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Longtime readers know I like movies. They’re fun as a stand-alone proposition.

But movie-going is almost essential when Arizona’s solar-intensifying sprummer has come, gone, and Satan’s excessive heat warning says it’s 109 outside. Overnight it ‘cools down’ to the high 90’s.

So when outdoor activity partners with heat stroke, getting out often means movies. This weekend, it was Wonder Woman — highly enjoyable and big fun. Although I enjoy all genres, there’s nothing like a well done action film.

As some of you know, I’ve also seen my share of movies featuring lawyer protagonists. Admittedly, it’s been a while since there was one I liked. The Lincoln Lawyer is perhaps the last one I thought entertaining — but that was 6 years ago.

It’s not like I rush to see movies featuring lawyers. Quite the opposite. I think most are to be avoided. 2014’s The Judge was awful.

Nearly always they get the law and the ethics wrong. For instance, I missed last year’s The Whole Truth, starring that latter-day Olivier, the wooden thespian known as Keanu Reeves. I’m sorry to say I finally caught it online.

Of The Whole Truth, movie critic Rex Reed said, “A guaranteed cure for insomnia, an abomination called The Whole Truth is a courtroom movie that looks like a colorized version of an old Perry Mason TV show, starring Renée Zellweger’s new face and Keanu Reeves, who has the charisma and animated visual appeal of a mud fence.” Keanu plays that over-used movie stereotype, the ethically challenged criminal defense lawyer.

And why always an ethically challenged defense lawyer? Why not an amoral ERISA or corrupt water rights lawyer? In truth it’s probably because ERISA and water rights lawyers would have to arm-wrestle to avoid the title of most boring field of practice.

In any event, Keanu’s much better as pup-loving legendary hitman John Wick not as a lawyer. Just the same, I admit to liking his turn as the lawyer son of Satan in The Devil’s Advocate.

Recliner movie watching.

Glenn Whipp amusingly reported this past Friday that theater chains have “decided that the best way to sell tickets is to replicate moviegoers’ living rooms.” See “When moviegoers treat theaters like living rooms — texting, talking, even diaper changing happens.”

It’s true. Recliners have arrived at the cineplex, including the one in our neighborhood. I’m not sure, however, that Wonder Woman was better because my feet were up. The Whole Truth, on the other hand, is a different matter. The recliner would’ve meant In dormis delicto.

Fortunately, the movie-going pleasure of Wonder Woman was mostly unmarred unlike other recent movie experiences involving serial chatterboxes and obsessive texters. Save for a movie patron twice checking his cellphone two rows in front, we escaped Glenn Whipp’s exponentially worse experience with the in-the-theater toddler diaper-changing mother. “Because,” as Whipp explained, “that’s what those adjustable armrests are for, right?”

And that Bill Kilgore is not the smell of napalm in the morning.

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Photo Credits: Empty cinema movie theater, by Iwan Gabovitch  at Flickr Creative Commons Attribution; First movie of the year, recliner chair theater, by stupid systemus at Flickr Creative Commons Attribution.

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Note: The following story was originally published by ProPublica, “an independent, nonprofit newsroom that produces investigative journalism in the public interest.” It is republished with permission.

The behavior of Bill Kephart, who led the murder prosecution of Fred Steese, was repeatedly lambasted by the Supreme Court of Nevada. But that didn’t stop him from becoming a judge. This month he was charged with misconduct in that position too.

by Megan Rose, ProPublica

May 26, 2017

In the legal world, prosecutors are rarely called out by name. Their misconduct is usually attributed to unidentified prosecutors or the “State” in rulings by appellate judges. But as a Las Vegas prosecutor, Bill Kephart — now a judge — achieved a dubious distinction: He was chastised publicly.

The Supreme Court of Nevada took the rare step in 2001 of ordering him to prove why he shouldn’t be sanctioned for his behavior in one of his cases with a fine or a referral to the state bar for “violation of the Rules of Professional Conduct.” The ruling was disseminated statewide and, in Kephart’s own words, “professionally embarrassed” him. In his response, he wrote that the ruling had “already had a great impact” on him and promised that there wouldn’t be “a bona fide allegation of prosecutorial misconduct against me in the future.” The justices nevertheless fined him $250.

Fred Steese served more than 20 years in prison for murder even though evidence in the prosecution’s files proved he didn’t do it. But when the truth came to light, he was offered a confounding deal. Read the story.

