Four local lawyers face discipline
Areas of Focus | 2008/03/06 18:51

The Florida Supreme Court has disciplined 30 attorneys, including four in Tampa Bay.

Terence John Daly of Tampa was suspended for two years retroactive to June 7, according to a Jan. 10 court order. Daly allegedly did not communicate with clients, failed to diligently pursue their cases, failed to competently represent them, failed to protect their interests when ending representation, engaged in misconduct and criminal misconduct, and violated rules regarding trust accounts, a Florida Bar release said. He was admitted to practice in 1987.

Kevin J. Hubbart of Clearwater is to receive a public reprimand and was ordered to attend Ethics School pursuant to a Jan. 17 court order. He allegedly advised clients without notifying them of a conflict of interest while he was administratively suspended for not completing continuing education requirements. He was also charged with failure to properly maintain a trust account. He was admitted to practice in 1996.

Warren Thomas LaFray of Clearwater was suspended for 36 months, effective 30 days from a Jan. 10 court order. Upon reinstatement, LaFray will be on probation for two years. Allegedly LaFray misused client trust funds, commingling them with other funds, and failed to comply with basic trust accounting practices and procedures. He neglected client matters in two cases and refused to refund fees owed to a client, the release said. He was admitted to practice in 1976.

Jessica Kathleen Miller of Holiday was suspended until further order of the court pursuant to a Jan. 15 court order. In its petition for emergency suspension, the Bar stated that Miller "has engaged in an escalating pattern of neglect that has resulted in effective abandonment of her law practice and a failure to account for and deliver funds belonging to clients and third parties," the release said. In the past two years, approximately 25 clients and other individuals have filed complaints with the Bar against Miller. She was admitted to practice in 2003.

As an official agency of the Florida Supreme Court, The Florida Bar and its Department of Lawyer Regulation are charged with administering a statewide disciplinary system to enforce Supreme Court rules of professional conduct for the more than 80,000 lawyers admitted to practice law in Florida.



S.C. giving 1st bar exam since test ruled flawed
Court News | 2008/03/06 03:18
Warren Westbrook "Brook" Wills was in Paris on an international law internship in October when he saw the disappointing news on the S.C. Judicial Department's Web site.

He hadn't passed the July bar exam, which meant he couldn't practice law in South Carolina.

But a week later, he learned the Supreme Court had announced that 20 others, including Wills, had passed after the court threw out one essay section.

"So now I've gone from the depths of despair to the height of joy in a week," recalled Wills, 39, now a lawyer in Atlanta.

As a new group of law students sits for the bar exam today, two of the 20 people whose grades were changed talked publicly for the first time to The State newspaper about the exam and how the court handled the matter.

The group includes eight Charleston School of Law graduates and two USC School of Law graduates.

Another group of law school graduates is scheduled to take the seven-section bar exam over three days starting today. As of Friday, 245 people had signed up to take the test, said Dan Shearouse, clerk of the Supreme Court.

More than 380 people who passed the July exam were sworn in to the S.C. Bar in November.

They included the daughters of Rep. Jim Harrison, R-Richland, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee; and longtime Circuit Judge Paul Burch of Pageland. Catherine Harrison and Kendall Burch were among the 20 who passed the July test after the Supreme Court's intervention.

Jim Harrison and Paul Burch earlier told The State they had contacted court officials after learning their daughters had failed the exam. Harrison, an attorney, stressed that he was inquiring about the unusually high number of examinees who had flunked the wills, trusts and estates essay section.

Chief Justice Jean Toal -- and the Supreme Court in prepared statements on their Web site -- have said justices didn't know the identities of the 20 before they threw out the wills, trusts and estates section on Nov. 2.

"I don't think what those fathers of those two girls did was wrong," one of the 20 said. "There have been other dads in the past who have done this."

Still, he didn't believe that Harrison's and Burch's contact with court officials -- which might have violated court rules -- influenced the high court's decision, noting, "I have faith that the system wasn't going to lay down for these two dads."



