WOODSTOCK, Ill. (CN) - The attorney a man hired to represent him in a child custody dispute had an affair with the mother of the client's child, then tried to hire hit men to kill him—three times—and was sentenced to prison for it, the client claims in court.
Brian Hegg claims defendant attorney Jason Smiekel also gave him bad legal advice.
Not too many cases against an attorney where a legal-malpractice claim just seems like piling on, but I guess this would be one of them.
According to the report, Smiekel is currently serving an eight-and-a-half-year sentence after being convicted on the thrice-attempted-murder-for-hire charges—a sentence that does cause me to reflect again on the 15 years recently handed out for conspiracy to cut off beards—and that is probably why the complaint also names the firms of which Smiekel used to be a part. Plaintiff claims the firms negligently failed to address a substance-abuse problem they knew Smiekel had, and less plausibly that they "negligently allowed defendant Smiekel to use his position at the aforementioned defendant law firms to plot and/or attempt to execute the murder of Hegg."
Firms apparently should be monitoring their members and employees to make sure they are not plotting to murder someone, at least during business hours. Please make a note of it.
According to the Illinois Disciplinary Commission, Mr. Smiekel is currently subject to an interim suspension pending further order of the court, but based on the facts above, I'd say they could go ahead and drop the "interim."
The legal job market is tough right now, and a lot of new lawyers are doing unpaid internships in order to get experience until things improve. But I wasn't aware that the profession had sunk low enough that we would ask unemployed lawyers to pay us for the chance to work, or even just to follow us around and watch us work (click to enlarge):
The person who posted this on Craigslist may be an excellent attorney in some ways—I really have no idea. But it looks like one thing he won't be able to teach you is how to write.
Most of those are self-explanatory, I think. I also missed one in the headline—unless he's targeting one particular lawyer-in-training, that should probably be plural.
This is setting aside the fact that the message as a whole isn't clear because it doesn't explain just what this arrangement is (let alone how much the lucky winner will pay for the privilege). Watching a more experienced lawyer work is one way that new lawyers learn practical skills, it's true. But how many people is he going to reverse-hire? Is he planning to take a large gaggle of new attorneys along to a real-estate closing? (Is there anything to be learned at a real-estate closing, other than where to sign?) More importantly, this seems to say that the interns (workers? customers?) will at some point actually be doing work for the attorney, not just observing. Do they pay for that too? (Maybe the "general office operations" they'll be learning about include payroll, since they'll be paying their boss every month.) And the whole "referral fees" thing at the end sounds a little sketchy.
Another thing: he states that "once [you are] admitted to the bar, the goal is to have you handling matters with and eventually without supervision." That generally is the goal in this business, so I don't really see that as a selling point.
Anyway, even if you feel it might be worth your while to pay a monthly fee to watch this guy do his thing, please look away quickly if he tries to show you something he's written. Nobody should have to see apostrophes abused like this.
Well, Tuesday was January 1, traditionally seen in Western cultures as the beginning of a "new year" and treated as some sort of dividing line between "now" and what has gone before, even though time is continuous and so any such line is necessarily an arbitrary intellectual construct, so that seems like as good a reason as any to clean out my draft folder. This resolution will probably last as long as most of them do, but I'll give it a shot.
This particular story is ancient (in Internet terms) but I'm going to post it anyway. The pictures alone I think are reason enough.
In 2004, a man who portrayed Tigger at Disney World was acquitted of charges that he (while dressed as Tigger) had groped a 13-year-old girl at the park. The jury was back in less than an hour, finding that plaintiffs had no evidence to support their claim and could not even prove who was actually the Tigger in question on that particular day. According to this great piece by William Saletan at Slate, "the case seems to have been a total scam."
The jurors claimed they were not swayed by the defense attorney's use of a Tigger costume as a prop during closing argument. Actually, "prop" may not be the right word, because the attorney actually put on the costume, as these pictures demonstrate, hoping to show jurors that the costume severely limits the wearer's peripheral vision and arm movements, making it much more likely that any contact was inadvertent.
Is it easy to get a Tigger suit if you need to use one as an exhibit at trial? Well, maybe not for you and me. But in this case, it doesn't seem to have mattered, because according to this report the defense attorney "also moonlights as Tigger and Goofy at Walt Disney World." Note to aspiring lawyers: you probably should not expect that your interests will always align this closely with those of your clients, but it is nice when it happens.