The Supreme Court’s rebuke was particularly notable in Nevada, where the judges are elected and part of the state’s insular legal community. They typically rule unanimously and seldom come down too hard on prosecutors. As one retired chief justice put it: “Picking fights with district attorneys might not be the best thing for [a judge’s] career continuation.” But Kephart’s behavior challenged that status quo, compelling one or more of the justices to issue dissents in several cases, saying his behavior called for convictions to be overturned.

Overall, the Nevada high court has noted prosecutorial misconduct in at least five of his cases over a dozen years, not including his actions during the trial of Fred Steese — who was tried by Kephart for a 1992 murder and ruled innocent 20 years later after exculpatory evidence was found in the prosecution’s files. In the cases in which Kephart is not named, he is the prosecutor whose misconduct is cited:

  • In 1996, the court noted “several instances of prosecutorial misconduct” in a sexual assault case. The conviction was upheld, but one justice dissented, saying that Kephart had “infected” an already “muddled case” and it warranted reversal. (In 2001, a judge granted the defendant an evidentiary hearing and he was released.)
  • In 1997, the court reversed the murder convictions of two men based entirely on the “deliberate” and “improper comments” made by the prosecution during cross examination and closing argument. The DA’s office had sought the death penalty, which in Nevada increases costs by about a half million dollars on average, making this and other reversals based on Kephart’s behavior expensive screw-ups for taxpayers. (Both men were retried and convicted again in 1998, one sentenced to life in prison and the other to death.)
  • In 2001, in the case he was fined $250, the court said Kephart gave the jury a misleading explanation of the standard for reasonable doubt when he instructed them: “you have a gut feeling he’s guilty, he’s guilty.” A justice said at a hearing that the remark seemed “like deliberate misrepresentation.” The court upheld the conviction, but noted that Kephart’s “improper remark was particularly reprehensible because this is a capital case and the remark was gratuitous and patently inadequate to convey to the jury its duty…”
  • In 2002, the court took issue with Kephart for assaulting a witness. During the trial of a sexual assault case, Kephart said he wanted to demonstrate how the victim said she was choked, pressing his forearm into the defendant’s neck while he was on the stand. The court upheld the verdict, but noted there was “absolutely no reason” for Kephart’s behavior, which went “well beyond the accepted bounds of permissible advocacy.” One justice dissented, saying “the instances of prosecutorial misconduct were pervasive and substantial…an accused who takes the stand runs many risks. One of them should not be that the prosecutor would physically assault him or her.”
  • In 2008, the court tossed out a murder conviction in another death penalty case, saying, among other issues, the prosecution’s misconduct was “significant” and “occurred throughout the trial,” including Kephart’s remarks during jury selection and in closing. One judge dissented, saying the prosecutorial misconduct and other issues didn’t require reversal. (The defendant eventually pled guilty in 2014.)

In 2002, Kephart prosecuted another highly contested murder case against Kirstin Lobato, then 19, which has garnered national outcry for the meager and sometimes contradictory evidence against her. Lobato was recently granted an evidentiary hearing and is represented by the Innocence Project. This month, the prosecuting officer for the Nevada Commission on Judicial Discipline filed misconduct charges against Kephart for a media interview he gave about the case last year, in which he said it “was completely justice done.” Kephart’s “statements could affect the outcome or impair the fairness of Miss Lobato’s case,” according to the formal statement of charges. The statement said Kephart violated several rules of the judicial code of conduct. He has not yet filed a reply.

Kephart, who joined the DA’s office in the early 1990s as a brash young attorney, once got in a shoving match with a defense attorney. Another time a judge had to admonish him for repeatedly shaking his head, making faces and rolling his eyes. His behavior eventually led to minor reprimands from the Clark County District Attorney’s Office, according to several people who worked with him during that time. In 2002, after Kephart’s reasonable-doubt flub, the entire DA’s office had to complete a two-hour ethics course and continuing legal education classes, which the deputy district attorneys tagged the “Kephart CLE.” That same year, Kephart was briefly banned from trials. Regardless, he later became a chief deputy.

Kephart also was called before the state bar for his behavior in Steese’s murder trial, but, according to lawyers at the hearing, his boss made an appeal on behalf of him and the other prosecutor on the case, and neither was sanctioned.

Kephart declined several requests for comment.

