When a lawyer behaves badly, either as a lawyer or as a citizen, he or she can be prevented from practicing law in a particular court by being disbarred (which is often permanent) or suspended. Suspensions can last for days or years, depending on the court and the misconduct the lawyer committed.
Ways a Lawyer Can Be Suspended
Within the United States, the rules around suspending a lawyer from practice vary from court to court. The process varies somewhat, too.
Infractions that lead to suspension range from sexual assault to being nasty and unprofessional toward other lawyers, and from violation of confidentiality to being minutes late with paperwork. Stealing or “misappropriating” clients’ money comes up in a number of cases.
In Wisconsin, these types of cases are heard by the Office of Lawyer Regulation.
Generally speaking, the Office of Lawyer Regulation investigates allegations of bad lawyer behavior and makes the decision whether they should dismiss the case or give the attorney involved a reprimand. In some cases, they’ll hold hearings just as they would in any other court proceeding.
Notable Recent Suspension Cases
In a recent case, Kenneth Jay Warren, a lawyer in Ohio, was suspended pending further action after he was convicted of felony sexual assault.
Texas capital defense lawyer David Dow was suspended for a year after two instances of filing paperwork late, which can be considered contempt of court. In this case, the court that suspended him is being called out for possibly overstepping its authority.
Larry J. Feldman was suspended from practicing law in Maryland after his 19-year-old client, Isiah Callaway, was murdered. According to the courts, Feldman violated the state’s rules of professional conduct with a breech of confidentiality that led to Callaway’s death.
For deliberately causing delays to a court proceeding, lying to the court and ignoring a subpoena, Rhode Island’s Keven A. McKenna had his license to practice law suspended for one year by the Maryland Supreme Court.
So yes, lawyers can be suspended. Because we’re tasked with ensuring fairness, the protection of legal rights and several other responsibilities, we’re held to strict standards. From the Office of Lawyer Regulation to the Wisconsin Supreme Court, there are always checkpoints of accountability for attorneys in Wisconsin.
Are we tough enough on lawyers when it comes to suspensions and disbarment? Let me know what you think here or on the Carlos Gamino Facebook page.