Tag Archives: fitness to practice

What Do You Do With The Drunken Judge? Media Distortion And Judge Gisele Pollack

Broward County (Florida) Judge Gisele Pollack, a recovering alcoholic, showed all the signs of suffering a relapse during her session on the bench two weeks ago, when she abruptly ended the day’s proceedings after an hour and a half that featured the judge slurring her words and acting erratically. She presides over misdemeanor drug court, a program she established shortly after being elected as a county judge.  Her program offenders to have their charges dismissed and their drug records erased after six months of treatment.

After staying away from work for a day, Judge Pollack returned to the bench in the late afternoon, and presided over a courtroom packed with about a hundred drug offenders, along with  their friends and their families. The event marked the completion of rehab for dozens of offenders and the dismissal of their misdemeanor marijuana charges.“You’ve got to remain vigilant,” she told the graduates, emphasizing that they had to work hard to avoid relapses that would  place them back in front of her, and perhaps in jail.

After court, she acknowledged her own health crisis and announced that she was going into an outpatient rehab program. An attorney retained by the judge in the wake of her conduct attributed her relapse to personal issues, telling reporters that she has  “had some severe personal tragedy in her life. Her mother recently passed away, and they were very close. It’s been really devastating for her.” Apparently her son is also suffering from a serious illness. Broward Public Defender Howard Finkelstein, a longtime friend, told reporters, 

“If this causes the people to not have faith and not have trust in what goes on in that drug courtroom, then she will have to step aside,’ he said. ‘My hope is is people will wrap their ever-loving arms around Judge Pollack just as she has wrapped her arms around thousands of people.”

What’s going on here? I think it’s pretty obvious: a recovering alcoholic in a critical position of public trust suffered a relapse, as alcoholics are wont to do. If one is an alcoholic, this is a symptom of a very persistent, pernicious and incurable disease that kills many Americans every year, does horrific damage to families, businesses, governments and the economy, and that is incurable. Being an alcoholic is not an ethical violation for a judge or a lawyer, nor is having a relapse. Allowing that relapse to affect the competent performance of one’s duties, however, is an ethical violation that calls into question a legal professional’s ability to do her job. It could trigger professional sanctions; it certainly should trigger an official inquiry. A Florida judge appearing drunk on the bench, just once, is still a massive ethical breach. It arguably violates the first five Canons of Judicial Ethics a Florida judge is bound to follow… Continue reading

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One For The “Innocent Until Proven Guilty” Crowd

Stop scaring my dog!

A commenter recently pulled out the hoary and almost always misused “innocent until proven guilty” line, which reliably makes me scream, frightening the dog and the neighbors. Thus I was happy to see this September 28 ruling by the Louisiana Supreme Court, which found that Philip Pilie, a 2007 University of Georgia School of Law  who passed the bar examination in 2009, lacked the character and fitness to be admitted to practice in the state, despite the fact that he was not convicted of the crime that resulted in his disqualification.

Why? Because he did it, that’s why. Pilie contacted what he thought was a 15-year-old girl online and arranged to have sex. She was, unfortunately for Pilie, really a big, hairy, middle-aged man looking for predators who like to have sex with under-age girls. Pilie  was arrested at the planned rendezvous and charged with two  felonies,  computer-aided solicitation of a minor and attempted indecent behavior with a minor.

Pilie negotiated a deal with the district attorney to avoid prosecution. He completed a pre-trial diversion program including counseling, and all charges  were dropped. Pilie took and passed the bar exam, but was informed  in March 2009 that he lacked the character and fitness for admission to practice, because he trolled on computers for young girls to have sex with, by his own admission. His appeal to Louisiana’s highest court failed, twice.

In the latest decision, the court said that Pilie’s lack of a criminal conviction made no difference in its reasoning. “Had petitioner been a practicing attorney at the time of his misconduct, it is very likely he would have been permanently disbarred,” it wrote. “Given this fact, we can conceive of no circumstance under which we would ever admit petitioner to the practice of law.” Pilie was permanently barred from ever again seeking admission, without ever being “convicted in a court of law.” Continue reading

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Jury Summation: 20 Conclusions Regarding Elizabeth Warren’s Law License Controversy

1. Elizabeth Warren may have engaged in the unauthorized practice of law in Massachusetts at various times.

2. It is not as clear that she has done so as her primary accuser, Prof. Jacobson, appears to believe, nor is it as certain that she has not done so as her reflexive defenders assert.