Despite these repeated critiques of his conduct, Kephart was voted onto the bench in 2010 as a justice of the peace and in 2014 moved to the Eighth Judicial District Court of Nevada, where he today he presides over civil, construction and criminal cases.

Update, May 31, 2017: In his official written response to the disciplinary commission, Kephart has denied charges that he violated judicial canons with his remarks to the media about an open case. His response said that he had “participated in interim rehabilitation by taking classes,” and the commission should consider his honest motives, clean judicial disciplinary record, and “character and reputation.”

Megan Rose covers the military for ProPublica. Previously she was the national correspondent at Stars and Stripes.

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A month from now, it’ll be exam time. Not an oral exam — but the July bar exam administered the last week of the month everywhere except for Wisconsin, which has the “diploma privilege.”[1]

For the rest of the states, including the District of Columbia, this year’s May crop of law school graduates will be tested to satisfy “what bar examiners have always posited as the bar exam’s purpose, i.e. minimum competence to practice law unsupervised.”[2]

https://cdn.morguefile.com/imageData/public/files/t/taliesin/preview/fldr_2008_11_02/file0001110781475.jpgMeanwhile, law school applications continue to fall.[3] And as law schools vie for a dwindling number of enrollees, some schools are competing for cheeks in the seats by cutting admissions and by lowering admission standards.

Bar exam scores are also plummeting at some schools. So questions are naturally arising on whether falling exam scores are attributable to a decline in law school standards.

Driven in my view mostly by self-preservation, “frustrated law school deans” are suddenly complaining to anyone who will listen about the exam. Their criticism of bar exam methods and mechanics is largely unprecedented. One law school dean went as far as calling the bar exam “an unpredictable and unacceptable impediment for accessibility to the legal profession.” See “Bar Exam, the Standard to Become a Lawyer, Comes Under Fire.”

https://cdn.morguefile.com/imageData/public/files/s/Sgarton/09/l/1379295120ysjr3.jpgNot to be missed, however, is how one school is trying to slow their own nosediving exam scores. Charlotte Law School’s Assistant Dean of Student Success employed four-letter exhortations to her professors serving as bar prep coaches. Straddled with Charlotte’s abysmal bar passage rates, Assistant Dean Odessa Alm admonished the professors to insist on more urgency from their graduates. “We’re not cheerleaders. We’re coaches. ‘Get down on the f***ing floor and give me 40. You’re going to run more laps.’ That’s what a coach is. A coach is not a cheerleader.” See “Recordings Shed Light On Charlotte School Of Law’s Methods To Boost Bar Passage.”

In 2014, with scores falling, the Iowa State Bar Association looked for another remedy. It proposed an in-state “diploma privilege” like its Wisconsin neighbor. But the Iowa Supreme Court closed the door on the proposal opting to keep the bar exam in place. According to one news report, “Critics said it was a way for Iowa law schools to boost enrollment, which has been falling in recent years.” Also see “As schools lower standards, more flunk the Iowa bar.”

And in a step akin to moving the iceberg closer to the Titanic, the American Bar Association (ABA) put law schools on notice last year that it intended to tighten the deadline rule for graduates to pass state bar exams. Yeah, full steam ahead.

According to data compiled by the Internet Legal Research Group, the bottom ten law schools with the worse bar passage rates reflecting first-time test takers for the summer 2014 and winter 2015 bar examinations were:

1. Appalachian School of Law                                 33.3%
2. Thomas Jefferson School of Law                      44.7%
3. Golden Gate University Law School                45.1%
4. Mississippi College                                                 45.8%
5. Whittier Law School                                               45.9%
6. U. of the District of Columbia                             52.2%
7. Liberty University                                                   52.8%
8. Ave Maria School of Law                                      54.4%
9. Arizona Summit Law School                              54.7%
10. Southern University                                              55.8%

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/2/28/Pieter_Codde_-_Young_Scholar_in_His_Study_-_Melancholy_-_WGA05115.jpg/356px-Pieter_Codde_-_Young_Scholar_in_His_Study_-_Melancholy_-_WGA05115.jpgSince the report, life hasn’t gotten any easier for some of the listed schools. Last month, the Los Angeles Times reported that“due in part to low student achievement,” Whittier Law School was closing. And earlier this month, Arizona Summit Law School in Phoenix was put on probation by the ABA after just 24.6 percent of its graduates who took the Arizona state bar exam for the first time in July 2016 passed.