I'm not sure this particular gesture helped
This was in the news again in 2010, which I think was when I saw it, and that was also when Saletan wrote about it. It came up then because a woman was making similar allegations against another character at the same park. See Magolon v. Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, LLC, No. 2:10-cv-03937-JP (Penn. Ct. Common Pleas, filed Aug. 8, 2010) (alleging Donald Duck groped her and then made gestures allegedly "indicating he had done something wrong"). As Saletan pointed out, similar allegations are made from time to time, and are generally followed by a couple dozen similar complaints. Are these examples of victims finally coming forward to report long-suppressed memories of mascot abuse? There is reason to think not:
The reason I know about the Tigger episode [Saletan wrote] is that I learned about it from Elizabeth Loftus, a scientist who plants and studies false memories. I was writing a series about her (you can read it here) and came across a discussion of the Tigger story in a paper she and her colleagues published two years ago [in 2008]. In their first experiment, they persuaded 16 percent of their subjects that these subjects had met Bugs Bunny at Disneyland. This was certainly a false memory, since Bugs wasn't a Disney character. In their second experiment, Loftus and her collaborators convinced 30 percent of another group of subjects that Pluto had licked their ears at Disneyland. The researchers planted this memory by showing subjects a fake newspaper article about a Pluto character who had "developed a habit of inappropriately licking the ears of many young visitors with his large fabric tongue."
Based on the Pluto experiment, Loftus and her colleagues speculated that the initial coverage of Tigger's arrest might have led people "to become more confident that they too had an inappropriate experience with the Tigger character.… Thus unsurprisingly, after the allegation surfaced, 24 additional Disney visitors came forward to say that they too were abused by Tigger." [None of those Tigger accusers seem to have prevailed, either.]
I still wouldn't turn my back on Goofy, I don't think, but this is a reminder that we shouldn't rush to judgment.
Surprisingly, a man convicted of murdering his entire family has lost his bid for a new trial despite his argument that defense counsel's conduct was so "public and obnoxious" it hurt his case. This already weak argument (see Jerry Sandusky's lawyers) was not improved by the fact that the defense counsel he was talking about had represented somebody else. It was further embaddened by the fact that the defense counsel he was talking about hadn't even been in the same courtroom.
The Chicago Tribune reports (via Jonathan Turley) that the lawyer for convicted quadruple murderer Christopher Vaughn argued that his client was entitled to a new trial because of the conduct of lawyers for Drew Peterson, who was on trial in the courtroom next door for murdering one of his four wives. Vaughn's lawyer reportedly criticized Peterson's defense team for holding press conferences, during one of which they referred to the fact that Peterson's fourth wife is missing (Peterson was convicted of murdering his third). The "show" they put on was so distasteful, he argued, that it "gave criminal-defense attorneys—all of us—a black eye," and could have prejudiced Vaughn's jury against his lawyer and thus weakened his defense.
But as the ABA Journal reports, the judge found this argument had significant problems, such as the lack of any evidence that the jurors in Vaughn's trial were even aware of the press conferences, let alone that they had developed a general distaste for criminal-defense attorneys or that, if they had, it would have affected their decision in Vaughn's case. This is not to say that the judge was impressed with Peterson's lawyers. Quite the contrary. But this didn't help Vaughn's position because it only made his lawyer look better by comparison, the judge said. In fact, if the description was accurate, it would have made him look like "the second coming of Clarence Darrow." (Maybe he laid it on a little too thick in his motion.)
Okay, you don't like that argument, I got 50 more, Vaughn's attorney probably didn't say but could have, based on the Tribune's report that his motion cited no fewer than 51 grounds for a new trial. It is true that any litigant has to be concerned about preserving possible arguments for appeal, especially a criminal defendant who has just lost. It is also true that once you get past the first three or so, the credibility of subsequent arguments declines pretty fast. There is no bright-line rule here, but I think most of us would agree that, let's say, 50 is plenty. Yes, while you are drafting Argument No. 50, you might consider whether No. 51 is at all likely to help. That is some free advice that you hopefully don't need.
So, it is not surprising that some of the additional 50 provide additional entertainment. Here's one: the fact that the jury took only 45 minutes to convict and did not ask to review any evidence. "Forty-five minutes and not asking for any exhibits, not wanting to hear any testimony, that's extremely rare," Vaughn's lawyer argued. "I've never had that situation before and that's odd." Here's the problem—there are two possible explanations for that: (1) the jury was biased against you and/or your client and so didn't care about the evidence, or (2) the jury did pay attention to the evidence and thinks your client is guilty as hell. The fact they didn't even want to hang around for a free meal suggests they really didn't like the defendant, again possibly because they thought he was clearly guilty of murdering his wife and three young children. I don't know which explanation is right in this case, but the problem for the defense is that, to get a new trial, it had the burden to show it was the first one.
