Report of the Office of Bar Counsel

Edward L. Davis, Bar Counsel​ 

I.   Overview 

The Office of Bar Counsel [OBC] consists of the intake and discipline departments. The intake department initially receives and screens all inquiries to the bar about attorney conduct and proactively handles inquiries alleging minor misconduct.  Intake also performs preliminary investigations in a limited class of cases. 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.

II.   Personnel Matters 

One attorney departed the OBC during the fiscal year.  As discussed below in Part IV, the OBC decided not to fill this position as part of its new strategic plan.

Richmond attorney Laura Ann Booberg joined the VSB staff on August 27, 2016.  She replaced Renu Brennan, who was promoted to deputy executive director in April 2016.  Laura had been practicing law for 23 years with a focus on worker’s compensation, social security disability and immigration law.  Avid in outdoor sports, she has completed two marathons and is a member of the U.S. Tennis Association.  Laura assumed responsibility for the Third District Committee, Section II, the Fourth District Committee, Section I, and part of the Fifth District Committee, Section III.

Fifteen-year, central Virginia investigator Gene Rhodenizer retired in October 2016.  He was replaced by northern Virginia investigator Dave Jackson, who relocated to Orange County.  Mr. Jackson in turn was replaced by former VSB Investigator Edward Bosack, effective September 12, 2016, following his return from assignment in Kuwait with the Department of Defense.  Finally, Southwest Virginia Investigator Mike Keen retired in February 2017.  He was replaced by Robert Baker, who joined the staff on April 3, 2017.  Mr. Baker works the Eighth, Ninth and Tenth District Committees that reach from Lynchburg to the borders of Tennessee and West Virginia.  Mr. Baker holds a law degree and is a retired Southern California police sergeant.  He brings a wealth of experience in complex administrative and criminal investigations, as well as exceptional writing skills. 

Finally, the bar’s long-term Clerk of the Disciplinary System, Barbara Lanier, announced her retirement effective August 7, 2017.  Barbara has been helping us with her knowledge, organization and leadership for more than two decades, having previously served as director of the MCLE department.  We will miss her greatly, and wish her all our best in a very well deserved retirement.

DaVida M. “Dee” Davis is the new Clerk of the Disciplinary System.  Dee comes to us from the Circuit Court for the City of Norfolk, where she served more than 20 years as a supervising deputy clerk.  Prior to Norfolk, she was a deputy clerk in the Circuit Court for the City of Richmond.  She played a key role in developing the Norfolk Circuit Court’s paperless program.  Dee brings a wealth of knowledge in technology, organization and management to the Virginia State Bar and we all look forward to working with her.

 Effective July 1, 2017, Assistant Bar Counsel Katie Uston became President of the National Organization of Bar Counsel.   

 III.   Production

In fiscal year 2017, there were 126 public trials, agreed dispositions and consents to revocation, an increase of 16 (14.5%) from the 110 reported one year ago.  The year ended with a slight increase in the total volume of open cases, from 348 to 352, or 1.1%.  Nonetheless, this constitutes a reduction of 58.6% from the 851 total open cases five years ago. The fiscal year ended with only eight “pre-016” cases.  This is the lowest that this number has ever been since I began reporting it nine years ago. The new fiscal year began with 41 “pre-017” cases, down from 70 one year ago.  By comparison, the number was 250 on July 1, 2008. 

These reductions reflect continued increases in the processing of cases as well as the quality of attorneys and staff now at the bar.  In addition, the intake staff continues to process more cases to conclusion through summary dismissals of complaints that do not affect the disciplinary rules, and the proactive resolutions of minor misconduct without creating disciplinary records.

IV.   Outlook

For the third time in the past three years, the OBC chose not to fill a position vacancy among its attorneys.  The result is a reduction in the attorney staff from 13 to 10 over the past three years.  The OBC also reduced its administrative support staff in recent years.  The reasons for these reductions are budgetary and strategic in nature.  We found that a high-caliber of attorneys and support staff have enabled the OBC to significantly reduce the overall volume of open cases, as indicated above in Part III.  Further, the new managerial structure implemented last year, with Ed Dillon and Brent Saunders serving as Senior Assistant Bar Counsel, has led to more timely review and issuing of charging documents in disciplinary cases.  With this reduction in staff, the OBC will keep an eye on the case dockets to ensure that it continues this trend while meeting its public protection mission.