3. If she did practice Massachusetts law without a license, it is very unlikely that she did so intentionally.

4. It is also likely that at this moment, she herself is unsure whether she did or not.

5. I very much doubt that if she did as Prof. Jacobson asserts,  that would lead to discipline by the Massachusetts Bar. The discussion of the issues surrounding Warren’s situation make it clear that a) the whole area of unauthorized practice when it involves state and Federal law is relatively unresolved and murky, with even  legal ethics experts in disagreement, b) it would be impossible to separate the professional regulation of the matter from its political content, and 3) any time members of the disciplinary committee slap their foreheads and say, “Damned if I know!” when the discussion turns to what the rules require, discipline is unlikely, and properly so.

6. The fact that Warren may have blundered into UPL between the varying requirements of her two bar memberships and her intermittent practice in Massachusetts does not make her unfit to practice law.

7. It may, combined with her unwillingness to candidly and thoroughly reveal all documents that bear on the issue, call into question her fitness to be a U.S. Senator, especially one running on the proposition that regulations on another profession (the financial sector) need to be strictly followed and tightly enforced. It definitely is worth exploring and explaining to voters, which the mainstream media clearly does not intend to do. Continue reading

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“And Now We Welcome You To Another Episode of “As The Media Shrugs”! Elizabeth Faces Exposure As a Dishonest and Unlicensed Lawyer…Will She Finally Reveal The Truth? Will Voters Care?”

“Nope, no way to Texas; can’t get to New Jersey…maybe I should just bite the bullet and get a Massachusetts law license? Nawww, who’s going to care?”

No major newspapers or broadcast news outlets seem to care, but what was originally dismissed as a partisan blogger’s over-reaching accusation has been bolstered by more than one smoking gun, proving Elizabeth Warren’s untrustworthiness and lack of fitness for high office.

Robert Eno of Red Mass Group, who joins Prof. William Jacobson as a blogger doing dogged and necessary research on the Massachusetts Senate candidate, has convincingly shown that Warren’s justification of her practice in Massachusetts, sans law license, doesn’t work, because what she says can’t possibly be true.

Earlier this week, Warren tried to rebut Jacobson’s allegations by explaining, “I haven’t practiced any law since 2010 since I went down to do the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. I’ve been a member of the bar in Texas for all of my career, in the Supreme Court bar, and until a few weeks ago the bar in New Jersey.” Warren and her defenders also argued that Jacobson’s claim that she was operating a regular law office out of her Harvard faculty office, which would make her an unlicensed Massachusetts practitioner, was inaccurate. Warren periodically was involved in cases in Federal court, which did not require a  Massachusetts license, they said. All that was necessary for Warren to appear before various Federal Courts was for her to be duly licensed in a state or territory, and file a statutory request to the court to appear.

Warren’s problem: it is beginning to appear that she may not have been properly authorized to practice law anywhere, or, if she was, she had to be using her Harvard office as a regular law office, meaning that she was practicing Massachusetts law. Without a license.

Here is what Eno discovered:

1.  Warren says she has been a continuous member of the Texas bar,which is technically true but misleading. After following her constantly changing spin while explaining her undocumented status as an affirmative action beneficiary, I believe misleading us is her intent. Yes, she has been a member of the Texas bar during her whole career, but during most of that period she was not allowed to practice Texas law, which was the topic under discussion when Warren cited her membership. Kim Davey the Public Information Officer for the State Bar of Texas told Eno that Warren has been on inactive status in Texas since June 1, 1992. Inactive status means a lawyer is not authorized to practice law. Warren says that she only stopped practicing law (while living and working  in Massachusetts) in 2010, which means that she could not rely on her Texas license while she was at Harvard.

2. Thus it must have been her New Jersey law license that made Warren eligible to appear in Federal Court. But there’s a problem there, too. New Jersey rules hold that a lawyer can only be a licensed attorney in good standing in New Jersey if that lawyer maintains a bona fide office for the practice of law. The office can be in any state, but it must qualify as a law office, or New Jersey’s license to practice law is no longer valid.

