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In re Chaganti

Court of Appeals of Columbia District

August 4, 2016

In re Naren Chaganti, Respondent.

          Submitted January 6, 2016

         A Suspended Member of the Bar "of the District of Columbia Court of Appeals, Bar Registration No. 464217

         On Report and Recommendation of the Board on Professional Responsibility BDN-361-14

          Naren Chaganti, pro se.

          Wallace E. Shipp, Jr., Disciplinary Counsel, and William R. Ross, Assistant Disciplinary Counsel, for the Office of Disciplinary Counsel.

          Before Beckwith and Easterly, Associate Judges, and King, Senior Judge.

          PER CURIAM.

         On October 28, 2014, the Supreme Court of Missouri determined that Respondent Naren Chaganti violated Missouri's Rules of Professional Conduct by improperly communicating with a represented party. The court suspended him indefinitely from the practice of law, adding that it would not entertain a petition for reinstatement for one year.

          The District of Columbia Office of Disciplinary Counsel now recommends that we impose reciprocal discipline and suspend Mr. Chaganti for one year, with reinstatement conditioned upon proof of fitness to practice law.[1] Mr. Chaganti concedes that D.C. Bar R. XI § 11 (c) generally obligates this court to impose reciprocal discipline, but he asserts he falls under four of the five enumerated exceptions to this rule. Concluding that none of these exceptions applies, we suspend Mr. Chaganti for one year, with reinstatement conditioned upon proof of fitness.

         I. Background

         Mr. Chaganti's indefinite suspension from the Missouri bar stemmed from actions he took in a civil suit he filed against Lafayne Manse. Mr. Chaganti sued Mr. Manse for breach of contract in relation to heating and cooling services Mr. Manse was supposed to provide to Whispering Oaks Residential Care Facility, a business Mr. Chaganti not only represented as an attorney but also managed and owned. At various times throughout three years of litigation, Mr. Chaganti asked to talk directly with Mr. Manse, but in each instance, Mr. Manse's counsel, Thomas DeVoto, refused to permit direct contact between his client and Mr. Chaganti. At one point, Mr. Manse tried to reach out to Mr. Chaganti directly, but Mr. Chaganti declined to speak with him and referred him to Mr. DeVoto. Whispering Oaks's complaint was ultimately dismissed for failure to prosecute. Immediately after the case was dismissed, while the parties were still at the courthouse, Mr. Chaganti indicated that he was certain he could resolve his dispute if only he and Mr. Manse could speak directly. Mr. DeVoto then reminded Mr. Chaganti that he still represented Mr. Manse in the matter, and that Mr. Chaganti still did not have permission to communicate with Mr. Manse. Mr. DeVoto also warned Mr. Chaganti that he would file a complaint with the Missouri Bar if Mr. Chaganti contacted Mr. Manse.

         Mr. Chaganti ignored Mr. DeVoto's warning and, the following day, wrote a letter to Mr. Manse.[2] Mr. Chaganti informed Mr. Manse that he planned to refile the lawsuit and would add as a defendant Mr. Manse's employer, who apparently was unaware that Mr. Manse had independently contracted to do business with Whispering Oaks. Mr. Chaganti then advised Mr. Manse that he could avoid further litigation by discussing settlement, but he would have to "place a larger sum of money to settle than [Mr. DeVoto] has offered." Mr. Chaganti warned Mr. Manse that he "should think seriously whether it is in your best interests to go to court again or to close this matter at this time."

         Mr. Chaganti was subsequently charged with violating two of Missouri's Rules of Professional Conduct: Rule 4-4.2 (communicating about the subject of the representation with a person known to be represented by counsel, without consent of counsel) and Rule 4-8.4 (d) (engaging in conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice). Mr. Chaganti appeared pro se before the state's Disciplinary Hearing Panel. The Panel issued a written decision concluding that Mr. Chaganti had violated Rules 4-4.2 and 4-8.4 (d) and recommending that he be suspended indefinitely with permission to apply for reinstatement after six months. The Missouri Supreme Court adopted the Panel's recommendation of indefinite suspension, but added that no petition for reinstatement would be entertained for one year.

         After receiving notice of Mr. Chaganti's suspension in Missouri, this court suspended Mr. Chaganti and ordered him to show cause why reciprocal discipline should not be imposed. In response, Mr. Chaganti argued that he should not have been disciplined in Missouri and that this court should not impose reciprocal discipline. Disciplinary Counsel filed a statement recommending reciprocal discipline.

         II. Analysis

         When an attorney barred in the District is disciplined in another jurisdiction, this court "shall . . . impose[]" identical, reciprocal discipline, see D.C. Bar Rule XI, § 11 (c), (d), (e), unless an attorney opposing reciprocal discipline (or urging nonidentical discipline) shows, by clear and convincing evidence, that at least one of § 11 (c)'s five exceptions apply. See In re Sibley, 990 A.2d 483, 487-88 (D.C. 2010).[3] We have previously noted that these are narrow exceptions, the application of which "should be rare, " and that "reciprocal discipline proceedings are not a forum to reargue the foreign discipline." See id. at 488 (quoting In re Zdravkovich, 831 A.2d at 969-70). Whether one or more ...


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