I don't have a copy of the new-trial motion, but that's probably a good thing. There really isn't room here to critique another four dozen arguments. Speaking of four, Vaughn was sentenced to four life terms shortly after his motion was denied. Again, free advice, but the rule of 50 above should also apply to appellate briefs.
I was about to give Courthouse News Service full credit for the phrase "penis graffiti," but it looks like that phrase was taken from the testimony of a real-estate agent describing what he found after a Texas lawyer was evicted from his office on October 31. Doug Molney testified at a bail-revocation hearing that when he inspected the premises the next day, he found "complete destruction" and "penis graffiti on every single wall throughout the building."
Molney also testified that "his name was written next to several of the penises."
The departing attorney and apparent Molney-disliker was Thomas Corea, who was free on bail at the time after being indicted on four first-degree felonies involving identity theft and stealing from clients. He had been disbarred earlier in October and was supposed to be notifying his clients of this and arranging to return their files and money (if any). It's not clear whether he bothered to do that, although it seems unlikely given the amount of time he must have spent trashing his office.
Molney testified that in addition to the aforementioned graffiti, "someone" had used a sledgehammer to smash several granite countertops, and also destroyed light fixtures, doors, and appliances. The Dallas Observer's "Unfair Park" blog reported on the damage in more detail (with pictures I'll skip here), saying that this someone ripped out a hand-railing, spray-painted every inch of the front windows, tore out the kitchen faucet, put a hole through the sheetrock "about the size and height of a grown man's lower leg," and took most of the electrical fixtures as well as both bathroom sinks and all the cabinet doors. The steel jamb of a loading door had been ripped out, "apparently the result of being attached by a tow cable to an accelerating truck." Molney estimated the damage at over $100,000.
During this testimony, the judge interrupted to tell Corea to stop "making faces at the witness."
From the CNS report it sounds like Corea tried to argue that there was no evidence he had caused this damage, blaming "vagrants." The assistant DA pointed out, however, that the unknown miscreant had also written an obscene message about an Arizona judge before whom Corea had appeared, and had written the judge's phone number below it. "I doubt seriously," said the ADA, that "there are any random vagrants in the Dallas area that are familiar with area code 505." Despite this admission of reasonable doubt, the judge ordered Corea back to jail, saying he was concerned he posed a risk to the public.
According to CNS, Corea was formerly the host of a local TV show called "Ask the Lawyer with Tom Corea," which offered free advice to callers for half an hour every other week. Previous callers might want to consider calling someone else.
As described by the [Hearing Panel Subcommittee], Mr. Robinson beat a client, [Mr. Gump,] with a wooden baseball bat on his front porch and then chased his defenseless client with this weapon down a residential street until he fell to the ground. When Mr. Gump fell down, Mr. Robinson began beating him again with the baseball bat in the head, chest, and back. Mr. Gump sustained significant injuries, and the HPS concluded that causing such injuries to his client constituted a violation of Mr. Robinson's duty to his client.
This goes directly to the point I make in my legal-ethics presentations about the rules themselves not being especially helpful in advance. Nowhere in the Rules of Professional Conduct will you find anything about beating a client with a baseball bat. The rules are completely silent on that. But many of them are sufficiently vague that they provide little guidance but are still likely to be enforced after the fact.
Point being, if you beat your client with a baseball bat, they will find something to charge you with.
This is actually a tip I offered a couple of years ago, and so I was glad to see that this was a later proceeding in the same case, not a second incident of baseball battery. See "TIP: Lawyer-Client Interactions Should Not Involve Baseball Bat," Lowering the Bar (Apr. 23, 2010). At that time, Robinson had pleaded guilty to "unlawful wounding" but still faced legal-ethics charges, so I took the opportunity to speculate that he might be found to have violated, at a minimum, Rules 1.2(a), 1.7(b), 1.14, and 8.4. For example, Rule 1.7(b) states that a conflict of interest exists if a representation would be materially limited by the lawyer's own interests, and here it seemed pretty clear to me that Robinson's representation of Gump's interests would have been materially limited by his own interest in hitting Gump with a bat. So that seemed like a given.
But West Virginia seems to have concluded it would be enough to go with Rule 8.4(b) and (c), although that is a little problematic, frankly. Rule 8.4 states that it is professional misconduct to:
(b) commit a criminal act that reflects adversely on the lawyer's honesty, trustworthiness or fitness as a lawyer in other respects; [or]
(c) engage in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation ....
