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In re Elhillali

Court of Appeals of The District of Columbia

January 3, 2019

In re Ahmed M. Elhillali, Respondent. A Special Legal Consultant Licensed by the District of Columbia Court of Appeals (Registration No. 446927)

          Submitted December 17, 2018

          On Report and Recommendation of the Board on Professional Responsibility (Board Docket No. 16-BD-030) (Bar Docket Nos. 2012-D330 and 2014-D029)

          Before Fisher and McLeese, Associate Judges, and Nebeker, Senior Judge.

          PER CURIAM:

         The Board on Professional Responsibility ("Board") recommends that respondent Ahmed M. Elhillali's license as a Special Legal Consultant be revoked, without any right to reapply for this license for five years. The Board also recommends that respondent not be granted a license after the revocation period unless he pays restitution and proves his fitness to practice as a Special Legal Consultant. Although respondent contested the charges before the Hearing Committee, he withdrew his exceptions to its report and did not file any exceptions to the Board's report. Disciplinary Counsel did not file any exceptions to the Board's report either. For the following reasons, we adopt the Board's recommendation.

         I. Factual Summary

         Since no exceptions have been filed, the Board's findings of fact are undisputed. This court admitted respondent as a Special Legal Consultant in 1995; he is not licensed to practice law in any jurisdiction in the United States. Special Legal Consultants are allowed to provide advice about the law of the foreign country in which they are licensed, but are not permitted to provide "legal advice on or under the law of the District of Columbia or of the United States or of any state, territory, or possession thereof." D.C. App. R. 46 (c)(4)(D)(5) (2008).[1]

         Respondent falsely held himself out as an attorney licensed to practice in the District of Columbia by maintaining a website for "The Law Office of Ahmed Elhillali," with offices in Virginia and the District of Columbia.[2] While representing clients, respondent referred to himself as "attorney of record," "counselor," and "attorney and a member in good standing" and formally entered his appearance as an attorney in immigration cases on at least ten occasions. For example, respondent misrepresented himself to be an attorney and accepted fees in an immigration matter for Mr. Jamal Jubara Ragab Kabu and held himself out as an attorney to Mr. Omer Elsadig Abbas Ali. Respondent also falsely testified before the Hearing Committee. The Hearing Committee found (and the Board agreed) that respondent violated District of Columbia Rules of Professional Conduct 1.4 (b) (failure to explain matter), 1.16 (d) (termination of representation), 5.5 (a) (unauthorized practice of law), 8.4 (b) (committing a criminal act that reflects adversely on a lawyer's fitness - theft in violation of D.C. Code § 22-3211), and 8.4 (c) (dishonesty).

         II. Standard of Review

          Under D.C. Bar R. XI, § 9 (h)(1), this court "shall accept the findings of fact made by the Board unless they are unsupported by substantial evidence of record, and shall adopt the recommended disposition of the Board unless to do so would foster a tendency toward inconsistent dispositions for comparable conduct or would otherwise be unwarranted." "When . . . there are no exceptions to the Board's report and recommendation, our deferential standard of review becomes even more deferential." In re Viehe, 762 A.2d 542, 543 (D.C. 2000).

         Because there is no precedent in the District of Columbia regarding the revocation or suspension of a Special Legal Consultant's license, we will address (1) whether a Special Legal Consultant is governed by the District of Columbia Rules of Professional Conduct, (2) whether it is appropriate to revoke or suspend respondent's license, and (3) whether respondent should be allowed to reapply for this type of license.

         III. Analysis

         The version of Rule 46 in effect during respondent's misconduct [2010 through 2015] provided that a Special Legal Consultant was subject "to the Code of Professional Responsibility of the American Bar Association, as amended by the court" and "to censure, suspension, or revocation of his or her license to practice as a Special Legal Consultant by the court." D.C. App. R. 46 (c)(4)(E)(1)(a) (2008). Respondent and Disciplinary Counsel agree that "as amended" means the District of Columbia Rules of Professional Conduct.[3] In addition, D.C. Bar R. XI, § l (a) (2008) stated "all persons licensed by this Court as Special Legal Consultants under Rule 46(c)(4) . . . are subject to the disciplinary jurisdiction of this Court and its Board on Professional Responsibility." Thus, Special Legal Consultants must follow the Rules of Professional Conduct, and the Board on Professional Responsibility has authority to conduct disciplinary proceedings and recommend appropriate sanctions.

         The Hearing Committee and the Board interpreted this jurisdiction's disciplinary rules and concluded that a Special Legal Consultant should receive a sanction similar to what would be imposed if he were an attorney. Because there is no precedent in this jurisdiction regarding the discipline of Special Legal ...


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