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In re Gonzalez

March 19, 2009


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

On Report and Recommendation of the Board on Professional Responsibility

(BDN 42-07)

Argued February 25, 2009

Before GLICKMAN and KRAMER, Associate Judges, and BELSON, Senior Judge.

Maria Ines Gonzalez, the respondent in this reciprocal discipline matter, is admitted to practice law in New Jersey, New York, and the District of Columbia. On January 23, 2007, the Supreme Court of New Jersey suspended her for three months based on stipulated violations of New Jersey Rules of Professional Conduct 1.15 (d) (failing to comply with record keeping rules), 5.3 (a) (failing to supervise non-lawyer assistants), 5.4 (a) (sharing legal fees with a non-lawyer), 5.5 (b) (assisting the unauthorized practice of law), and 8.4 (a) (assisting another to violate the Rules of Professional Conduct). Respondent committed these violations by negligently allowing her paralegal and bookkeeper to use her signature stamp on trust account checks (enabling 2 them to steal client funds without her knowledge), and by permitting the paralegal to perform the duties of an attorney in personal injury matters (for example, by attending depositions and appearing in court).

A lawyer who has been suspended for any length of time in New Jersey must apply for reinstatement by filing a petition "setting forth all material facts on which [she] relies to establish fitness to resume the practice of law."*fn1 The Office of Attorney Ethics*fn2 did not oppose respondent's petition, and the New Jersey Supreme Court summarily reinstated her on May 25, 2007. In accordance with the terms of its initial order of suspension, the court required respondent as a condition of her reinstatement to practice under the supervision of a monitoring attorney for a period of one year. She satisfactorily completed this requirement.

After respondent reported her New Jersey discipline to Bar Counsel in the District of Columbia, this court entered an order of interim suspension on April 3, 2007, and referred the matter to the Board on Professional Responsibility for its recommendation. Bar Counsel asked the Board to recommend identical reciprocal discipline in the form of a ninety-day suspension with reinstatement conditioned on proof of fitness*fn3 and supervision by a practice monitor.*fn4 Respondent opposed further supervision of her practice as unnecessary but otherwise did not object to identical reciprocal discipline. On November 30, 2007, the Board issued its report. The Board recommends that respondent receive a three-month suspension as "functionally equivalent reciprocal discipline." In view of her summary reinstatement in New Jersey, however, the Board recommends that we "dispense" with the requirement that respondent prove fitness as a condition of reinstatement here. In addition, recognizing that respondent's practice is located entirely in New York and New Jersey, and that she already has had the benefit of a practice monitor there for a year, the Board recommends against a requirement of further monitoring in the District of Columbia.

Respondent asks us to adopt the Board's recommendation in toto. Bar Counsel takes exception to it, however. While agreeing with the recommended period of suspension, Bar Counsel argues that respondent should have to prove her fitness to resume the practice of law as a condition of her reinstatement here, just as she was obligated to demonstrate her fitness in her petition for reinstatement in New Jersey. Bar Counsel also argues that respondent should not be permitted to practice law in the District of Columbia without a practice monitor.

This court imposes reciprocal discipline in accordance with the provisions of D.C. Bar R. XI, § 11. We recently amended that section, but the changes, which took effect August 1, 2008, do not affect our disposition of the present case. When a member of our Bar has been disbarred, suspended, or placed on probation by another disciplining court, § 11 continues to "create[] a rebuttable presumption that the discipline will be the same in the District of Columbia as it was in the original disciplining jurisdiction."*fn5 Specifically, we "shall impose identical discipline unless the attorney demonstrates by clear and convincing evidence, or the Court finds on the face of the record,"*fn6 that one or more of the following grounds set forth in § 11 (c) exists:

(1) The procedure elsewhere was so lacking in notice or opportunity to be heard as to constitute a deprivation of due process; or

(2) There was such infirmity of proof establishing the misconduct as to give rise to the clear conviction that the Court could not, consistently with its duty, accept as final the conclusion on that subject; or

(3) The imposition of the same discipline by the Court would result in grave injustice; or

(4) The misconduct established warrants substantially different discipline in the ...

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