Tag Archives: unauthorized practice of law

The 8th Annual Ethics Alarms Awards: The Worst of Ethics 2016, Part 1

bad-2016

Welcome, if that’s the word, to the 8th Annual Ethics Alarms Awards.

Last year, in a burst of self-pity as I began this annual task, I wrote,

“It is depressing and discouraging: 2015 was much worse than 2014, which was considerably worse than 2013. What am I doing here? What is the point of spending all of this uncompensated time—it is more profitable bagging groceries!—trying to nurture a more ethical culture and a more ethically competent public when all evidence points to utter futility as the result? Well, that way madness lies, I guess. I’m just going to grit my teeth and do my duty. Last year I began by saying that 2014 was the year of the Ethics Train Wreck. There were far more of them in 2015, and they were more serious and damaging. That should give you sufficient warning of the horrors to come…”

Then came 20i6.

To paraphrase  Margo Channing, “Fasten your seatbelts: It’s going to a bumpy post…”

Ethics Train Wreck of the Year

train-wreck-air

The Hillary Clinton E-Mail Scandal Ethics Train Wreck

I thought last year was the Year of the Train Wreck. Wrong. In 2016, we had the 2016 Post Election Ethics Train Wreck, the Campus Sexual Assault Witch Hunt Ethics Train Wreck, the Freddie Gray Ethics Train Wreck, the old stand-by Obama Administration Ethics Train Wreck, the still active Ferguson Ethics Train Wreck, and the Ethics Train Wrecks of both Presidential candidates campaigns. Hillary’s e-mails and their related lies in the long trail of cars called the Hillary Clinton E-Mail Scandal Ethics Train Wreck, was a clear winner though.

Passengers included President Obama, Bernie Sanders, Anthony Weiner, the F.B.I., Loretta Lynch, Bill Clinton, James Comey and more. And, of course, it played a significant and perhaps decisive role in bringing us President Trump.

Runner-Up: 2016 Post Election Ethics Train Wreck. It had less than a month to get up steam, but it caused lots of ethics carnage, and is still going strong.

Fraud of the Year

The Trump Foundation, which revealed itself to be a near total sham. RUNNER-UP: Fake lawyer Kimberly Kitchen, who worked as an estate planning lawyer at BMZ Law in Huntingdon County, Pennsylvania, and served as president of the county bar, though she never went to law school, and never took the bar exam, but forged documents to fool everyone that she had.

Most Unethical Act By A Major Church

The Catholic Church, which, incredibly, restored a convicted rapist to the priesthood. Father Joseph Jeyapaul,  a Catholic priest from India, while serving in the Crookston, Minnesota diocese from 2004 to 2005 raped at least two adolescent girls.  After being charged with the crimes, including rape and forcing at least one of his victims to perform fellatio on him, Father Joseph  escaped to India, where an Interpol warrant got him extradited back to Minnesota.  There he confessed, and as part of a plea bargain, received an outrageously light sentence of a year and a day for pleading guilty to one count of molestation. Jeyapaul was suspended from the priesthood and served his time in Minnesota. The U.S. deported him back to India, while the Minnesota diocese had to pay millions in a civil lawsuit, during which we learned that the rapist priest had told one of his victims  in the confessional that she was at fault, and had made Jeyapaul “impure” by letting him abuse her. In February, the Vatican lifted Jeyapaul‘s suspension and restored him to the priesthood. It then assigned him to a new parish in India, where he is now the diocesan head of its commission for education. 

Tell me again why that fake news story that the Pope endorsed Trump was supposed to help The Donald.

