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Dirty Laundry - Blather. Rants. Repeat.
A Møøse once bit my sister ...
Dirty Laundry
Late yesterday, I checked the appellate court website to see if the decision was out on the case I argued there last month. Not yet- it'll be tomorrow or next Friday. But I noticed the tab on the decisions page for "attorney discipline" and gave in to my sense of morbid curiosity.

The intermediate appellate courts in this state are also in charge of attorney admissions and discipline. Ours, based in Rochester, handles the comings and goings from the 5th, 7th and 8th Judicial Districts of the state: Syracuse, Rochester and Buffalo, roughly. Each district has a "disciplinary committee" that receives, and where necessary prosecutes, complaints against lawyers for things ranging from outright theft to the more esoteric violations. In almost 30 years, I've steered completely clear of that process; lesser offenses get farmed out to bar association committees for unofficial warnings and/or result in more official "letters of caution," but once the court itself gets involved, you are looking at nine miles of bad road with four forks at the end (five if you beat the charges, which hardly anybody ever does): a private "admonition," a public "censure," a definite or indefinite-term suspension, and, worst, the ultimate excommunication of disbarment.

All, other than the admonitions, get you a cite by name in the published decisions of the court and a link on their website to the decision (usually) against you. I scrolled through the 2014 and 2013 names; probably a few dozen get reported each year, and I was checking to see how many I recognized.

I recognized a lot.


There were older-than-me's and recent admittees. Some I remembered from Rochester, others from Buffalo. A few, including the only one I'll detail here, were three-line summary suspensions, usually reserved for the most egregious cases. At least two were attorneys I've sued, subsequently spoke with, and largely gave up on collecting from after hearing the sadness of their stories. Almost all of them (among the ones that spoke at all) spoke of mitigating circumstances involving depression, alcohol or stress.

Any of them could've been me if I'd strayed even an inch closer to the very clear lines laid down for us.

Only one gave me a regrettable sense of schadenfreude- and I hope to learn more about how it happened.


X was a law school friend of one of my former coworkers. He practiced in a number of areas, including personal injury, but not including bankruptcy. For a number of years, he referred many bankruptcy cases to me, and did so without referral fee, for bankruptcy law puts strict limits on such arrangements. Only once, ever, did I refer a PI case back to him. It was on the small side in dollars, and on the higher side in aggravation, but I learned of it settling at some point, and I thought I'd agreed with him on a percentage of his percentage as a referral fee.

He disagreed. Ultimately, he sent me a very small check- at a time when I was still trying to disentangle myself from a very bad work situation and could really have used something even approaching what I thought it might have been.

He also stopped sending me referrals. I never asked- always assuming he was just pissed- and rarely ran into him in any courts or even on-the-street situations.

And, last night, there he was- three lines about "order of suspension entered." No why's or wherefore's, at least not yet. I confess to initially feeling a little karma at work, but as I read the other, more detailed decisions of others being suspended or censured (still a "ding" that will likely cost you clients and definitely kill you politically if that is your goal), the thoughts of karma turned into a pervasive feeling of "There but for the Grace of the Fourth Department go I."

Because it's quick- and it ain't painless. There is due process, but mostly it's quicksand- the more you struggle, the worse it gets. Which is why I balance my trust account to the penny (at least one other decision, with a name I knew, reported a trust balance being over $80,000 short), keep all my continuing ed records in meticulous order, never notarize a document unless you're standing in front of me, and try to keep everybody happy at all times. Because when it's over, in most of these cases, it's OVER.

ETA. I know more about X's situation now. I can't go into much detail because to do so would virtually identify him, but. The summary suspension was due to a conviction for something that almost always results in automatic disbarment. What he was convicted of was stupid, impossible to hide, and ironically might have been prevented if he'd had a decent bankruptcy lawyer.  There was also mention of a sad personal circumstance preceding the more recent events. One of the sources I found invited comments about his situation, and they were, as they almost always are, full of the usual comment vitriol about what a bunch of scumbags lawyers all are and how he got what he deserved.

Careful, commenters. Don't get hit by that oncoming karma.
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