In all seriousness, I'm not seeing any violation of 8.4(c) here at all. Yes, he did "repeatedly beat [his client] with a wooden baseball bat and then continued to beat him as he lay defenseless on the ground," that is true, but what's "dishonest" about that? There are in fact plenty of cases where a lawyer engages in misconduct or is even convicted of a crime (8.4(b)), but does not face ethics charges, because not every crime involves "dishonesty." Maybe if he had said, "Hey, Gump, c'mere, I need you to sign something," and then jumped out with a bat, we'd have a different case. But he didn't.
I would agree, though, that doing this could be said to "reflect adversely" on one's "fitness as a lawyer in other respects," so I'm okay with the 8.4(b) charge.
Were there aggravating factors? Yes. Robinson also took money that belonged to a different client, and then there was the time he threw a propane tank through the window of his wife's car. These also seem to relate to fitness. And I would award bonus points for his contention at the hearing that he should be treated more leniently because he had no prior disciplinary record; that was true, technically, but only because similar charges in Kentucky were still pending at the time he said this. (See "threw propane tank," supra.) Also, the whole "no prior record" argument probably works better if your first charge does not involve beating your client senseless. I have no citations for that proposition, I just think it's true.
Despite the clear failure to prove any violation of Rule 8.4(c), the West Virginia court approved the recommendation of disbarment. He can petition for reinstatement after two years, but only if he has completed a recommended "extensive course" in anger management.
Last week I mentioned that the lawsuit (if you can call it that) filed against me, the President of the United States, and a number of other dignitaries by birther/dentist/lawyer Dr. Orly Taitz had been dismissed. I also mentioned having seen a chart purporting to list every court ruling in the many cases that have challenged Obama's claim to be a "natural born citizen," and based on that I suggested that Taitz's record in court on these cases was 0-158. I heard from the person who compiles that chart, who kindly gave me permission to link to it, and after reviewing it again I need to make a couple of corrections.
First, it may not be correct to ascribe all these losses to Orly Taitz. Certainly there are other people involved in filing these things, including Keith Judd, who I mentioned here in a slightly different context, although a context that also involved him being in prison, and also Philip Berg, who I mentioned here. None of these people have ever won a single victory in their "birther" lawsuits, nor has anyone else, and it's also entirely possible that Taitz is involved in some or all of these other cases behind the scenes. But to be strictly accurate, while Taitz is zero-and-something, it may not be zero-and-158.
Second, the overall record is significantly worse than I thought, according to the "Birther Scorecard."
This chart, which is currently 70 pages long and lists 175 cases, includes short summaries and also links to almost all the cited orders, where they are available online. It's an impressive piece of work, created by Tesibria at What's Your Evidence? According to the Scorecard (last updated October 18), of the 175 cases she thinks can be fairly classified as "birther" cases, birthers have lost 166 and the remaining nine are still pending.
If you add up all the individual rulings, including those in appellate courts and the U.S. Supreme Court, the birther's arguments have been rejected (or appeals denied) at least 258 times.
As a bonus for me personally, I think I've also gotten at least one new entry for the Comical Case Names page from this, because one of these people apparently insists on filing cases as "Annamarie Last Name Uncertain." Not "Annamarie Doe" or something like that—as this court noted, "In her pleadings, Plaintiff indicates that her first name is Annamarie and that her last name is uncertain." But the captions actually read Annamarie Last Name Uncertain vs. [Whoever]. Nicely done, Ms. LNU.
In general I support the rights of the uncertain, but nobody seems able to even figure out what this person wants.
I saw a chart the other day that was said to contain information about every "birther" lawsuit that's been filed, and according to that chart, including appellate decisions the birthers' record is currently 0-157. I can't vouch for that number, but I do know that one was added to the loss column yesterday.
As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, my name appeared in a complaint (or a piece of paper with the word "COMPLAINT" on it, anyway) perpetrated by "birther" queen Orly Taitz. (See "Orly Taitz Is Trying to Sue Me, I Think," Oct. 1.) I noted that she had removed her own case to federal court—which any second-year law student should know a plaintiff cannot do—and now can report that Judge David Carter punted the case yesterday for precisely that reason. (Why, yes, I do have a copy of the order.)
Before the Court is a lawsuit ... against President Barack Obama and twenty-eight other Defendants. The gist of the lawsuit, to the extent a short description can capture its claims, is that the President is not a natural born citizen; that massive voter fraud has been and will be perpetrated; that officials in government are involved in those two conspiracies; and that various officials and journalists, along with participating in those conspiracies, have also separately violated the rights of the Plaintiffs through defamation and other actions appearing to sound in tort. Defendants include local, state, and national officials, journalists, media outlets, the Postmaster General, and a federal judge.
