Wednesday, April 29, 2009

61st Installment. State Bar: For employers, against employees

National-state-bar establishmentarians discussed the unwarranted discipline for an attorney's trivial misrepresentation regarding the dates of his employment. (See Here's how the California Bar Journal summarized the case:

[An attorney] was suspended for one year, stayed, placed on two years of probation with an actual 60-day suspension and was ordered to take the MPRE within one year. The order took effect Aug. 1, 2008.

[He] stipulated that he presented an outdated resume to a prospective employer, committing an act of moral turpitude.

He left the law firm where he worked when it downsized and hired a resume writing service. However, his new resume was not ready when he heard about a job opening, so he submitted an old version, without revising the dates of his previous employment. The resume gave the impression that he was still employed.

[He] later faxed a new resume to the prospective employer but it did not clarify his dates of employment.

David Cameron Carr, president of California-bar-defense-establishment Association of Discipline Defense Counsel, commented revealingly:

Yes, it struck me as unduly harsh, as well, but unfortunately in keeping with the punitive mindset of California State Bar prosecutors since Scott Drexel took over as Chief Trial Counsel in 2005. Almost every discipline decision in California and probably most other states recites that discipline is not punitive but exists to protect the public. It is getting harder and harder to keep this pretense up; those of us who deal with the discipline prosecutors on a daily basis in California see discipline driven by a desire to punish lawyers whom they have decided are bad people. As a former discipline prosecutor (and a former member of NOBC) it is distressing. This punitive mindset has galvanized discipline defense attorneys to formalize our defense bar organization, the Association of Defense Discipline Defense Counsel.

Unlike the Mike Moity case, in which an attorney faced discipline for the tone of voice he took with a magistrate's law clerk, the bar justified discipline under the moral-turpitude standard. Moral turpitude is the one true reason for discipline, but this prosecution shows that unequally applying the right qualitative standard leaves injustices: abuse of prosecutorial discretion and biased meddling in attorneys' disputes.

A guilty defendant can rarely mount an equal-protection defense, giving American prosecutors almost unbridled discretion over charging a lawbreaker. (Sheer, Prosecutorial discretion, Georgetown Law Journal (June 1998).) Prosecutorial discretion advantages the prosecutor's office, which can reward cooperative defendants with reduced charges, a process formalized in plea bargaining. When a lie is widespread but the bar prosecutes only an isolated case, the bar institutes a means of unequal treatment usually unchallengable judicially. Who knows what led a prosecutor to select one person to prosecute, what perhaps private and probably corrupt motive induced the bar to file charges in this minor "resume fraud"?

Yet here we can discern a definite purpose: the State Bar's support of the class of employer attorneys, support shown by the unusually high ethical standards applied one-sidedly to business negotiations outside legal practice. Extraprofessional conduct gets less scrutiny in discipline proceedings: attorneys aren't disciplined for a slightly inaccurate apartment-rental application. The negotiations between an attorney and his boss belong to the business of law, not its practice.

What the State Bar refrains from doing also proves its bias favoring employers. If the bar prosecuted employers for lying to their employees, the bar could handle nothing else, so accepted and widespread is the mendacity of employers, including attorneys. Will the bar discipline this attorney's employer when, informed of the applicant's unemployment, the employer denies him the job and protects his own reputation for fairness by lying about the reason? The bar won't be prosecuting the prevaricating employer for moral turpitude, yet the bar disciplined this attorney for efforts to avoid suffering prejudice. Until the bar charges discipline violations against employer attorneys when they lie to their employees, it should keep hands off employee attorneys who return the favor.

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