Thursday, January 8, 2015

Bar counsel taking plea deals to avoid disbarment? What would you do?

 Mike Frisch (Georgetown) who runs the Legal Profession blog has posted a great question: 

You are Disciplinary Counsel in your jurisdiction. You have completed an investigation and believe you have persuasive evidence that the Respondent attorney has engaged in acts that amount to intentional misappropriation of entrusted funds.

The presumptive sanction for such misconduct in your jurisdiction is disbarment absent extraordinary circumstances. Disbarment, in functional effect, is a five-year suspension with any reinstatement conditioned on proof of the Respondent's present fitness to practice law.

Respondent, through counsel, approaches you with an offer to consider. The attorney tells you that the Respondent knows he likely will eventually be disbarred. Respondent is 67 years old and wishes to retire without the stigma of disbarment. He offers to immediately accept a three-year consent suspension with any possible reinstatement conditioned on proof of fitness.

You know (1) that a fully litigated case might take five years or longer to result in disbarment, (2) the three-year suspension will mean there is virtually no possibility of actual reinstatement in less than five years, and (3) the earliest that an interim suspension will be imposed is when there is a board report that approves a hearing committee finding of the charged misconduct. That happy event is likely at least two to three years away.

So, you can get Respondent out of the practice today. He accepts the functional equivalent of the most severe sanction but avoids the Mark of Cain. He may (but then, may not) try to get his license restored someday.

Do you take the deal if your system gives you the authority and responsibility to do so? If your system does not permit a consent disposition under these circumstances, is there something wrong with your system? 

Please go here to post your comments on this question.

As for me, I think I would take the deal because under the circumstances it would likely result in the equivalent of permanent disbarment (given the attorney's age and plans to retire).  Others might disagree and I am willing to be convinced I am wrong...

To me, the worst part of the scenario is the fact that disbarment is only the equivalent of a five year suspension.  If it were up to me, disbarment would always be permanent. 

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