Incompetent Elected Official of the Year

kkane

Kathleen G. Kane (D), Pennsylvania’s ex-Attorney General.  In October, a judge sentenced her to 10 to 23 months in prison for her conviction on charges of perjury and abuse of her office. You can’t be more incompetent, I’d say, than an elected attorney general who can’t stay out of jail herself. I regret not writing about the Kane saga last year, but her ethical void was fairly apparent back in 2013, the only time I did write about her, after she leaked grand jury testimony, which is illegal. I wrote at the time (I must have been in a bad mood)…

“Leaking grand jury testimony is both illegal and spectacularly unethical for a lawyer, yet Pennsylvania’s Attorney General, Kathleen Kane, appears to have done it for the slimiest of reasons, and is offering the most cynical of defenses in the most offensive of ways. (Incidentally, I don’t understand how this could happen. After all, Kane is a woman, the first Democrat and the first woman to be elected to the post, and since having a vagina alone is supposed to imbue a candidate with trustworthiness, surpassing competence and virtue, this makes no sense at all.)”

Unethical Elected Official of the Year

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Now THAT’S The Unauthorized Practice Of Law!

The fake lawyer with her husband, if it really IS her husband....

The fake lawyer with her husband, if it really IS her husband….

Usually lawyers get sanctioned for engaging in the “unauthorized practice of law” when the unwittingly fail to pay their bar dues, or handle a matter from the comfort of their office involving a client in a state they can’t practice in. It’s a serious ethics violation and a crime as well in some cases, but seldom do you see an example of UPL, as it’s called, like this.

For ten years, Kimberly Kitchen worked as an estate planning lawyer at BMZ Law in Huntingdon County, Pennsylvania, and thrived.  She even served as president of the county bar.  She was never a lawyer, however; never went to law school, never took the bar exam. Prosecutors said she forged documents to show she graduated from law school at Duquesne University, passed the bar and was licensed to practice. Everything was a fake, and she was a fraud. Now she is facing jail time. Continue reading

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Dear Legal Profession: How Can We Respect And Trust You When You Police Yourself Like THIS?

Justice_broken3

I’ve been defending my profession a lot here lately, but I also recognize that there is a very good reason why such incidents as the surprisingly generous sentence in the “Affluenza” case and the drug court judge who suffered an alcoholic relapse on the bench are wrongly interpreted as proof of inequities and double standards in the legal system. The reason is that those who oversee the system do inexplicable things that appear to the outside world as not only a lack of integrity but also the apparent inability to realize how such conduct undermines the public trust.

Both of these recent news stories are cases in point:

I. The Imaginary Government Lawyer

In 2012, the Nebraska state supreme court disbarred lawyer David Walocha for not paying his bar dues and proceeding to practice law for 13 years with a suspended license. At the end of 2013, the District of Columbia Bar had to decide what to do with former Justice Department attorney Laura Heiser, who practiced 21 years with a suspended license in the District. What was her punishment? She received an informal admonition, which is the least severe form of disciplinary action.  Continue reading

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Author (NOT Lawyer) Elizabeth Wurtzel’s Careless Aspirations

Well, she sure doesn't look like any lawyer I know...

Well, she sure doesn’t look like any lawyer I know…

The acclaimed author of “Prozac Nation” and “Bitch” graduated from Yale Law School while trying to figure out what she was going to do with her now rich and famous life. Elizabeth Wurtzel has yet to pass the NY bar exam successfully, however (she’s taken it at least once), which means she is not admitted to practice there or anywhere. Nonetheless, based on the fact that she was working as a paralegal at a law firm, Wurtzel gave an interview in which she arguably described herself as “a lawyer.”

This may not seem like a big deal, but it is. As discussed in the posts about Elizabeth Warren’s mysterious professional status, the unauthorized practice of law (UPL) is taken very seriously in the legal profession, and representing yourself as a lawyer when you aren’t is often enough to cross into UPL territory. Above the Law contacted two worthy legal ethics scholars who agreed that this did not constitute a professional ethics violation—that is, an inaccurate and sloppy remark in an interview, not designed to deceive, would not cause her trouble with the bar should she ever pass that pesky exam. A professional ethics violation is one that calls into question a lawyer’s integrity, honesty and trustworthiness sufficiently to raise questions about whether that lawyer should be allowed to practice law. The profs (Steven Lubet and Stephen Gillers) are right that Wurtzel’s puffery doesn’t reach that level. 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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