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In re Adams

Court of Appeals of The District of Columbia

August 30, 2018

In re Brigitte L. Adams, Respondent.

          Argued February 15, 2017

          A Member of the Bar of the District of Columbia Court of Appeals (Bar Registration No. 426034)

         On Report and Recommendation of the Board on Professional Responsibility (Board Docket No. 14-BD-031) (DDN-505-10, et al.)

          Brigitte L. Adams, pro se.

          Elizabeth A. Herman, Deputy Disciplinary Counsel, with whom Wallace E. Shipp, Jr., Disciplinary Counsel at the time the brief was filed, and Jennifer P. Lyman, Senior Assistant Disciplinary Counsel, were on the brief, for the Office of Disciplinary Counsel.

          Before Glickman and Fisher, Associate Judges, and Washington, Senior Judge. [*]

          Per Curiam

         In 2015, a Hearing Committee ("Committee") of the Board on Professional Responsibility ("Board") determined that Brigitte L. Adams ("Respondent") violated multiple Rules of Professional Conduct when she neglected the cases of five Criminal Justice Act ("CJA") clients. The Committee recommended respondent be suspended from the practice of law for six months and that her reinstatement be conditioned on proof of her fitness to practice law.

         The Board agreed with a substantial majority of the Committee's findings and conclusions; however, the Board disagreed with the Committee's recommended fitness requirement and the findings underlying that recommendation. The Board, instead, recommended a six-month suspension with all but ninety days stayed, no fitness requirement, and a probation period with supervision and therapy. Disciplinary Counsel disagreed with the Board's recommendation and noted its objection with this court. Respondent requests that we adopt the recommendations of the Board.

         For the reasons stated below, we agree with the Board that a fitness requirement is not appropriate in this matter. However, we are not convinced that the Board's sanction recommendations are sufficient to protect the integrity of the Bar. Therefore, we impose a lengthier probation period, with practice monitoring should respondent resume her practice during the probationary period, and a few additional conditions recommended by the Board and discussed below.

         I. Procedural Background

         Brigitte L. Adams has been a member of the District of Columbia Bar since 1990. Respondent was brought to the attention of Disciplinary Counsel after she abandoned the cases of five indigent criminal defendants, whom she was assigned to represent on appeal under the Criminal Justice Act from 2008 until 2010. In regard to the five client matters, Disciplinary Counsel filed a Specification of Charges, which alleged respondent violated numerous rules of conduct: Rules 1.1 (a) and (b) (failing to represent clients competently, and with skill and care); Rules 1.3 (a), (b)(1), and (c) (failing to diligently and zealously represent clients, intentionally failing to seek clients' lawful objectives, and failing to act with reasonable promptness); Rule 1.4 (a) (failing to keep clients reasonably informed and failing to comply with reasonable requests for information); Rule 1.4 (b) (failing to explain a matter to permit clients to make informed decisions); Rule 1.16 (d) (failing to protect clients' interests, in connection with termination of representation); Rule 3.4 (c) (disobeying the rules of a tribunal); Rule 8.4 (d) (engaging in conduct that seriously interferes with the administration of justice); and D.C. Bar R. XI, §§ 2 (b)(3) and 2 (b)(4) (failing to comply with orders of the Court and the Board and failing to respond to an inquiry from the Court or the Board in connection with a disciplinary proceeding). Respondent was also alleged to have violated Rule 5.5 (a) for practicing law in a jurisdiction where doing so violates the regulation of the legal profession.

         The intricacies of respondent's alleged misconduct are not at issue. Respondent, in fact, admitted nearly all of the fifty-two factual allegations in Disciplinary Counsel's Specification of Charges and only disputed the alleged violations of Rules 3.4 (c) and 5.5 (a). Notwithstanding, a summation of her alleged misconduct is appropriate.[1] Beginning in 2001, respondent was placed on the District of Columbia Court of Appeals' CJA panel of attorneys willing to accept appointments to represent indigent criminal defendants in appellate matters. From 2008 to 2010, respondent was appointed to represent five separate criminal defendants. Respondent, however, in almost every respect failed to communicate with these five clients, pursue her clients' interests, file briefs on their behalf, or respond to Court orders. Instead, respondent filed numerous motions for extensions of time in which to file briefs but, ultimately, ignored twenty-six separate Court orders to file briefs. We were forced to vacate her appointment in the five cases in late 2010 and ordered respondent to turn over her files to successor counsel.

         At this point, Disciplinary Counsel had become aware of respondent's misconduct. It sent various inquiries and orders to respond, all of which went unanswered. When respondent failed to comply with a court order enforcing Disciplinary Counsel's subpoena for her files, the Superior Court held a hearing on our referral of respondent's contempt. Respondent failed to appear and a bench warrant was issued for her arrest. Numerous unsuccessful attempts were made to serve respondent the warrant. Finally on May 30, 2012, we ordered respondent's license temporarily suspended based upon her failure to respond to the Board's order.

         On August 7, 2012, respondent appeared before a Superior Court judge as counsel for Eutelsat America Corporation. The court refused to let her proceed in light of our order of suspension. Shortly thereafter, respondent's counsel sent Disciplinary Counsel a letter responding to the allegations of unethical conduct. From this point on, respondent fully cooperated with Disciplinary Counsel and stipulated to all the relevant facts. The Superior Court quashed the bench warrant, and we vacated the order of temporary suspension.

          On August 27, 2014, the Hearing Committee held an evidentiary hearing to determine whether respondent violated Rules 3.4 (c) and 5.5 (a) - she had already stipulated to the remaining violations - and to hear evidence to mitigate her misconduct. Respondent presented three witnesses and her own testimony of her emotional and mental condition underlying these events. Specifically, respondent claimed that she began having difficulties working on her criminal appeals after she handled a murder appeal, in which her client was convicted of a particularly egregious murder and expressed no remorse. Working on this case upset respondent and caused her "to shut down." She testified that those negative feelings resurfaced when she began receiving phone calls from one of her CJA clients, who was also convicted of committing a murder. Respondent "would sit down with the transcripts and [she] would sit there and not be able to open it." The Hearing Committee accepted as credible respondent's testimony regarding her murder cases that were difficult for her emotionally ...

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