This means that Warren is mired in a Catch 22. If, as her defenders and Warren have maintained, she was not engaged in the practice of law because her Harvard office did not constitute  “a systematic and continuous presence in Massachusetts for the practice of law” (because Warren was just a typical Harvard law professor who now and then helped write a few briefs for the U.S. Supreme Court and out-of-state federal courts), then she could not meet New Jersey’s licensing requirements, and was practicing law without any valid law license in any state once she went on inactive status in Texas. If, in the alternative, her Harvard office was a bona fide office for the practice of law, rather than a place where she just “dabbled,” then she was practicing in Massachusetts without a Massachusetts license. Continue reading

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More Revelations Regarding Elizabeth Warren’s Alleged Unauthorized Practice of Law, and Why This Matters

Prof Jacobson, on his blog Legal Insurrection, is in line for an Ethics Hero award with his tenacity regarding Elizabeth Warren’s dubious qualifications to engage in the practice of law in  Massachusetts. The overwhelming reaction by his colleagues in legal academia, and mine in the legal ethics community, has been to airily dismiss his arguments as trivial, far-fetched and thinly disguised political warfare, since Jacobson is an unapologetic conservative blogger (and a distinguished one.) Meanwhile, the mainstream media has, I think it is fair to say, completely ignored the story.

Part of this is undoubtedly because of the ignorance of most journalists regarding the importance of the legal ethics rules in question. Part of it is probably due to the accurate assessment by editors and TV news producers that the average American’s brain would switch off right around the time the story mentions Massachusetts Rule of Professional Conduct Rule 5.5 Subsection (c), and will start wondering about how Blair from “The Facts of Life” is going to do on “Survivor.” And part of it, infuriatingly, is because most journalists are willing to forgo the ethical duties of their profession in order  to ensure that a Democrat wins back Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat, and character be damned.

The rude brush off Prof. Jacobson is getting in this wagon-circling exercise is wrong in every way, and does injustice to every person and institution involved, including the Massachusetts legal establishment, the legal profession, ethical lawyers (which, believe it or not, the vast majority of them are), Senator Brown, the U.S. Senate, Massachusetts voters, and the American public. Bar associations across the country regularly punish ordinary lawyers who practice law without proper authorization, and there is a reason: a lawyer who won’t or can’t obey the most basic requirement of the profession—be sure you are practicing law legally—should not be trusted to handle the important transactions and controversies of their clients’ lives. Continue reading

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More From Prof. Jacobson On Elizabeth Warren’s Law License

Uh, guys? Do you even care what really happened any more?

[ Original post here]

He has read various critiques of his analysis and allegations, and addresses them here. Jacobson also spoke with the much quoted General Counsel of the Mass Board of Bar Overseers, and confirmed that  Michael Fredrickson was not speaking officially or on behalf of the BBO, but rather giving his personal opinion.

For my part, I am dismayed, if not shocked, that the legal establishment, as well as legal ethicists who should know better, are letting their political biases dictate their analysis. It is true that Jacobson is an openly conservative blogger as well as a long-time critic of Warren, but he raises legitimate questions that deserve to be taken at face value, whatever their source. The fact Fredrickson, the BBO General Counsel, felt it necessary to personally defend Warren in the absence of sufficient facts strongly suggests a pro-Warren bias in the disciplinary system, where it really shouldn’t matter who breaks the rules, but whether or not they have. Similarly, over at the Legal Ethics Forum, legal ethics legend Monroe Freedman comments,

“It surprises me that so much commentary has been expended on such a relatively unimportant issue, which apparently was raised in the first place to embarrass a candidate for the Senate in a race that has matters at stake that could affect the future of the country.” Continue reading

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Well, There Goes Elizabeth Warren’s Legal Ethicist Vote! (UPDATED)

On the positive side for Prof. Warren, at least she may be able to  truthfully say that in Massachusetts, she’s more Cherokee than lawyer…

As thoroughly researched by Cornell Law Professor ( and conservative blogger) William Jacobson, Democratic Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren practiced law in her Cambridge, Massachusetts office for more than a decade without ever being licensed to practice law in that state. His findings are here. Continue reading

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