Disciplining Lawyers in
The Following Investigative Reports are by
Thomas D. Williams, Courant Staff Writer
Disciplining Bad Lawyers A Long, Slow Process
While State Panel Deliberates, Questionable Attorneys Continue To Practice
As a fraud investigator for the state Department of Social Services, Kathleen T. Griffin has heard many tales of trust betrayed. Now she has one of her own.
More than 3½ years ago,
The Bad Ones
Between 1995 and 2002, 74 lawyers accounted for 342 complaints. Two had 14 each, while others received from two to 12 complaints each. Izzo had the most, with 29. If
Even Single Complaint Can Drag On
While cases involving repeat offenders often take a long time to resolve, even a single complaint can drag on. Consider Pat Feeley, 63, a writer who sued her lawyer,
How The System Operates
And then, the lawyer can appeal to a higher court.
In most states, grievance committees devote prime resources to investigating and punishing the worst - usually repeat - offenders. Cases involving repeat offenders require expeditious treatment, experts say. As a measure of effectiveness, grievance committees in many states readily disclose the average time it takes to resolve complaints. In
New procedural rules took effect Jan. 1. They were intended to address the long delays. The committee now has two lawyers to assist complainants. In the past, many of those aggrieved represented themselves, sometimes delaying proceedings with their lack of knowledge. Gone now, however, is the client's right of appeal when a local committee decision favors the lawyer. On the other hand, lawyers with three reprimands on their record now will have their cases expedited if a fourth complaint is filed against them. Some critics say
Giving the committee the authority to issue emergency orders, subject to judicial review, when a client's money or property is at risk or lawyers are committing repeated misconduct.
Sending serious multiple complaints directly to statewide committee hearings, bypassing the local committee.
Maintaining, rather than erasing, records of attorney grievance proceedings.
Suzanne Mishkin, an associate counsel for HALT, a nonprofit legal reform group evaluating lawyer grievance committees nationwide, said
Last year, HALT gave
The phone number of the grievance committee is 860-568-5157. The available grievance committee decisions on lawyers are at this web address: www.jud.state.ct.us/faq/grievance/default.htm. The website where many questions about lawyers are answered, including where a person can locate the Statewide Grievance Committee, is: www.jud.state.ct.us/faq/attorney.html.
Courant Staff Writer Josh Kovner assisted in the reporting of this story.
Panel Finally Clears Lawyer; Sex Charge Filed 5 Years Ago
By Thomas D. Williams
Much of what ails lawyer oversight in Connecticut is laid bare in the dragged out ethics investigation of former state prosecutor Anthony Troy Martin. Although Martin was charged nearly five years ago with sexual assault, it was not until last month that the Statewide Grievance Committee finally concluded its inquiry and cleared him. The case could have been concluded 3½ years earlier, if the judge or prosecutor handling Martin's criminal case had addressed the ethics issue, as Rules of Professional Conduct require. Instead, the grievance committee brought a complaint itself in 2000, because the court never dealt with it. In 1999, Martin, then 33, was arrested after a woman told
The grievance committee decides whether a lawyer violated the rules of conduct.
Just before the disposition of Martin's criminal case, Martin's lawyer, Hubert J. Santos, convinced supervisory criminal court Judge Elliot N. Solomon to allow the case to be heard instead by Judge Howard Scheinblum, who presided in the same court where Martin prosecuted defendants. Scheinblum quickly granted Martin's application for accelerated rehabilitation and six months' probation and ordered him to do 100 hours of community service. Attorney Wesley Spears, representing the woman Martin was accused of assaulting, told Scheinblum the woman did not object to Martin's probation. Spears also told the judge she had settled a related lawsuit against Martin. It was later publicly disclosed that she received a $25,000 settlement. Martin was suspended with pay following his arrest. He resigned from the prosecutor's job just before Scheinblum granted his probation. But neither Scheinblum nor the prosecutor, Kevin Russo, did anything to resolve the ethics issues related to Martin's license to practice law. State court judges and prosecutors usually make sure they deal with the status of an accused lawyer's license to practice law, as ethics codes require. They can decide on the record that there is no worthy ethics issue, refer the allegations to the grievance committee or call for a court hearing to decide if punishment is necessary. Scheinblum declined comment on the case. Russo gave no reason for not acting, but said his inaction was of little consequence because the grievance committee decided to review Martin's conduct on its own. The Hartford-New Britain District Grievance Committee, reacting to a news story about the disposition of Martin's criminal case, took up the ethics issue on its own initiative six weeks after Martin's probation began. The grievance proceeded so slowly that by the time the district committee was ready for a hearing, Martin had finished probation. As a result, the criminal case against Martin, by law, had been erased. Furthermore, Martin refused to testify before the committee, invoking his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. Spears refused to identify his client, the accuser, as a witness, according to the panel's ruling. With no evidence, no witnesses and no criminal case, the district committee decided to drop it. Dissatisfied with the outcome at the district level, the statewide committee chose to pick up the matter. After some initial difficulty locating the woman, the committee introduced the woman's testimony against Martin from a prior administrative proceeding. She testified that he sexually assaulted her. Martin testified the sex was consensual. The state committee held its final hearing on Martin's case in May. Its options included clearing Martin, reprimanding him or referring the case to Superior Court for possible suspension or disbarment.
After he was cleared last month, Martin withdrew his state Supreme Court challenge to the committee's inquiry. His grievance committee file was erased, as new ethics rules require. Under old rules, all complaints reviewed by the statewide committee were available to the public. Asked about the long delay in resolving Martin's grievance, Atherton B. Ryan, counsel to the Hartford-New
Questionable Counsel: Woman Says Man With No Law Degree Worked On Her Custody Case
By Thomas D. Williams
Margaret Briggs Brooks of
Brooks, 47, was fighting over custody of her two young sons and financial support during a bitter divorce case. She said she relied on a lawyer she initially trusted, only to have her legal and personal problems significantly worsen. When she complained to the Statewide Grievance Committee, the body of volunteers that polices attorneys in
To counter Lawrence's denials that Beeman worked for her, Brooks produced a letter from a Greenwich doctor saying he received a call from a man identifying himself as Beeman, Brooks' attorney and friend, seeking information about her mental health.
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