Supreme Court Imposes Middle Ground Between Special Master and Bar Recommendations

The Court splits the baby.

The Supreme Court continued to show that it would independently analyze attorney discipline cases.  The Supreme Court will usually, when it deviates from the State Bar or the Special Master’s recommendation, impose a harsher discipline than recommended.  In this unusual case, the Supreme Court found middle ground between two different recommendations from the State Bar and the special master.

In this recent case, an attorney plead guilty under the first offender act to tampering with evidence and obstruction of a law enforcement officer, both misdemeanors.  The criminal acts arose out of an employment dispute between the attorney and one of her employees.  A trial was held before a special master, who recommended a review panel reprimand as requested by the attorney.  The State Bar sought disbarment.

The Supreme Court discussed an array of mitigating factors, which are often the best tool to overcoming harsh discipline.  Mitigation findings included no prior discipline, a non-recurring emotional issue at the time (divorce), the attorney was the sole provider for two children, negotiated in good faith in the related civil dispute, followed the civil contempt order and made restitution to the aggrieved party in excess of $55,000.

The Supreme Court imposed a three-month suspension.  The disagreement between the special master and the State Bar offered the Supreme Court the rare opportunity to split the disciplinary baby.


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