Archive | Legal Ethics

Blogospheric Rubbernecking – 2014 Blackmail Edition

The Brian Leiter-Paul Campos feud continues into the New Year.  The latest: Campos is threatening to disclose “potentially very embarrassing personal information” about Leiter should the latter disclose the personal identity of “Dybbuk,” the pseudonym of a lawyer/”scamblogger” accused of harassing another law professor in blog posts and comments.  Could this constitute blackmail?  I’ll leave that to the crimlaw folks.


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Judge Behaving Badly

From In re Honorable [sic] Elizabeth E. Coker, a Voluntary Agreement to Resign from Judicial Office in Lieu of Disciplinary Action:

WHEREAS in late December 2012 and early January 2013, complaints and media stories were brought to the Commission’s attention alleging that Judge Coker had engaged in improper ex parte text communications with Polk County Assistant District Attorney Kaycee Jones while Judge Coker presided over the criminal jury trial of State v. David M. Reeves in August 2012; and

WHEREAS based on the above-referenced complaints, the Commission commenced an investigation into allegations that Judge Coker used Assistant District Attorney Jones to privately communicate information about the Reeves case to the assistant district attorney prosecuting the case; to suggest questions for the prosecutor to ask during the trial; to ensure that a witness was able to refresh his memory and rehabilitate his testimony by reviewing his videotaped interview with law enforcement before he took the stand for the second time the following day; and to discuss legal issues pertinent to the case. in an unsuccessful effort to assist the State obtain a guilty verdict in the case;

WHEREAS in addition to the allegations arising out of the Reeves trial, the Commission investigated claims that Judge Coker allegedly engaged in other improper ex parte communications and meetings with Jones, other members of the Polk County District Attorney’s Office, the San Jacinto County District Attorney, and certain defense attorneys regarding various cases pending in her court; Judge Coker allegedly exhibited a bias in favor or certain attorneys and a prejudice against others in both her judicial rulings
and her court appointments; and Judge Coker allegedly met with jurors in an inappropriate manner, outside the presence of counsel, while the jurors were deliberating in one or more criminal trials;

WHEREAS the Commission also

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Dean Sanctioned for Submitting False Admissions Data

Via Legal Ethics Forum comes news that former Villanova Law School Dean Mark Sargent received a three-year suspension from the Massachusetts Bar for knowingly submitting false admissions data.  Former Illinois Law DeanAssistant Dean of Admissions Paul Pless was also reprimanded by the Washington State bar.

[Note: Errors to this post have been corrected.  Most significantly, as initially written the post suggested that Paul Pless was the Dean of Illinois, rather than a Dean, as in Assistant Dean of Admissions.  This distinction is significant as there is no evidence of which I’m aware that other members of the the then-administration at Illinois were aware data had been misrepresented.  I regret the error.] [...]

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Former Prosecutor (Now Judge) Arrested and Charged for Past Prosecutorial Misconduct

I’m told that such arrests and charges are very rare, so I thought this was noteworthy, from the Austin American-Statesman, April 19, 2013 (thanks to Lawrence Goldman [White Collar Crim Prof Blog] for the pointer):

Former Williamson County District Attorney Ken Anderson was arrested … after a specially convened court found that he intentionally hid evidence to secure Michael Morton’s 1987 conviction for murder.

In a blunt and scathing ruling, District Judge Louis Sturns said Anderson acted to defraud the trial court and Morton’s defense lawyers, resulting in an innocent man serving almost 25 years in prison.

“This court cannot think of a more intentionally harmful act than a prosecutor’s conscious choice to hide mitigating evidence so as to create an uneven playing field for a defendant facing a murder charge and a life sentence,” Sturns said.

Sturns, presiding over a court of inquiry that examined the Morton prosecution, found probable cause to believe that Anderson broke two state laws and committed criminal contempt of court for lying to Morton’s trial judge. He then signed a warrant for Anderson’s arrest as required under state law governing courts of inquiry….

Sturns’ ruling is the first step in a potential criminal case against Anderson, who was Williamson County’s celebrated law-and-order district attorney for 16 years before he became a district judge in 2002. His current term as judge will end in 2014. State law does not require him to step down as the case against him progresses….

Morton was sentenced to life in prison for the murder of his first wife, Christine, in their Williamson County home. He was freed and declared innocent in 2011 after DNA tests pointed to another man as the killer….
Sturns told the standing-room-only courtroom that the evidence showed that Anderson improperly concealed two pieces of

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A Cautionary Tale About Driving and Bar Fitness

Law students thinking ahead about not just passing the bar exam, but also the fitness and character requirements might take a lesson from a former student of mine.  He contacted me with some alarm a few days ago to tell me that the Virginia bar committee that has to approve fitness and character of applicants had expressed concern in his case on account of a large number of traffic citations.  Not unpaid tickets or parking tickets, or anything as serious as a DUI – simple speeding, in nearly all cases caught by automatic cameras in DC.  How many?  Nine in the past 18 months – he says many for the same stretch of DC road caught in the middle of the night by automatic radar/camera.

I don’t think this will cause him problems in the end, but it’s not something one wants to have a discussion about with the bar fitness and character committee either.  I’m submitting a special character reference about his general sense of responsibility and law-abiding nature.  Anyway, word of caution to law students looking down the road to getting sworn in.  (At least until self-driving cars take over DC roads and remove temptation; some commentators see a future in which insurance companies give lower rates to self-driving car users, precisely to remove these kinds of issues, once the insurers conclude that on balance the robot car is safer.) [...]

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From a D.C. Court of Appeals Opinion Last Thursday

Law students and young lawyers take note. (Heck, we old lawyers should, too.) You don’t want a court to say about you what the D.C. Court of Appeals said in Pietrangelo v. Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale & Dorr, LLP (Apr. 11, 2013):

Appellant James E. Pietrangelo, II, a licensed attorney acting pro se, brought an action for legal malpractice and an array of other alleged wrongs against appellee Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale & Dorr, LLP (hereinafter “WilmerHale”) for conduct related to WilmerHale’s pro bono representation of Pietrangelo and others in a challenge to the since-repealed “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) statute,FN1 which regulated the treatment of gays in the military….

We agree with WilmerHale that Pietrangelo’s conduct in this case and at trial was a shocking abuse of the judicial system, such that dismissal of the case pursuant to Super. Ct. Civ. R. 41(b) would not have been an abuse of discretion by the trial judge. Given the fact that Pietrangelo is an attorney, his actions are all the more disturbing….

Pietrangelo availed himself of the District of Columbia courts to obtain relief for alleged wrongs. In pursuit of those claims, he engaged in litigation that consumed substantial resources in the trial court, resulting in a docket sheet with over 300 entries in two years. The trial court made painstaking efforts to provide a fair trial, investing substantial court and judicial resources. But after demanding and receiving substantial time and attention from the trial court, Pietrangelo’s attitude in return was one of flagrant contempt, whereby he deliberately disregarded orders of the trial court and exhibited an attitude of disrespect to the trial judge and the administration of justice. This is particularly troubling because Pietrangelo is himself an attorney.

Pietrangelo first testified falsely, denying authorship of an email originating from

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