In California, after the state’s bar exam passage score fell to a 32-year low, the deans of 20 California law schools wrote the Chief Justice of the state Supreme Court asking that the minimum or cut score needed to pass its bar examination be lowered to allow a higher pass rate.

In truth, with apologies to John Randolph, the mackerel have been shining and ripening in the moonlight for sometime. Declining law school enrollments; falling admission standards; and collapsing bar passage rates are mere symptoms.

Until the legal establishment makes a substantive, detached, top-to-bottom assessment of what’s ailing the profession, the diagnosis will be incomplete; the medication will be misprescribed; and the patient will remain as sick as ever.

 

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[1]”Under diploma privilege, graduates of the University of Wisconsin Law School and Marquette University Law School are admitted to the practice of law by complying with the terms of SCR 40.03 — their school certifies their legal competence and the Board of Bar Examiners certifies their character and fitness for the practice of law.”

[2]Kristin Booth Glen, Thinking out of the Bar Exam Box: A Proposal to “MacCrate ” Entry to the Profession, 23 Pace L. Rev. 343 (2003)

[3] As of March 31, 2017, the total number of applicants was down 1.9 percent. See Karen Sloan, Number of LSAT Takers is Up, But Law School Applications Are Down, April 7, 2017.

Photo Credits: Oral exam, by Ben Sutherland at Flickr Creative Commons attribution; Quiet Please Testing, morguefile.com; stdy break, by nerissa’s ring at Flickr Creative Commons Attribution; Young Scholar in His Study: Melancholy by Pieter Codde, Wikimedia Commons, public domain; Long-jawed mackerel by Christian Gloor at Flickr Creative Commons Attribution.

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Elections for seats on the respective governing boards of the State Bar of Arizona and the State Bar of Nevada kicked off coincidentally on the same day, May 4, 2017. Although I’m an active member of the Nevada Bar, I can’t vote in board elections since I’m no longer a full-time resident of the Silver State. For this out-of-state Nevada lawyer, it’s taxation without representation, including coming new burdens like the board-approved extra hour of mandatory continuing legal education to support lawyer sobriety and sanity.

But even if I wanted to vote in Nevada, I haven’t a clue or a care about who’s running. Not like I know much about the 20 candidates running for 9 seats in Maricopa County, Arizona. Talk about a crowded field. Arizona has a 30-member board that “oversees the policy making and operation of the organization.”

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/5/50/Paper_bag_mask_with_4chan_smiley_at_Anon_raid.jpg/640px-Paper_bag_mask_with_4chan_smiley_at_Anon_raid.jpgThere’s only one openly declared reformer, although there may be one or two stealth nonconformists in the field. But if they’re not saying, who knows for certain?

The fact is it’s nothing but a popularity contest anyway. The candidates are largely unknown to most lawyers. How are you supposed pick 9 out of 20? It’s almost like a judicial retention election. So expect a lot of undervoting.

For lawyers in Pinal County, Arizona’s third-most populous county, there’s only one choice since only one candidate bothered to run. No surprise, it’s the pro status-quo incumbent.

What representation?

Taxation without representation used to be the order of the day here at least for board elections. But starting May 4th, out-of-state active members of the Arizona Bar can vote. Inactive and retired members, though, still have to assume the position. They can’t vote even though the Bar happily collects a yearly $265 and $215 respectively, for the compulsory ‘privilege’ of subsidizing a bloated bureaucracy.

The ugly truth is that even with the opportunity to vote, it’s taxation without representation just the same. State bar governing boards are free to act without the consent of those they supposedly represent, especially since board members don’t act as their actual representatives. Board members don’t serve to deliver the views of those that elected them. They’re told to be trustees of the public interest not guardians for the well-being, prosperity, and happiness of lawyers.

Unfortunately for candidates and their electors, it’s a conflicted interest that most who run haven’t acknowledged, understood or reconciled. They sidestep the Bar-advertised to serve-and-protect mission of regulating lawyers to protect the public. Instead, they campaign like they’re running for a trade association with promises of giving “increased value to all of its members—without imposing additional regulations” or providing “valuable services to its members.” 

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/5/51/Frijoles_refritos.jpg/320px-Frijoles_refritos.jpg

Term limits and beans.

