Saturday, May 7, 2011

Two cases illustrate issues regarding sanctions

I have often commented on inconsistencies regarding sanctions among jurisdictions and sometimes within jurisdictions.  Here are two separate news items that help illustrate the issue once again.

In the first one, the Legal Profession blog is reporting on a case in which an attorney who was suspended for a year and a day in Colorado was then disbarred as reciprocal discipline by the Maryland Court of Appeals (the opinion is available here).  The court is correct in pointing out that it is not required to impose the same sanction imposed by the original discipling court.  But, one wonders why the courts reached such different results.  There is a huge difference between a one year suspension and disbarment.

The other item comes from Illinois where a recent decision by an Illinois Hearing Board recommended a one-year suspension of an attorney who engaged in a wide array of what the Board called "extremely serious" ethics violations that included conflicts of interest and dishonesty to courts. The Board also found there were important aggravating factors including the fact that the lawyer did not show any remorse for the impact his actions had on his clients or on the legal profession that the fact that he had been disciplined in the past.  The question this case raises in my mind relates to the severity of the sanction.  If the conduct was "extremely seriuous" and there were aggravating factors, how come the sanction is merely a one year suspension.  One would think that misconduct described as that serious would have resulted in a higher level of discipline.

In the end, as I tell my students, you can never truly predict what the sanctions will be, which means, regardless of what the conduct is, you always risk disbarment.

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