Report of the Office of Bar Counsel
Edward L. Davis
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 2013 there were significant personnel changes and, as in recent years, the bar made significant gains in productivity and the reduction of open cases.
II. Personnel Matters
Prescott L. “Scott” Prince and Anastasia K. Jones joined the Department of Professional Regulation as assistant bar counsel effective June 25 and July 9, 2012, respectively. Each brought a wealth of trial and practice experience expected to 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.
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. In Virginia she established a general practice with a focus on criminal defense, domestic relations, estates and small businesses before coming to the bar.
On July 16, 2012, Mary Beth Nash became the newest VSB investigator, working the Roanoke area to the far Southwest Virginia circuits. Mary Beth is a graduate of the University of Virginia and the West Virginia University School of Law. She was a partner at a preeminent Roanoke law firm before becoming an associate general counsel at Virginia Tech. Wanting to do something different, she became the third active member of the bar to join the VSB as a staff investigator.
Investigator Don Lange retired effective April 1, 2013 and was immediately replaced by David Jackson, who had been working for the bar on a contract basis. Veteran investigator Pete Kepler continues to provide service to the bar on a contract basis.
Finally, Intake Assistant Debbie Hunt accepted a new position with the Clerk of the Disciplinary System effective June 3, 2013. She was replaced by Joseph Ciszek on June 10, 2013. Previously, Mr. Ciszek received high marks as an intern for the Clerk of the Disciplinary System earlier this year.
In fiscal year 2013 there was a total of 154 public trials, agreed dispositions and consents to revocation. The fiscal year ended with 628 open cases, the lowest in the past five years and a 36% reduction from the total of 980 five years ago. Coinciding with this development is the lowest number of “Pre-012” district committee cases (31) since I began reporting this number in 2008.
These reductions in open cases are likely the result of the addition of an attorney and administrative assistant to work the always busy Northern Virginia dockets, as well as the recent increase in staff investigators. As the Department of Professional Regulation Staff takes ownership of its dockets, these numbers should continue to fall.
VI. Matters in the Supreme Court of Virginia
A. Reinstatement Cases
On February 26, 2013, the Supreme Court of Virginia entered orders reinstating the law license of one attorney following the Virginia State Bar Disciplinary Board’s recommendation for reinstatement
At this time there are two reinstatement cases pending before the Disciplinary Board. One is under investigation and the other is scheduled to be heard on September 27, 2013. After the Board issues its recommendation order, the Supreme Court of Virginia will take final action in the matter.
B. Appeals to the Supreme Court of Virginia
During FY 2013, four attorneys appealed disciplinary actions to the Supreme Court of Virginia. The Supreme Court affirmed one, affirmed in part and reversed in part another, and reversed and dismissed the other two cases. The Disciplinary Board will conduct a rehearing for sanction determination in the case that was reversed in part. By the end of the fiscal year there were no appeals pending before the Supreme Court.
Updated: May 02, 2014