Among the Plaintiffs is Orly Taitz, an attorney who is also the group’s counsel. Ms. Taitz has brought previous lawsuits with some similarity to the present case. See, e.g., Drake v. Obama, 654 F.3d 774 (9th Cir. 2011) [which she also lost]. Plaintiffs removed this case from State Superior Court themselves. [cite omitted] That fact is fatal to this Court’s jurisdiction, and thus the Court will sua sponte dismiss this case for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.
"Sua sponte" means the judge did it on his own, in this case because the error was so obvious nobody had to file a motion to point it out.
It's a real challenge to list all the mistakes Orly made in this case in a reasonable number of words, and this doesn't even include the original state case, but here goes, to the best of my knowledge (quotations are from the court's order):
After some initial proceedings in state court, which were not to her liking, she removed her own case to federal court.
She filed a notice of removal in the state court, but not in the federal court.
Instead, she filed a "First Amended Complaint" in federal court, which was not the same as the complaint she filed in state court. (If you're removing a case, it has to be the same case.)
Actually, no one is really sure what she filed: "Perhaps some confusion is due to the fact that the manually filed First Amended Complaint had 'First amended complaint' crossed out. Someone wrote 'Notice of Removal' in pen above the crossed-out text, which then became the document’s title in the docket."
She did not file whatever this was electronically, as the court's rules require.
Because of the handwriting issue, when the court ordered her to go back and file "Docket #1" electronically, it meant the complaint but she thought it meant the notice of removal, which is what she filed electronically, thus having successfully confused everybody including herself.
And what she filed was the notice she had filed in state court—meaning she never did file an actual federal notice of removal or an electronic copy of her new complaint.
In the meantime, she was trying to serve this bogus complaint on the defendants; as far as I know, she did not serve any of the 29 defendants correctly.
"At least one Defendant has reported that the paper copy of the complaint he received, which is the only copy to which he has access, is missing pages."
That seems like enough for now.
Again, I express no opinion as to her skills in dentistry. She may be a fantastic dentist. But she couldn't litigate her way out of a paper bag.
Like California's "Unfair Competition Law," a favorite of consumers outraged by such things as sailors fraudulently marketing crunchberry-flavored cereal and soap that did not attract women as allegedly promised, disability-access laws are also frequently misused. Access for the disabled is a Good Thing, but many lawsuits are filed by people looking to make a quick buck based on some technical violation that isn't harming anyone. Those cases don't help the disabled and cost businesses a lot of money to fight. But Yuba City, California, has taken a stand with regard to one serial lawsuit-filer.
Its stand is that it will pay the guy $15,000 to stop filing lawsuits.
According to CBS13 (Sacramento), the plaintiff's lawyer in question is "notorious" in Yuba City for filing frivolous lawsuits. The report doesn't give examples, and "frivolous" could just be the defendants' position. But the fact that in exchange for $15,000 the lawyer has agreed not to file any more lawsuits within Yuba City limits (or "Yuba City city limits," I guess) does not suggest to me that he is especially committed to justice for the disabled of Yuba City.
Or maybe he has already achieved all necessary justice within the city and considers this a "bonus" for a job well done.
Local business owners were said to be "relieved" that the man will no longer be hounding them and the city appeared satisfied that it had resolved a "problematic" situation. Then the reporter went and ruined it by asking the uncomfortable question, "What if someone else comes in and tries to pull the same thing?" Well, that's not going to happen.
"Unfortunately that will probably happen," said the city's economic-development manager. "We are definitely not here to be a bank for some of these advocates to continue to sue the city," he continued, "but in this case ... it's in the best financial interest of the city, and we don't plan on doing it again." (As he spoke, huge plumes of dust could be seen along the roads leading to Yuba City.)
The manager did say that they had their "fingers crossed [that] our local businesses are making the improvements," obviously meaning improvements necessary to comply with the law and not get sued by the plaintiffs' lawyers who are on their way there right now. That could mean, of course, that there are material improvements that do still need to be made to ensure access for the disabled, or that a bunch of trivial changes are required to deprive somebody of an excuse for a lawsuit. What is for sure is that Yuba City's plan not to pay any more protection money is about to be tested big time.
"As a writer, I get a lot of books. My husband usually [just] glances at them .... This one, he hasn't put down. I can't get it out of his hands. Every time I look over, he's reading and laughing.... [C]heck out this awesome book." —Allison Leotta, novelist and author of The Prime-Time Crime Review