Still, at least there will finally be new faces on the Arizona Board. That’s because the only good news coming out of the 2015 State Bar Mission & Governance Task Force was the overdue imposition of term limits on board members who with not much better to do wouldn’t go away. Holy frijoles, some of those board members were nearing 20 years on the board!

The new rule says a board member can serve “no more than three consecutive three-year terms.” Alas, like the proverbial bad penny, if after 9 consecutive years they sit out a full term, they can seek reelection to additional terms.

In Arizona, the election runs 15 days until 5 pm Friday, May 19th. Not that apparently members care. Based on voter turnout for the 2014 Arizona Bar Board Elections, fewer than one-quarter of active Arizona attorneys gave a hoot or a clue about voting for the candidates running that year.

In 2014, only 4093 members cast votes — and that was with much more interest and aggravation since the board had just passed an unwarranted dues increase. Clearly, the disinterest, resignation, and apathy is worse among lawyers than for political elections. With that in mind, I think voter turnout may be even less this time.

The solution.

The real solution is not a board election or ginning up voter enthusiasm. Structural change won’t come from within. The status quo is too well entrenched. The true believers are too satiated drinking bar integration Kool-aid.

Mandatory bars like Arizona’s and Nevada’s need to be split between a mandatory membership component that regulates lawyers to protect the public and a purely voluntary membership component that looks out for lawyers. Such a division of functions at last fixes the existing confusion and conflict between board members who view the mandatory bar as a regulatory agency and those who see its purpose as promoting member interests.

This means supporting reforms — either legislatively or through court petition. It doesn’t mean voting for more of the same.

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Photo Credits: “Run an effective meeting,” by Nguyen Hung Vu at Flickr Creative Commons attribution; “Paper bag Anon,” via Flickr Creative Commons through Wikimedia Commons; Diego’s frijoles at Flickr via Wikimedia Commons;”IMG_687,” by Michael Arrington at Flickr Creative Commons attribution; “wake up sheeple,” by ♫ feingoldens at Flickr Creative Commons attribution.

 

 

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Last July in Courts and Transparency, I discussed the public records case of Les Veskrna, a Lincoln, Nebraska family doctor and executive director of the Children’s Rights Council of Iowa and Nebraska. Veskrna had requested copies or inspection of the court’s continuing education records pertaining to the training judges receive in child custody and parenting time matters from the Nebraska State Court Administrator. After his request was denied, he sued.

A district court earlier ruled against the court administrator and ordered that under Nebraska public records law, the requested Judicial Branch Education (JBE) records be turned over to Veskrna. The court administrator promptly appealed to the Nebraska Supreme Court.

Yesterday, the Nebraska high court unanimously affirmed the lower court. It granted Veskrna a sweeping win and ordered access to the requested records, save for a redacted email. The Court also awarded him costs and attorney fees. Read State Ex Re. Veskrna v. Steel 296 Neb. 581 here and also see Supreme Court: Judges’ training documents are public record and Nebraska Supreme Court sets precedent by ruling that some judicial records are public.

No undue interference.

The Nebraska Supreme Court said the under state public records statutes, disclosing the requested records “does not unduly interfere with any essential function of the judicial branch.” 

The Court Administrator, Corey Steel, had argued that the 12 records requested by Veskrna were not public records. Steel also asserted disclosure would violate separation of powers were the Court “to accede to any statutory scheme that mandates the disclosure of JBE records.” The Court, however, explained there was no interference.

“We agree that whether or not we have adopted any court rules concerning the confidentiality of our JBE records, the public records statutes do not trump the constitutional imperative that one branch of government may not unduly interfere with the ability of another branch to perform its essential functions. We simply find no undue interference in disclosing the records at issue.”

One part of the decision drew my immediate interest. It should serve as prudent admonition for other states. Often enough, in my opinion, especially in school funding and state employee pension reform cases, there has been an unfortunate tendency for courts to stretch the bounds of permissible interference on another branch’s “essential functions.” See, for example, How far will the state Supreme Court go on McCleary? and Guinn v. Legislature of State of Nevada and Kansas Supreme Court rules school funding inadequate and Court’s pension ruling could cost Arizona taxpayers millions.

Courts are supposed to interpret not make law. Interests should be balanced and limits assessed with caution.

