This article, He’s Sure He’s Right But He’s All Alone (1/9/05) describes the epic of Mark Adams, who finds himself on the brink of losing his law license all because of a case that he filed on behalf of a client back in 2001. How he went from one situation to the other reflects much that’s wrong with the disciplinary system – and also what happens if an attorney uses unlawful means to try to circumvent an unjust result.
The saga began in 2001, when Adams filed a suits for two clients against a corporate defendant for back wages and breach of contract. Company executives approached Adams’ client and told him that their attorney had said that Adams was an idiot and “they were going to bury him.” So Adams clients told him they wanted to retain another lawyer and Adams withdrew from the case.
The new lawyer brought into the case dismissed many of the counts Adams raised in the lawsuit. The rest also would eventually be dismissed in a settlement between the plaintiffs and CSMG. The company sought to recoup its attorney’s fees, which is allowed if a judge deems that a frivolous or bad faith action was filed.
At an April 2003 hearing on the matter, Adams asked for a continuance so he could hire an attorney to represent him, though he had weeks of notice about the hearing. Farnell gave him 10 minutes. Adams walked out and didn’t return. As a result in July 2003, Farnell ordered Adams to pay the company’s legal fees ($20,000) and referred Adams to the bar for unethical conduct. But then Adams refused to appear at deposition regarding collection of the fees and was found in contempt. The judge issued a warrant for Adams’ arrest as well. Adams attempted to have Farnell recused from the case and he finally agreed to step down in the contempt case.
From what I read, I don’t think the judge should have assessed the legal fees against Adams so long as there was some evidence that company executives intimidated employees from using Adams. And the judge certainly should not have referred the case to the disciplinary board, having assessed the fees. Surely the $20,000 fine should have been sufficient.
BUT – Adams exacerbated his own situation. He left the courthouse after the judge denied him a continuance and he continued to avoid depositions when it came time for the company to try to collect the money. Adams should have appealed the $20,000 fee assessment and finding that his suit was unlawful. He did not need to flout the legal system to accomplish his ends.
As my readers know, I follow grievance cases closely. There are so many cases where attorneys wind up disbarred or suspended for long periods not because of the underlying act, but because they failed to respond to the disciplinary system or they file aggressive and over-zealous pleadings on their own behalf. Don’t do it. You’re still a lawyer until disbarred, so follow the law when opposing adverse judicial actions or grievances and you may find that the law will rescue you in the end.