DC Young Lawyers in for Bar Exam Sticker Shock
Court News | 2008/03/06 03:16

An attempt to save young lawyers from higher bar exam fees has failed in the Maryland Senate, meaning prospective attorneys could pay hundreds more to pass the bar. A bill headed for approval in the Senate would increase bar exam fees from $150 up to a possible $400. The move comes as officials say current fees don't cover the cost of administering and grading the exams.

The bill was put off while one lawyer in the Senate tried to amend the bill to lower bar exam fees for young lawyers. But the amendment was rejected 36-11 Thursday after another senator asked why the state should pick up the tab for people who flunk the bar exam.

The bill must clear one more vote in the Senate before heading to the House.



NJ State pays $250K to settle lawsuit
Headline Legal News | 2008/03/06 03:14

The state quietly agreed to settle a little-known lawsuit that claimed Public Defender Yvonne Segars improperly fired a deputy for political reasons, three weeks before Gov. Jon S. Corzine announced plans to nominate Segars to be a Superior Court judge.

The state has agreed to pay $250,000 to former deputy public defender Christine Leone-Zwillinger, who was a supervisor in a unit that represented children who were abused and neglected, until Segars became public defender under Gov. James E. McGreevey in September 2002.

Within a month, Leone-Zwillinger, 57, of Cherry Hill, who had run for Camden County sheriff as a Republican in 1997, was fired by Segars, even though her position did not involve policy-making or require her to be of the same party as the governor, the 2004 federal suit claims.

"Upon information and belief, defendant Segars made the decision to terminate plaintiff at the request of defendant McGreevey, or those acting on his behalf, on account of plaintiff's affiliation with the Republican party and to do a "political favor' for the governor in order to make room for John (Doran), Esq., who is a Democrat," the suit says.

The suit also claims Leone-Zwillinger got an "exceptional" rating — 28 of 30 points — on her last performance review and that Doran's qualifications were "vastly inferior."

In April 2007, U.S. District Judge Freda L. Wolfson dismissed McGreevey and the Office of Public Defender from the suit, leaving Segars as the sole defendant. Court records indicate the case was settled Feb. 1 — 20 days before Corzine filed a notice of intent to nominate Segars, 52, of Ridgewood, for the Superior Court in Bergen County.

Both Segars and Doran declined comment through a spokesman, who referred all questions to Corzine's office, which citing confidentiality reasons refused to say whether Segars disclosed the matter on her nomination questionnaire or whether she was deemed qualified by a panel of the New Jersey State Bar Association.

The chairman of that review panel, Ralph J. Lamparello, said the committee cannot discuss its confidential reviews of potential judges and prosecutors. Even members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which must approve appointments, don't learn whether a candidate is deemed qualified unless the bar association chooses to testify against a candidate a governor nominated despite being deemed unfit by the bar association.

Corzine spokesman Jim Gardner said the administration was aware of the lawsuit but unconcerned about it.

"The office is well aware of this legal matter because it is a matter of public record and is being handled by (the Department of) Law and Public Safety," Gardner said.

Asked why the state would settle the suit as it neared trial after more than three years in litigation, David Wald, a spokesman for the Department of Law and Public Safety, said "We thought this was a fair and reasonable settlement."

Chris Farella, the state-paid private lawyer retained to represent Segars, did not return calls for comment. The state has paid his firm $31,301 to defend the suit in 2005 and 2006. The Office of the Attorney General could not provide cost figures for 2004 and for 2007 through the present.

Richard M. Schall, Leone-Zwillinger's lawyer, declined comment until the settlement is signed, which he expected to happen in a week.



Legal Services Are Available To Disaster Applicants
Areas of Focus | 2008/03/06 03:13
Through an agreement with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Federal Emergency Management Agency ( FEMA ), the American Bar Association's Young Lawyer Division and the State Bar of Kentucky, free legal services are available to low-income disaster victims who have insufficient resources to secure adequate legal services.