V.   Changes to Procedural Rules and Rules of Professional Conduct 

On December 15, 2016, the Supreme Court of Virginia approved amendments to the Rules of Court, Part 6, Section IV, Paragraph 13-24, effective March 1, 2017.  The rule addresses disciplinary procedures deriving from law license suspensions or revocations imposed by other jurisdictions, or reciprocal discipline.  The revised rule clarifies what constitutes another jurisdiction, eliminates the automatic suspension of a lawyer’s license if the other jurisdiction is not a state licensing or disciplinary authority, and removes the automatic default provisions of the previous rule.  Other changes allow respondents to present more defenses and provide the Disciplinary Board with the discretion to dismiss or impose lesser sanctions.

 Also on December 15, 2016, the Supreme Court of Virginia amended and adopted, effective immediately, Legal Ethics Opinion 1886 regarding the duty of partners and supervisory lawyers in a law firm when another lawyer in the firm suffers from significant impairment.

 At its 2017 session, the Virginia General Assembly approved amendments to Virginia Code Section 54.1-3935, the statute governing attorney disciplinary proceedings before three-judge circuit courts.  The Governor signed the amendments into law effective July 1, 2017.  The amendments clarify the procedures for a respondent attorney who wishes to have his or her disciplinary case heard by a three-judge circuit court.   

 On April 17, 2017, the Supreme Court approved amendments to the advertising rules (Rules 7.1-7.5 of the Rules of Professional Conduct), effective July 1, 2017.  The amendments significantly simplify the regulations for lawyer advertising.

VI.   Matters in the Supreme Court of Virginia 

A. Reinstatement Cases

 On February 9, 2017, Anne Marston Lynch petitioned for the reinstatement of her law license.  Ms. Lynch consented to the revocation of her license on December 3, 2009, while disciplinary charges were pending.  The bar will conduct an investigation before the Disciplinary Board hears the matter.

 On February 17, 2017, the Supreme Court of Virginia approved the Disciplinary Board’s Recommendation Order to reinstate the law license of Catherine Ann Lee.

 On November 13, 2013, the Disciplinary Board entered an Order of Recommendation to reinstate the law license of Rickey Gene Young, subject to his payment of $13,333.33 to the Bar’s Client Protection Fund within 18 months of the date of the order.  The Supreme Court approved the Board’s recommendation.  Mr. Young, however, never reimbursed the Client Protection Fund as ordered, and his license remains revoked.  In 2017, Mr. Young filed for bankruptcy in the Western District of Virginia.  Among other relief, Mr. Young sought a discharge of his obligation to reimburse the Client Protection Fund.  The bar, represented by Assistant Attorney General Robert McEntee, moved for summary judgment on the basis that the obligation is non-dischargeable.  On August 23, 2017, the U.S. Bankruptcy Court, Danville Division, heard the motion and entered an order of summary judgment, finding that Young’s financial obligations to the Virginia State Bar were not dischargeable.  

B.   Appeals Decided by the Supreme Court of Virginia

On June 28, 2016, Jane Karen Eshagpoor appealed the two-year suspension of her law license imposed by the Disciplinary Board on May 23, 2016.  She also filed a petition to stay the suspension pending appeal, and the bar filed a response in opposition.  By order, entered July 7, 2016, the Supreme Court denied the stay.  Thereafter, Ms. Eshagpoor withdrew her appeal.

On December 8, 2016, the Supreme Court of Virginia affirmed the Disciplinary Board’s decision to revoke the law license of Jean Jerome Dandy Ngando Ekwalla.  Respondent filed a motion for reconsideration that the Supreme Court of Virginia denied on March 24, 2017.  The Supreme Court issued its mandate, and the matter has become final.

On February 24, 2017, Dominick Anthony Pilli filed a petition to stay the year-and-a-day suspension of his law license imposed by the Disciplinary Board on February 17, 2017.  On February 27, Assistant Bar Counsel Katie Uston filed an opposition, and the Supreme Court of Virginia denied Respondent’s petition that afternoon.  On April 4, 2017, Pilli filed a notice of appeal and assignments of error.  The bar, represented by Assistant Attorney General/Chief Rita Davis, filed a motion to dismiss the appeal as untimely.  In response, Mr. Pilli’s counsel filed a motion to withdraw the appeal, and on June 23, 2017, the Supreme Court issued its mandate withdrawing the appeal.  The matter has become final.

On March 10, 2017, the Supreme Court of Virginia dismissed Wayne Richard Hartke’s appeal of the three-year suspension of his law license.  This followed a motion to dismiss drafted by Assistant Bar Counsel Katie Uston and filed by Senior Assistant Attorney General/Chief Rita Davis.  Mr. Hartke did not meet all of the procedural requirements, such as noting assignments of error in his notice of appeal and indicating whether he had ordered the transcript as required by the Rules of Court.
C.   Appeals Pending before the Supreme Court of Virginia  

 There are no appeals pending at this time.

Updated: Mar 07, 2018