Report of the Office of Bar Counsel

Edward L. Davis

 

Overview

The Office of Bar Counsel (OBC) consists of the following departments: intake, ethics and discipline. The intake department initially receives and screens all inquiries to the bar about attorney conduct and proactively handles inquiries involving minor misconduct. It also performs preliminary investigations in a limited class of cases. The ethics department provides confidential ethics advice to Virginia lawyers through the bar’s ethics hotline or email inquiry service. It supports the Standing Committee on Legal Ethics in the issuing of legal ethics opinions, the development of proposed changes to the Rules of Professional Conduct, the issuing of advertising opinions, and the review of lawyer advertising. It also supports the Standing Committee on the Unauthorized Practice of Law (UPL) in the issuing of UPL opinions and the investigation of UPL allegations. The discipline department receives complaints forwarded from the intake department and conducts investigations and prosecutions of such cases before district committees, the Disciplinary Board and three-judge circuit courts. It also petitions the circuit courts for injunctions and the appointment of receivers when such relief is necessary to prevent the loss of client property by dishonest lawyers, or when needed to wind up the practices of disabled, deceased or disbarred attorneys if no other person is reasonably able to do so.

In FY 2012 there were significant personnel changes and, statistically speaking, the bar made significant gains in productivity over FY 11 and further reduced its inventory of cases more than one year old.     

Personnel Matters

Effective July 9, 2012, Roanoke attorney Mary Beth Nash became the bar’s newest investigator and will take over cases in the 8th, 9th and 10th districts from former VSB investigator Pete Kepler, who came out of retirement to assist the bar and will work through the fall, 2012. 

Ed Dillon became the newest assistant bar counsel effective January 3, 2012.  Ed works the 9th and 10th District Committees in place of Al Carr, who returned to the 7th District.  Ed spent the first year of his legal career as a law clerk for the Honorable James R. Spencer, United States District Court, Eastern District of Virginia, Richmond Division, where he helped to manage a criminal and civil docket for Judge Spencer. Ed was then a litigation associate at Williams Mullen for six years before becoming a litigation partner in 2009.  Before law school, Ed spent seven years in Charlottesville as an executive editor and mergers and acquisitions analyst at SNL Financial. Ed has a BA from the University of Virginia, and graduated summa cum laude from the T.C. Williams School of Law at the University of Richmond.

After 12 years as an assistant bar counsel and senior assistant bar counsel, Seth Guggenheim began his new role as assistant ethics counsel on April 9, 2012.  Seth will continue to process the disciplinary cases pending trial or final disposition as he works his way into his new role.  Seth is an adjunct professor of law at the Washington College of Law, American University, where he teaches professional responsibility.  His background makes him an excellent addition to the staff of legal ethics attorneys needed to address increasing legal ethics inquiries. Calls to the Ethics Hotline increased during FY 2012 from 519 per month to 598 per month, a 15 percent increase. This represents a continuing increase of between 14 percent and 18 percent per year in Ethics Hotline inquiries over the past four years.   

The Office of Bar Counsel obtained approval for an additional attorney to work the ever increasing volume and complexity of cases in Northern Virginia. Seth’s transfer to the Ethics Department, therefore, resulted in openings for two new disciplinary attorneys who have been hired.

Prescott L. “Scott” Prince and Anastasia K. Jones joined the Department of Professional Regulation as the newest assistant bar counsel effective June 25 and July 9, 2012, respectively. Each brings a wealth of trial and practice experience that will help the bar address the ever-growing volume and complexity of disciplinary cases arising in Northern Virginia. Scott is a graduate of Davidson College and the Washington & Lee University School of Law. Following four years as an active Navy officer, he spent 20 years as a general practitioner focusing on criminal defense and domestic relations. He was recalled to active duty in 2007 for a variety of high level Navy assignments, culminating as the chief defense counsel for alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammad. He joined the bar following his release from active duty in June 2012.

Anastasia Jones is a native of California. She is a graduate of the University of California, Irvine (Phi Beta Kappa) and the Boalt Hall School of Law, University of California, Berkeley. She spent six years on a partnership track at a preeminent Orange County, California, law firm before relocating to Virginia due to her husband’s employment.  She has been a general practitioner since then with a focus on criminal defense, domestic relations, estates, and small businesses.

Production

For fiscal year 2012, the total number of trials and agreed dispositions (190) is the second highest since 2006, second only to the 193 concluded in 2008. The number of cases awaiting reports from the investigators (122) is the lowest since 2006. Eight more attorneys consented to the revocation of their law licenses with disciplinary charges pending in 14 other cases. Coinciding with these developments is the lowest number of district committee cases more than one year old (37) since I began reporting this number in 2008.

These developments reflect an increase in staff investigators as well as the quality of the Department of Professional Regulation Staff, taking ownership of their dockets and pushing more cases to trial and resolution. There are high expectations for greater things to come once the new assistant bar counsel begin working the always heavy Northern Virginia dockets.

                       

Matters in the Supreme Court of Virginia

  1. Reinstatement Cases

On December 16, 2011, the Supreme Court of Virginia entered orders reinstating the law licenses of two attorneys pending the taking and passing of the Virginia Bar Examination and other conditions.  The Court, in its discretion, acted against the recommendations of the Disciplinary Board which held hearings in the matters.    

At this time there is one reinstatement case pending before the Disciplinary Board on October 26, 2012. After the board issues its recommendation order, the Supreme Court of Virginia will take final action in the matter. 

  1. Appeals to the Supreme Court of Virginia

During FY 2012, seven attorneys appealed disciplinary actions to the Supreme Court of Virginia. The Supreme Court dismissed four of those appeals on procedural grounds, and reversed and dismissed a fifth appeal on the basis that the petitioner did not have adequate notice of charges against him. This was the first reversal of a bar disciplinary action by the high court since 2006. By the end of the fiscal year, two appeals were pending before the Supreme Court.  During the year four appellants also petitioned the Supreme Court to stay the suspensions of their law licenses pending appeal. The Supreme Court denied stays in three of the cases and granted a stay in the fourth. That attorney later withdrew his appeal.

 

Updated: Aug 21, 2012