Persons who were affected by the February 5-6 storm and tornadoes in Allen, Christian, Fayette, Hardin, Hart, Meade, Mercer, Monroe and Muhlenberg counties can call 877-245-7200 for legal services. All callers are asked to leave a voicemail message with their contact information, county of residence, and the nature of their legal problem. Messages will be checked Monday through Friday between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. Upon receipt, the caller's information will go to a volunteering attorney or one of the following legal organizations in Kentucky:

Kentucky Bar Association
American Bar Association's Young Lawyer Division
The Legal Aid Organization ( Kentucky's Volunteer Lawyer Program )
"Sometimes after a disaster, residents face complex issues and need legal advice," said Federal Coordinating Officer Michael Bolch. "FEMA is committed to helping persons in the commonwealth of Kentucky get the help they need to fully recover."

Available services include:

Help with insurance claims
Counseling on landlord-tenant and other housing issues
Assistance with home repair contracts
Assistance in consumer protection matters, remedies and procedures
Counseling on mortgage foreclosure problems
Replacement of wills and other important documents
Drafting of powers of attorney and other estate administration issues
Referring individuals to state or local agencies that may be of further assistance
Legal services are available to disaster victims in a fair, nondiscriminatory and equitable way.

Those who suffered damage from the storm and tornadoes are encouraged to register with FEMA by calling 800-621-FEMA ( 3362 ) or 800-462-7585 ( TTY ) for those with speech or hearing impairment. Individuals may also register online at www.fema.gov.

FEMA coordinates the federal government's role in preparing for, preventing, mitigating the effects of, responding to, and recovering from all domestic disasters, whether natural or man-made, including acts of terror.


Legislators get bar's ear on lawyer discipline
Headline Legal News | 2008/03/06 03:07

Two House members pressing to take the power to regulate lawyers away from the State Supreme Court have won a meeting with an American Bar Association committee visiting Columbia.

The committee is in town reviewing the state’s lawyer discipline system. Chief Justice Jean Toal requested the review more than a year ago, long before the questions were raised about the court’s handling of a bar exam controversy.

The lawmakers, Reps. Kris Crawford, R-Florence, and Ted Pitts, R-Lexington, will meet with the ABA committee Friday.

The inner workings of the state judiciary have gotten statewide attention since November. At that time, news reports disclosed the Supreme Court had quietly thrown out a section of last July’s bar exam, a move that reversed the grades of 20 people who flunked the exam.

Those 20, now lawyers, included children of prominent state officials and law clerks to state judges.

The Supreme Court, the final authority in the matter, said the grade changes were made because of scoring errors. It has declined requests from The State for detailed information on its decision.

“I just believe when you look at any branch of government, there should be checks and balances and divisions of power,” said Crawford, a physician. He is lead sponsor of a bill that would remove lawyer regulation from the Supreme Court’s supervision and place it under the S.C. Department of Labor Licensing and Regulation.

LLR regulates other S.C. professions, including medicine and architecture. Part of the executive branch under Gov. Mark Sanford, its decisions can be appealed to the judiciary branch of state government up to the Supreme Court. But lawyers’ regulatory and disciplinary procedures, from start to finish, stay within the judiciary branch.

“We are glad to have (the lawmakers) talk to the committee,” Toal said Tuesday.

But the committee really isn’t set up to hear observations on proposed changes in the law, she said.

“If they want to see me, if they want to conduct hearings, that is the way to approach it,” she said, adding she would be glad to provide information to lawmakers about practices in other states.

The Supreme Court has paid a fee to the ABA to finance the committee’s evaluation. The ABA unit evaluates various states’ legal disciplinary systems.

Toal did not know how much the committee’s study would cost. Asked if its report would be made public, Toal said she won’t know until the report is done, but added, “I imagine some sort of results would be made public.”

Crawford said he hopes a Judiciary Committee subcommittee, where his bill now is, will soon hold hearings on the matter.

Pitts, a real estate broker, wants the results of the ABA committee’s findings to be made public.

“Our legal system is the foundation of this country, and the general public just wants to make sure everybody is treated fairly and equally,” Pitts said.



Lawyers seek removal of judge from their cases
Areas of Focus | 2008/03/06 02:55
Two African-American attorneys have asked that criminal District Judge Elizabeth Berry be disqualified from hearing the cases of 18 defendants they represent because, they say, she is prejudiced against African-Americans.

