Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Unlike Nifong: Can The N.C. State Bar Ever Touch Jack Nichols?

If you ask a crooked attorney from Crook, Colorado or a lying lawyer from Happyland, Connecticut; about the State Bar in their state, they'd probably tell you that the state bar don't play. An independent review of the disciplinary process of every state's State Bar, by the watchdog group HALT, found that Colorado and Connecticut were among the best state bars in the nation, at keeping unscrupulous attorneys from using their considerable power, as officers of the court, from violating the law and the Rules of Professional Conduct; and basically harming the rest of us.

HALT's report card gave Colorado a "B-" and rated them 2nd in the nation; and also gave Connecticut a "B-" and found them to be the best disciplinary agency in the nation overall.

Now if you ask these same attorneys to speculate on how good the North Carolina State Bar is, they'd probably surmise that it must be pretty tough. After all, didn't they go after that rouge prosecutor Nifong, when he went after those innocent lacrosse players at Duke? And they even suspended the law license of a former governor, Mike Easley, after he pled guilty to one count of certifying a false campaign finance report. And Easley had once been the North Carolina Attorney General. So they must be pretty tough....right? Not so fast...

HALT's report card on attorney discipline for the State of North Carolina, gave the State Bar a grade of...wait for it, wait for it...."D" and ranked it 50th in the nation overall. That's right. In a country where we have "Chicago-style" corruption, "Big Easy Louisiana brand justice" and "Texas-It's like a whole other country" style justice; North Carolina ranks 50th? What the Hell?

Kinda unbelievable until you look at the systemic reasons why. In 2006, the year of the study, the Chair of the North Carolina Grievance Committee was a woman named Barbara "Bonnie" Weyher. Under her (I hate saying this word here) "leadership", North Carolina ranked 50th in lawyer discipline.

The year before that, the NC State Bar was essentially forced to hold a hearing to address a public outcry over what many believe was bias and cronyism by State Bar staff prosecutors.

Carolin Bakewell, a senior Bar staff attorney, was personally acquainted with David Hoke and Debra Graves, as were other senior staff lawyers. Hoke and Graves were prosecutors that lied a man, Alan Gell onto DEATH ROW.  After the misconduct was discovered and Hoke and Graves went before the Bar, they were given (sit down for this one) reprimands.  The public went freaking crazy!  The State Bar was kinda forced to hold a hearing...surprise, surprise...they found no misconduct, but made a couple of "suggestions" as to how this sort of thing could be prevented in the future...None of which seems to have been adopted in the pending case of North Carolina State Bar vs. Jack Nichols. (ie: its been 6 months, no witness interviews, etc.)

In fact, one of the people that sat on the hearing panel and signed the report that gave suggestions as to how to prevent the public perception of cronyism and bias in the future, was Barbara Weyher.  Soon after she signed the report, she was a Defendant in a lawsuit that alleged, among other things, that when she received a state bar complaint against her law partner, Sean Partrick, she used her position as Chair of the Grievance Committee to dismiss the charges.  The complaint challenged her upcoming rise to President of the State Bar.

This time, however, the state bar arrived in mass at a pre-trial hearing and Top Gun Katherin Jean argued that the signature on the dismissal form wasn't Bonnie Weyher's at all.  It was an electronic signature and some unknown staffer must have signed it! (Sound familiar, Jack Nichols watchers?).  Judge Donald Stephens threw out that part of the lawsuit, and Bonnie Weyher became president of the State Bar shortly after...
A review of the North Carolina State Bar website's disciplinary page then and now, highlights a strange pattern. Most North Carolina attorneys that run afoul of the State Bar seem to fit into a few consistent catorgories. Most that get disbarred are brought down because they "misappropriated entrusted funds." If you outright steal a client's money and aren't clever enough to hide your trail, the North Carolina State Bar will come after your tail.

Along with the stealing of client cash, the next thing you'll find is...and it's almost ALWAYS, the case, the attorney has been convicted by a court somewhere for doing some-thing. Easley got caught up in this. He was convicted of a felony...certifying a campaign finance report. Egregious to be sure, but had it not been an issue in the public media, the NC Bar wouldn't have sent their top gun, Katherine Jean to take him down. When Kat Jean shows up on your doorstep, its time to put a hold on that remodel to the sunroom. Easley was ultimately KatJean-ed for a helicopter ride. Tough...but consistent? Hardly. It's alleged that Judge Allen Baddour, in violation of campaign finance laws, comingled campaign funds in his personal account. Think he'll get KatJean-ed?  No. He won't.

This is all relevant because the state bar is now considering a 133 count COMPLAINT against former county commissioner Jack Nichols.  The complaint is accompanied with over 512 pages of supporting documents and audio exhibits.  Seems like even Jack won't be able to slick his way out this time.

Don't be so sure.  The complaint also mentions Sean Partrick, the law partner of Barbara Weyher and allegations that he also engaged in misconduct as a representative of Yates, McLamb & Weyher; Barbara's law firm.  Within days of receipt of the complaint, Weyher stepped down from her position as state bar president and the complaint was handed over to a state bar staff prosecutor, Fern Simeon (never heard of her).

An inquiry as to why the complaint has taken so long (Oct 2011) to be resolved, was answered a couple of weeks ago and Fern says the over 500 pages of supporting documents are under review and it takes time.   Hope they aren't trying to find a way let Nichols off the hook. Insofar as Nichols and Weyher are very much intertwined in this debacle, the state bar may not be able to touch Nichols without him point the finger back on them. Stay tuned...

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