDeputy District Attorney Robert Alan Murray is a funny guy. Having apparently decided that it was too obvious to tell an arrested kid that he would be summarily shot, which is always a gas—you should see their faces!—and a bit too risky to put a whoopie cushion on a judge’s chair behind the bench—those old fogies have no sense of humor—the young California prosecutor hit on the brilliant idea of altering the transcript of the police interrogation of a Spanish-speaking defendant who was charged with lewd or lascivious acts with a child younger than 14 years old.

Murray, the dickens, added this wacky exchange to the transcript:

Officer: “You’re so guilty, you child molester.”

Suspect: “I know. I’m just glad she’s not pregnant like her mother.”

He kills me, he just kills me! Inexplicably, though, the assistant public defender complained about the altered transcript, told a judge, and the judge dismissed all charges against the accused child molester.Who would have guessed the public defender would use the gag to defend his client? What a party pooper. Continue reading

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Now THIS Is An Unethical Lawyer!

"Not there, you idiot! Remember, my cousin said to find those drugs he planted UNDER the car!"

“Not there, you idiot! Remember, my cousin said to find those drugs he planted UNDER the car!”

To give you further faith that our justice system is in good hands, this guy was formerly a judge, too. In fact, it was his forced resignation from the bench that inspired him…well, let me begin at the beginning.

Georgia’s Judicial Qualifications Commission investigated Bryant Cochran, then the chief judge of Murray County’s Magistrate Court, after a woman said Cochran had made inappropriate sexual advances toward her when she came to his chambers to seek some warrants. She alleged that Cochran told her he needed a mistress and wanted her to come to his office wearing a dress and no underwear.

Smoooooth.

The results of the inquiry led to Cochran’s  resignation from the bench in August of 2012. To get his revenge, Cochran persuaded one of his tenants to plant a box containing meth under the car of his accuser. Cochran then called police with a tip that she was carrying drugs. Police stopped her car and used a drug-sniffing dog to  turn up the illegal substance, but the dog’s sniffing came to naught. A police officer who just happened to be Cochran’s cousin—hmmmmmm—  informed his colleagues that the drugs were in a magnetic container attached under the vehicle. Continue reading

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Today’s Ethics Understatement: “This Story Does Not Encourage Trust In The Legal Profession”

photoshoppinglawyer_screenshot

Svitlana and her fake friends

The ABA Journal informs me this morning that a California bar court judge has recommended a six-month suspension for attorney Svitlana Sangary. Oh, she has some client ethics complaints against her, but that was the least of her problems.

On her firm website, she had posted photographs showing Sangary with politicians and celebrities, including President Obama, Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton, George Clooney, Donald Trump, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Morgan Freeman and Paris Hilton. An expert testified that most or all of the images were photoshopped, making them visual lies. A lawyer is not allowed to lie on her website, or anywhere else when it may mislead clients and the public.

Paris Hilton? Continue reading

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