Berry strongly denied the assertion, saying that an e-mail message attributed to her is a fake.

The recusal motions were filed Tuesday by Fort Worth attorneys Glynis McGinty and Lesa Pamplin. The motion states that Berry directed a racial epithet at a court reporter in an e-mail she sent to her court reporter, Judy Miller.

Berry, who was in Mexico on Tuesday, flew back to Fort Worth on Wednesday to respond to the assertions.

"The reason I came back from out of the country was that I'm the steward of this court," Berry said. "The fact that someone is publicly alleging that this court is run by a racist judge is not something I'm going to stand for.

"I absolutely did not author the e-mail, dictate the e-mail, type the e-mail or send the e-mail. It's incendiary, racist, offensive language that I do not use and did not use or put in this document."

Miller said she didn't receive the e-mail, and Berry didn't write it.

"To prove authenticity is beyond our expertise," she said. "But if it was sent from her computer, Judge Berry didn't send it."

Berry has been judge of Criminal District Court No. 3 since 2003.

Pamplin contends that the e-mail, purportedly directed at court reporter Reginald "Reggie" Butler, began circulating around the courthouse last week, nearly 10 months after it supposedly was written. Pamplin said another lawyer showed her a copy of the e-mail but she does not know its original source.

Butler said Tuesday that he didn't want to comment.

On Tuesday, McGinty and Pamplin issued a news release, which they said was drafted by a number of Tarrant County's African-American defense attorneys. The two-page release cited the offensive e-mail and called for Berry's immediate resignation and Miller's immediate termination.

"It's kind of unsettling to know that in 2008 these kind of e-mails are being sent on a government computer -- and she's a judge," Pamplin said.

Attorneys who know Berry say they find it hard to believe that the veteran attorney and judge is racist.

"I've known Elizabeth as a district attorney, a defense attorney, a judge and a friend, and I can't imagine Elizabeth using that kind of language or sentiment," criminal defense attorney Jack Strickland said. "Something about this deal doesn't smell right. I wish people would give her the benefit of the doubt before they jump to conclusions."

Berry said she learned of the e-mail last month when she was notified of a confidential inquiry. She would not say whether the state Commission on Judicial Ethics made the inquiry. Commission officials also would not comment. But a Tarrant County Sheriff's Department report says a commission investigator contacted the department in December.

The judge questioned why McGinty and Pamplin would publicize the e-mail months after it purportedly was written.

"Don't you find it extremely coincidental and suspicious that over nine months later when I happen to be out of the country and unable to respond that these allegations are made public for the first time?" she said.

Leon Reed Jr., vice-president of the Tarrant County Black Bar Association, said the accusations should be investigated but that Berry should have been given the opportunity to respond before the issue was publicized.

"We're dealing with a very serious allegation that could have extensive legal ramifications," Reed said. "The first thing we should do is sit down with the judge. If she denies writing the e-mail, at a minimum an investigation should take place to determine if the e-mail was generated from her computer."

Berry said the e-mail itself raises questions about its author. For one thing, she said, she uses block letters to sign her e-mails, not the cursive signature contained in the racist e-mail.

And the date of the e-mail -- Monday, May 2, 2007 -- is incorrect, Berry said. A calendar shows that May 2 fell on a Wednesday last year.

Pamplin said she never intended to suggest that the e-mail is authentic. Her intent, she said, was to seek an independent investigation of what she considers a serious allegation.

"This is a collective action by a lot of attorneys who have concerns about this," Pamplin said. "That's why we said 'allegedly' an e-mail was sent. We're not saying it was definitive. We're saying it needs to be investigated."

Berry said it would be difficult to prove whether she did or did not send the e-mail because the county computer automatically deletes employee e-mails every 90 days.

But she said she would join with anyone, including her accusers, who wants a forensic examination of her computer to determine whether the e-mail originated there.

"If there's a way to show that the e-mail was sent or not sent, created or not created, I'd like to see that done," Berry said.

Pamplin agreed.

"If she welcomes an investigation, we welcome an investigation," Pamplin said.



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