“It is for the judiciary to say when the Legislature has gone beyond its constitutional powers by enacting a law that invades the province of the judiciary. But the judiciary should “‘“proceed cautiously”’ in relying on ‘inherent authority’” and must give “‘due consideration for equally important executive and legislative functions.’” Determining the constitutional limits of the Legislature’s plenary lawmaking authority in the context of the separation of powers between the judicial function and power and the legislative one is a difficult endeavor that must proceed on a case-by-case basis.” [internal citations omitted]

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/2/21/NIXONcampaigns.jpg/320px-NIXONcampaigns.jpg

Richard Nixon, Wikimedia Commons, public domain.

Transparency as virtue.

The Nebraska Supreme Court also cited with approval United States v. Nixon. For those who skipped U.S. history class, Richard Nixon was the 37th President of the United States and had claimed executive privilege on national security grounds to block release of White House audiotapes as part of a cover-up related to the Watergate scandal. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 8-0 against him although it did recognize executive privilege as a legitimate power of the president — but not an absolute one. It rejected overly broad claims of executive privilege to shield records from public disclosure laws.

In this context, the Nebraska high court properly said “the ultimate inquiry when faced with the overlapping exercise of constitutionally delegated powers is the extent to which one branch is prevented from accomplishing its constitutionally assigned functions, balanced against the other branch’s need to promote the objectives within its constitutional authority.”  This is a key consideration.

But the other important principle has to be the respect accorded public access and transparency. “We have always supported transparency and the search for truth,” the Court declared. This must remain a cherished virtue even when the legal establishment habitually inclines toward reticence — if not obstinate opacity.

 

 

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If a petition submitted last year by Nevada’s Board of Governors is approved by the state supreme court, it’s going to cost lawyers a wee bit more money to practice in Nevada. Currently, Nevada lawyers are obligated to complete 12 hours of annual continuing legal education to keep their licenses. But if the state bar’s governing board has its way, a 13th hour will be tacked on to the annual requirement.

At an average cost of $40 per credit hour, this means that the 5th highest cost to practice mandatory bar in the U.S. will just be that much more expensive. Nevada will top out at just over $1,000 per year between mandatory annual fees of $490 and soon, 13 hours of mandatory continuing legal education.

The original petition asked that of the current 12 required hours of continuing legal education, 1 CLE credit be mandated in the area of “substance abuse, addictive disorders and/or mental health issues that impair professional competence.” Somewhere along the way, however, there was an increase in the total hours required. It became a petition that increases annual mandatory hours from 12 to 13 with the new required hour in the aforementioned areas.

Petition ADKT 0478 was filed with the Nevada Supreme Court in January 2016 with oral argument last June. Unfortunately, the chance to either complain or to applaud has come and gone. It’s only a matter of time now for the Court to issue its Order for ‘lucky’ No. 13. To quote Hank Jr., “It’s all over but the crying.”

Gobsmacked.

I really must crawl out from under my desert boulder. How did this newest imposition, this latest cost to practice burden slip past? The gobsmacking news came by way of the Nevada Bar’s “Message From The President” in the April 2017 Nevada Lawyer magazine.

I rarely read the dull bar magazine except for checking the Bar Counsel Report each month to see if anyone I know has been pierced by the sword of lawyer discipline. For some reason, I read Nevada Bar President Bryan Scott’s presidential epistle in April where he briefly mentioned the mandatory bar bureaucracy’s latest ‘feel-good’ do-something impediment. Scott also helpfully offered that “Supplementing this petition, the state bar has enhanced its curriculum to ensure attorneys have access to quality CLE programs related to these important topics.” Well, that’s no surprise. CLE is big business for state bars.

To be fair, in reply to my ‘ how dare you’ email query, Scott said, “We did not do this as a money-making venture. In fact, should the Court issue an order, we expect to offer a CLE on this topic at no charge.” Let’s see how long that lasts.

No proof CLE does anything.

I won’t paraphrase Roger “Verbal” Kint but the greatest trick ever pulled was convincing the legal establishment that forcing lawyers to take continuing legal education classes would make them more competent, more ethical, more professional or in the latest wrinkle in Nevada — more sober. The fact is there’s never been empirical proof that CLE delivers more competency, ethics, professionalism — or sobriety. As a matter of fact, there isn’t even the most rudimentary form of subject matter assessment since CLE participants are never tested to see what they have learned. The testing demands are greater getting a speeding ticket dismissed via a defensive driving course.

