Report of the Office of Bar Counsel

Renu M. Brennan, Bar Counsel
 

  1. DISCIPLINARY STATISTICS – FY 2020 (July 1, 2019 to June 30, 2020)

The Office received 3,091 complaints in FY 2020, equating to 9.8% of Virginia’s 31,693 active lawyers.  In FY 2019, the Office received 3,123 complaints against Virginia’s then 32,870 lawyers (9.5%).  While complaints were trending up from July 1, 2019 until the March 2020 COVID-19 outbreak, complaints declined after the outbreak until June 30, 2020.  Overall, complaints were down 32 from last year, however, the percentage of complaints relative to the number of active lawyers was slightly higher than last year, because the number of active lawyers decreased by 1,177.

Seventy-nine percent of the complaints (2,440 of 3,091) were screened out early in the review process.  The disciplinary statistics below reflect that 473 cases were dismissed by Bar Counsel, the Subcommittees, Disciplinary Board, and Circuit Courts, and 128 lawyers received private (54) or public (74) discipline.  Of the 74 lawyers publicly disciplined, 20 lawyers received public reprimands or admonitions; 20 lawyers were suspended; and 34 lawyers’ licenses were revoked.  

Disciplinary actions July 2019 - December 2019
Disciplinary actions January 2020 - June 2020

 

Dismissal and Sanctions Statistics Information for FY 20:

Number of cases dismissed in house by Bar Counsel 

331

Number of cases dismissed by Subcommittee 

125

Number of cases dismissed by District Committee

0

Number of cases dismissed by Board 

12

Number of cases dismissed by Circuit Court 

5

Number of lawyers who received private discipline – Admonition

27(32)*

Number of lawyers who received private discipline – Reprimand with Terms

14(15)

Number of lawyers who received private discipline – Reprimand without Terms

9(10)

Number of lawyers who received private discipline - Dismissal De Minimis[1]

2(2)

Number of lawyers who received private discipline – Dismissal Exceptional Circumstances

2(2)

Number of lawyers who received public discipline - Admonition without Terms

1(1)

Number of lawyers who received public discipline - Admonition with terms

2(3)

Number of lawyers who received public discipline – Reprimand with Terms

10(10)

Number of lawyers who received public discipline – Reprimand without Terms

7(7)

Number of lawyers who received public discipline - Suspension 

20(36)

Number of lawyers who received public discipline - Consent to Revocation

16(25)

Number of lawyers who received public discipline – Revocation by agreement

1(1)

Number of lawyers who received public discipline – Revocation following hearing

10(19)

*Number of Respondents (number of cases) 
 

  1. Changes to Disciplinary Procedure and the Rules of Professional Conduct

Disciplinary Procedure

Effective December 1, 2019, the Court approved the Committee on Lawyer Discipline’s proposed amendments to Paragraph 13 of Part 6, Section IV of the Rules of the Supreme Court of Virginia.  The amendments promote transparency, remove confusing terminology, and ensure uniformity in disciplinary proceedings.  

Effective March 15, 2020, the Court amended Paragraph 13 to state that a Summary Order is a bench order issued by the Board Chair or three-judge Circuit Court and explicit findings of fact are not required in proceedings conducted pursuant to Va. Code § 54.1-3935.  The Court also amended Paragraph 13-30.B, to remove the specific reference of disclosure of an Attorney’s Disciplinary Record in a tribunal’s “findings of fact.” 

Effective June 30, 2020, the Court approved revisions to Paragraphs 3 and 13-23.K regarding membership statuses.  The Rule changes: (1) impose an email address of record requirement for all members; (2) create separate membership classes for retired and disabled members (with corollary changes to Paragraph 13-23.K.); (3) remove the requirement for active members to be “engaged in the practice of law”;  (4) revise some procedures for electing different membership classes; and (5) update the Rule’s language to eliminate ambiguous terminology.

 

Rules of Professional Conduct

By Order entered October 2, 2019, the Court approved revisions to Rule of Professional Conduct 4.4(b) Receipt of Inadvertently Disclosed Information.

By Order entered October 24, 2019, the Court rejected proposed revisions to Comment 5 of Rule 3.8(d). Additional obligations of prosecutors.

Effective March 15, 2020 the Court approved amendments to Rule 1.15, Safekeeping Property.  

 

Legal Ethics Opinions 

By Orders entered October 2, 2019, the Court approved LEO 1750 Advertising Compendium Opinion, and LEO 1872 Virtual Law Office and Use of Executive Office Suites.  

Effective January 9, 2020, the Court approved LEO 1891 Communications with Represented Persons and Government Officials.  LEO 1891 concludes that communications with a represented government official are authorized by law and do not require the government lawyer’s consent if the communications are to address a policy issue and the government official can take or recommend government action or effectuate government policy on the issue. 

 

  1. Appeals Decided by The Supreme Court of Virginia 

By Order entered October 30, the Court affirmed the Three-Judge Panel’s revocation of Joseph D. Morrissey’slicense.  Morrisey’s petition for rehearing of the Court’s denial of his petition asking his case be remanded to the Three-Judge Panel for appropriate findings of facts was rejected by the Court on October 11, 2019.

On September 19, 2019, the Court denied Rhetta Moore Daniel’s appeal of the Disciplinary Board’s Memorandum Order of Revocation of Daniel’s license because Daniel failed to timely file an opening brief.

On April 27, 2020, the Court dismissed John B. Russell, Jr.’s appeal of the Disciplinary Board’s Memorandum Order suspending Russell’s license for two years.  Russell withdrew his appeal.   

On June 23, 2020, the Court dismissed Randall Sousa’s appeal of the Disciplinary Board’s Memorandum Order of February 25, 2020 suspending Sousa’s license for three years because Sousa failed to timely file his notice of appeal.  Previously, on January 16, 2020, the Court dismissed Sousa’s appeal of the Disciplinary Board’s Interim Suspension Order of his law license because the Interim Suspension Order was not a final order.  

By Order entered July 14, 2020, the Court dismissed Katina C. Whitfield’s appeal of the Disciplinary Board’s Memorandum Order of Revocation of Whitfield’s license because Whitfield failed to timely file her opening brief.   

On July 30, 2020, the Court affirmed the Disciplinary Board’s Memorandum Order Affirming the District Committee’s Public Admonition with Terms in the Craig Edward Baumann appeal.  
 

  1. Reinstatements

Steven Frank Helm’s motion for reconsideration of the Court’s denial of his petition for reinstatement was rejected by the Court on October 1, 2019.

On June 25, 2020, the court rejected Ann Bridgeforth Tribbey’s petition for reinstatement that was filed with the Virginia State Bar on May 30, 2018 and heard by the Disciplinary board in June 2019.

 

[1] Effective December 1, 2019, the Dismissal De Minimis and Dismissal for Exceptional Circumstances are no longer disciplinary sanctions. 

 

Updated: Aug 06, 2020