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D.C. court weighs scope of negotiation power for bar disciplinary office

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(Reuters) – The D.C. bar’s disciplinary office has requested an appeals court to approve its power to barter lesser penalties for attorneys when disbarment is the presumptive sanction.

A 3-judge panel of the District of Columbia Court of Appeals, the best native court in metropolis that additionally oversees legal professional misconduct disputes, on Wednesday weighed whether or not a three-year bar suspension for a lawyer accused of “reckless misappropriation” of consumer funds was unduly lenient.

Such an ethics cost carries the presumption of disbarment, however within the case earlier than the court, the lawyer, Paul Mensah, negotiated a decrease penalty with the D.C. Office of Disciplinary Counsel. The deal suspends his license for three years and requires him to point out health to follow regulation if he ever desires to rejoin the bar. Disbarment in D.C. comes with a minimal five-year suspension, and proceedings can take longer to resolve than a negotiated penalty.

“What is the public perception going to be if we say that, ‘Here’s a lawyer who has engaged in misconduct and is willing to be immediately suspended,'” Hamilton Fox III, the highest D.C. disciplinary lawyer, advised the appeals panel. “But because we want to go through this process and have him disbarred, he’s going to be allowed to practice for two more years. Removing that lawyer more quickly serves the interest of the disciplinary system.”

D.C. Court of Appeals Judges Roy McLeese and Joshua Deahl, sitting with Senior Decide John Steadman, thought of the place and the way to attract the traces governing how a lot discretion the disciplinary office ought to have in crafting penalty offers.

Fox didn’t instantly touch upon Thursday, and Justin Flint of Eccleston & Wolf, a lawyer for Mensah, didn’t reply to a message in search of remark.

The panel judges spent the majority of the hour-long listening to attempting to glean the scope and affect of a 1990 determination from the appeals court.

That call, issued earlier than the D.C. bar had a system of negotiated self-discipline in place, mentioned reckless or intentional misappropriation of funds ought to lead to disbarment until there are “extraordinary” circumstances.

“Our court, in dealing with negotiated cases, has always looked at the acceptable range,” Steadman mentioned on the listening to. “We have no range in this sort of case, misappropriation of funds, except in exceptional cases.”

Mensah, a member of the D.C. bar since 2003, didn’t contest the claims that he misappropriated consumer funds in a private damage matter and a debt assortment lawsuit that settled in 2017 for $15,200.

His lawyer was aligned with the advice from the D.C. bar’s disciplinary office that the D.C. appeals court approve the negotiated punishment.

“This case is the model for what this court wants to set forth for the bar,” Flint mentioned. “Knowing that he has a problem with this trust account — admits to it, owns it, has remorse, hires a bookkeeper, and makes sure that everything is correct.”

The case is Within the Matter of: Paul T. Mensah, District of Columbia Court of Appeals, No. 20-BG-560.

For D.C. Office of Bar Counsel: Hamilton Fox III

For Mensah: Justin Flint of Eccleston & Wolf

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