As for tutoring the trait of improved sobriety, the petition does a terrible job of explaining why a mandatory CLE in abuse, addiction and mental health issues is necessary. To be fair, there’s a talking point Scott sent that mentions studies from the 80’s that “have shown a connection between the legal profession and higher rates of mental health issues and related addictive disorders.” The same reference adds that “In February of this year, a more definitive study was released showing attorneys display addiction levels of dependent drinking at 20.6 percent as compared to 11.8 percent of a generally highly educated workforce.”

If that’s true, the rest of the population is in even worse shape. Should the Nanny State start requiring everybody take a class in sobriety? According to a Newsweek report, 30 percent of Americans have had an alcohol-use disorder. Citing a study published in the journal JAMA Psychiatry, the article states: “America has a drinking problem, and it’s getting worse. A new study shows that 32 million Americans, nearly one in seven adults, have struggled with a serious alcohol problem in the last year alone. It gets worse if you look at numbers across people’s entire lives: In that case, nearly one-third have suffered an “alcohol-use disorder.”

https://cdn.someecards.com/someecards/usercards/630ae40facf324702bf98d936c73f348eb.pngBut even if you take at face value that lawyers are worse on substance abuse/mental health than the rest of the population, where’s the proof a one-hour class does anything to fix the problem? Then again, if there’s one thing lawyers are good at is reaching their conclusions.

So appropriately, under “Conclusion,” the petition jumps to the conclusion that because the board of governors’ purposes include “upholding the honor, integrity, professionalism and dignity of the profession of law and the enhancement of the professional competence and ethical conduct of members of the bar . . . mandatory education in abuse, addiction and mental health is necessary.” And it’s also “essential to public protection.”

More lawyer shape-shifting in the offing.

In September last year, the Florida Supreme Court approved a rule amendment granting Florida the dubious distinction of being first to require lawyers to take at least three hours of CLE in an approved technology program as part of the 33 total hours of CLE that Florida lawyers are forced to take over a three-year period. More than half the states have adopted the duty of technology competence for lawyers. It’s only a matter of time before other jurisdictions follow Florida and start demanding mandatory CLE in technology courses, too.

The ABA is the organization we have to ‘thank’ for these new recommended mandates, including mandatory substance abuse CLE. And it now has one more recommended lawyer transformation encumbrance in the works. Be on the look out for mandatory diversity continuing legal education.

Not satisfied with approving a new diversity policy for itself directing its ABA CLE program panelists be diverse, last June the ABA passed Resolution 107.  It asks “licensing and regulatory authorities that require MCLE to make diversity and inclusion programs a separate credit, but without increasing the total number of hours required.”

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Photo credit: “Surprise,” by Erik Cleves Kristensen at Flickr Creative Commons attribution license; “the view from below” by David Long at Flickr Creative Commons attribution license.

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Had I waited another day, I could’ve added one more head shake to my last post. Last night, the Arizona Republic reported Jodi Arias prosecutor Juan Martinez would not be disciplined over the publication of his book about the Jodi Arias murder trial.

Several bar complaints were separately filed against Martinez last year in connection to the internationally notorious murder case. In its story, the Republic makes particular mention of the bar complaint filed by the local defense lawyer bar that in part accused Martinez of violating ethical rules regarding “the existence and content of certain exhibits previously sealed by court order.”

There’s little doubt the complaining defense lawyers aren’t pleased with the decision of the Arizona Supreme Court’s Attorney Probable Cause Discipline Committee. The Committee reviews Arizona State Bar recommendations for attorney discipline.

It is also a group which parenthetically happens to have a petition pending before the Arizona Supreme Court that would permit the imprudent entrenchment of its current membership by removing the two consecutive three-year limitation on members’ terms of office.

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/c/c8/%22As_we_see_%27em%2C%22_a_volume_of_cartoons_and_caricatures_of_Los_Angeles_citizens_%281900%29_%2814589842549%29.jpg/163px-%22As_we_see_%27em%2C%22_a_volume_of_cartoons_and_caricatures_of_Los_Angeles_citizens_%281900%29_%2814589842549%29.jpg

According to the news report, the Committee dismissed a charge filed against Deputy Maricopa County Attorney Juan Martinez for writing the book, Conviction: The Untold Story of Putting Jodi Arias Behind Bars.

