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In re Morrell

October 7, 2004

IN RE MICHAEL X. MORRELL, RESPONDENT.


On Exception to the Order of the Board on Professional Responsibility (BDN 135-03)

Before Terry, Reid and Washington, Associate Judges.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Reid, Associate Judge.

Argued September 9, 2004

Respondent Michael X. Morrell was disbarred in Fall 1996 for violations of the District of Columbia Code of Professional Responsibility, including "dishonest, deceitful or fraudulent conduct," "illegal acts involving moral turpitude," and "misappropriation of client funds"; we previously detailed the factual underpinnings of these violations. See In re Morrell, 684 A.2d 361, 362-65 (D.C. 1996) (Morrell I). Mr. Morrell applied for reinstatement to the bar on April 15, 2003. He challenges the Board on Professional Responsibility's ("Board") dismissal of his petition for reinstatement. We hold that the Board properly dismissed Mr. Morrell's petition for reinstatement because it was insufficient on its face as to two "material facts" required to be addressed by the petitioner with clear and convincing evidence.

FACTUAL SUMMARY

On April 15, 2003, Mr. Morrell filed a petition for reinstatement to the District of Columbia Bar following his disbarrment in Fall 1996. He submitted a questionnaire which provided basic background information, discussed the matter for which he was disciplined, and addressed five categories of information or "material facts." The Board's questionnaire instructions specified the following "material facts":

(1) the nature and circumstances of the misconduct for which the petitioner was disbarred or suspended;

(2) petitioner's recognition of the seriousness of such conduct;

(3) petitioner's conduct during period of disbarrment or suspension, including

(4) petitioner's present character; (5) petitioner's present qualifications and competence to practice law.*fn1

Mr. Morrell attached to his petition tax returns for the years 1996 to 2001.

Bar Counsel filed a motion to dismiss the petition for reinstatement on June 2, 2003, because of Mr. Morrell's "failure to pay any restitution to the victims of his fraud and theft following his disbarrment." Mr. Morrell's former law firm, Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP ("Akin Gump"), paid $3.2 million to a French pharmaceutical company, Laboratoires Besins Iscovesco ("Lab Besins") and its American affiliate, LaSalle Laboratories, Inc. ("LaSalle") as a result of Mr. Morrell's misconduct. In his petition for reinstatement, Mr. Morrell asserted that "Lab Besins and LaSalle were fully recompensed," that "in his settlement with LaSalle, [he] made a financial payment and transferred stock with value to LaSalle," and that in Akin Gump's lawsuit against him, the trial court "granted a Motion for Summary Judgment in [his] favor . . . [and] dismissed the complaint." Mr. Morrell's *fn2 petition further pointed out that neither the Hearing Committee, nor the Board, nor the trial court had imposed a requirement of restitution or compensation and that no such requirement was imposed by this court, but the petition also acknowledged a footnote in Morrell I which reads in pertinent part: "We agree with the Board's observation that, if respondent seeks reinstatement, evidence that respondent's victims have been made whole would be "highly relevant." Id. at 372 n.5. However, Mr. Morrell took the position in his petition that "[t]he clients were the victims," not Akin Gump, and thus he had no obligation to pay anything to Akin Gump. *fn3

In opposing Mr. Morrell's reinstatement petition, Bar Counsel declared: "[he] has refused to reimburse [his former law] firm a penny." In fact, Bar Counsel stated, he made only one small, $50,000 payment to LaSalle prior to the commencement of disciplinary proceedings against him. Bar Counsel estimated the amount Mr. Morrell "stole from his clients" to be "no less than $1,635,538.08. . . ," not including "fees and other compensation." And, Bar Counsel asserted that "[h]e continues to retain more than $1.5 million in additional funds that he stole from the clients as well as the double compensation he received" from LaSalle and Akin Gump.

The Board reviewed Mr. Morrell's petition for reinstatement by applying the factors we set forth in In re Roundtree, 503 A.2d 1215 (D.C. 1985), and other cases, and concluded that Mr. Morrell's failure "to make any attempts at restitution - - and his apparent belief that he has no restitutionary obligations because there are no court orders requiring restitution - -render his reinstatement petition ...


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