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In re Williams

September 9, 2010


On Report and Recommendation of the Board on Professional Responsibility (BDN 295-05).

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

Argued February 17, 2010

Before WASHINGTON, Chief Judge, and KRAMER and FISHER, Associate Judges.

This matter comes before this court as a result of discipline imposed upon Stephen J. Williams by the Connecticut Superior Court. The Board on Professional Responsibility ("Board") recommends that we impose the non-identical reciprocal discipline of a six-month suspension with a fitness requirement. We agree with its recommendation of a six-month suspension but we conclude that Mr. Williams's conduct warrants the imposition of a requirement that he complete an ethics and practice course before he is reinstated, rather than that he make the full reinstatement showing.

I. Factual Background

Williams was admitted to the Bar of the District of Columbia Court of Appeals on January 3, 1990, on motion. At the time, he had also been admitted to practice law in Connecticut and New York. In 2006, Williams was suspended from the practice of law in Connecticut for six months for violations of the Connecticut Rules of Professional Conduct ("Connecticut Rules") in connection with his pro se representation in a traffic matter.*fn1 The Connecticut court concluded that Williams's conduct "constitute[d] a danger to the administration of justice and to the citizens of Connecticut who might unwittingly engage his ponderous services."Finding clear and convincing evidence thatWilliams violated Connecticut Rules 1.1, 3.5 (3), 4.4, and 8.4 (4),*fn2 the court suspended Williams's license to practice law for six months on July 18, 2005, and conditioned his reinstatement upon completion of an approved "course of instruction on legal ethics and Connecticut Practice and Procedure." Williams has failed to comply with these conditions and remains suspended in Connecticut.

New York subsequently imposed a six-month suspension as reciprocal discipline. District of Columbia Bar Counsel filed a certified copy of the Decision and Order of the Connecticut Court with this court on June 12, 2006, and a copy of the New York court's order on September 11, 2006.*fn3 On March 6, 2007, we suspended Williams on an interim basis pursuant to D.C. Bar R. XI, § 11 (d) (1991),*fn4 and directed the Board to either (1) recommend whether identical, greater or lesser discipline should be imposed as reciprocal discipline, or (2) determine whether the Board should proceed de novo.

In response, Williams filed several motions with the Board, including a motion to dismiss for lack of personal and subject matter jurisdiction, a motion to strike parts of Bar Counsel's brief, and a motion to compel discovery. The Board denied all of Williams's motions in a May 8, 2007, order. Williams moved to vacate this order, but the Board denied the motion and prohibited Williams from filing additional motions without prior leave from the Board, citing Williams's history of "filing repetitive motions." Williams also petitioned this court for an en banc rehearing of his interim suspension. We denied that petition on July 12, 2009.*fn5

II. Standard of Review

D.C. Bar R. XI, § 11 (f)(2) embodies a rebuttable presumption in favor of the imposition of identical reciprocal discipline unless the respondent demonstrates, or the court finds on the face of the record by clear and convincing evidence, that one or more of the five exceptions set forth in D.C. Bar R. XI, § 11 (c) applies. "A determination that one or more of the exceptions... applies is a question of law or ultimate fact. Accordingly, the court's review is de novo."*fn6 If none of the exceptions apply, "a final determination by a disciplining court outside the District of Columbia... that an attorney has been guilty of professional misconduct shall conclusively establish the misconduct for the purpose of a reciprocal disciplinary proceeding in this Court."

III. Legal Analysis

As a threshold matter, we must respond to Williams's challenge that we lack subject matter jurisdiction to impose reciprocal discipline. The District of Columbia Home Rule Act vests our court with the authority to impose reciprocal discipline on attorneys.*fn7 Section 431 of the Act provides that the District of Columbia Court of Appeals has jurisdiction over "any other matters granted to the District of Columbia courts by other provisions of law."*fn8 D.C. Code § 11-2502*fn9 is the "other provision of law" which, together with the legal principle of collateral estoppel, establishes that the disciplinary power vested in our court includes the power to impose reciprocal discipline in addition to original discipline.*fn10

Williams next contends that two of the exceptions to the imposition of reciprocal discipline enumerated by D.C. Bar R. XI, § 11 (c), specifically a denial of due process and an infirmity of proof, have been established by clear and convincing evidence.*fn11 He further argues that he was denied the assistance of counsel in Connecticut, that his privilege against self-incrimination was infringed, and that the proceedings against him were unfair and biased. In addressing Williams's arguments, D.C. Bar R. XI, ยง 9 ...

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