The story quotes from the Committee’s decision, “This matter is being dismissed as respondent obtained permission from his employer to disseminate information relative to his representation in the state v. Arias case. Similarly, while his book made general reference to the existence of sealed testimony and exhibits, the references did not contain specific content and was, in some circumstances, publicly available despite the court order(s) sealing the testimony and exhibits.”

Interestingly, demonstrating that book writing about a trial is not the sole province of the prosecution, Arias’ former defense lawyer Kirk Nurmi was disciplined over an ethical violation involving publication of a ‘tell all’ book without client consent, Trapped with Ms. Arias: Part 1 of 3 From Getting the File to Being Ready for Trial.  However, in Nurmi’s case, the sanction was disbarment. See “Jodi Arias’ defense lawyer agrees to be disbarred over tell-all book rather than face disciplinary hearings”

There’s an ethical rule, ER 1.9, that prohibits a lawyer who has formerly represented a client in a matter from thereafter using information relating to the representation to the disadvantage of the former client except as permitted by the ethical rules “or when the information has become generally known.” The trick, of course, comes in defining what is “generally known.”

The rule is not without its critics, one of the most notable being Michael Cicchini. Also see Cicchini’s “On the Absurdity of Model Rule 1.9,” 40 Vermont L. Rev. 69 (2015) and his “Petition to Modify SCR 20:1.9(c).” filed last year with the Wisconsin Supreme Court

File:"As we see 'em," a volume of cartoons and caricatures of Los Angeles citizens (1900) (14773300391).jpgVagaries of Proportionality.

There are rules governing the imposition of lawyer discipline. But when it comes to when and how those rules are applied, weighted, and especially how sanctions are proportioned remains anybody’s guess. One wonders, for instance, if another lawyer similarly situated but less well-known than Martinez would have received the same pass on discipline?

No less than the Arizona Supreme Court has recognized that when it comes to reviewing similar cases to assess the proportionality of the recommended sanction, proportionality review is “an imperfect process.” In re Owens, 182 Ariz. 121, 127, 893 P.3d 1284, 1290 (1995). This is because no two cases “are ever alike.” Id

Frankly, there are times when the sanction meted out appears to bear little resemblance to so-called similar cases. See, for example, the disciplinary case of Edward Moriarity where pursuant to a settlement the accused attorney was disbarred in Arizona — a sanction no other reciprocal jurisdiction opted to follow. Indeed, the sanction was subsequently criticized by a federal judge as noted in Board of Prof’l Responsibility v. Moriarity 345 P.3d 51 (2015). Also see “Wyoming Supreme Court Censures Montana Attorney.”

After reviewing the attorney’s notification of the Arizona disbarment, Judge Dana L. Christensen, Chief United States District Judge for the District of Montana, issued an order declining “to impose any discipline at this time. However, if the Montana Supreme Court decides to levy discipline, this Court will revisit the matter at that time.” Moreover, Judge Christensen discussed “substantial reasons not to order identical discipline” not the least being that it “was grossly disproportionate to Moriarity’s alleged misconduct.”

To further make his point, the judge cited an earlier case where the Arizona Supreme Court had suspended an attorney for six months after the attorney was found to have filed multiple frivolous actions over the course of several years whereas by contrast, Moriarity was disbarred on the accusation of having filed “only one frivolous lawsuit.”

To protect not to punish.

File:Stuart Chapin and Company (3093686330).jpgHas there ever been a disciplined lawyer — let alone a zealous bar counsel prosecutor — that hasn’t deemed the sanction imposed a punishment? The state supreme court, however, steadfastly demurs reflexively noting it “has long held that ‘the objective of disciplinary proceedings is to protect the public, the profession and the administration of justice and not to punish the offender.’” Alcorn, 202 Ariz. at 74, 41 P.3d at 612 (2002) (quoting In re Kastensmith, 101 Ariz. 291, 294, 419 P.2d 75, 78 (1966).

All the same, one can’t help but be reminded of the oft-quoted spare-the-rod-spoil-the-child sop: This hurts me more than it hurts you.” Like sanctions ‘to protect not to punish,’ the words are counterintuitive cold comfort for those on the receiving end.

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Photo Credits: Dog gif “Really,” at Giphy.com; “As we see ’em,” at Wikimedia Commons;“As we see ’em,” at Wikimedia Commons; Building gif, at Giphy.com; Stuart_Chapin_and_Company_(3093686330).jpg at Wikimedia Commons, public domain.

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