A disbarred Pennsylvania lawyer was sentenced to 1½ to 3 years in prison on Wednesday for stealing from her Harrisburg law firm and vandalizing its offices after she was fired.
Judge William Tully said he had considered a lower sentence for Nichole Ashley Collins until she made statements during the sentencing hearing that he found not entirely credible, PennLive reports.
Tully also sentenced Collins to pay more than $160,000 in restitution and to five years of probation.
Collins had been accused of stealing from the firm Shaffer & Engle by writing checks for expenses she did not incur and by failing to turn over cash payments she received from clients, according to a prior PennLive story. After taking the client cash, Collins would mark the client accounts as paid in full.
She is also accused of returning to the firm after her firing, pouring what she described as Gatorade on the computers, and ordering sex toys and delivering them to an office of a former worker. Collins described the sex toy purchase as “vengeful,” according to PennLive’s coverage.
Tully appeared skeptical when Collins said she didn’t know she wasn’t allowed to return to Shaffer & Engle after her firing. He also asked several questions about why she committed the crimes and was “visibly skeptical” about her answers.
Collins attributed her crimes to financial and marital problems, a gambling addiction and a bad reaction to a drug prescribed to treat her ADHD.
Collins said she would take everything back if she could. She said she lost her job, her law license and her husband, who is a county prosecutor. “I’ve lost everything,” she said.
I’ve only been to court, real court, a few times. I’ve been infrequently enough that each time I go I am shocked anew at how inefficient the entire process is, and how basically discriminatory it is towards people who have real jobs and can’t just sit around court all day.
For the uninitiated, you have to show up to the court first thing in the morning, but they don’t actually call your case first thing in the morning. They call somebody else’s case first. You gotta sit there like a mope until the court gets to you. It could be “next,” it could be “later,” you don’t know. Your job is to sit, until the judge calls you. When he or she does, the lawyer springs to action, explaining some issue that is critically important to somebody’s life in a few minutes. The judge then responds with disinterest, annoyance, or anger depending on their mood. Then, NEXT, it’s time to move onto the next case or controversy due for “individual attention” from our justice system.
For lawyers, time is money, so courtroom lawyers often try to double book their time so they’re not just wasting it waiting for a judge to call their case. Such was the case with attorney Chris Ainsworth, an associate with the Poerschke Law Firm in Texas. Ainsworth was at the docket call at 9:00 a.m., and at 9:25 he left to go to another courthouse for another matter. He was back at 9:35. The court coordinator told Ainsworth that his case had just been called, and… he had to go to the bathroom. The court coordinator told him to hurry; the case was called again at 9:39; Ainsworth returned to the courtroom at 9:50 (his client didn’t show up till 9:55). The ABA Journal has the full tick-tock.
Despite the inefficiency baked into our system, making a judge wait 11 entire minutes is bad form. Judges get pissy when lawyers waste their time, notwithstanding the fact that docket scheduling is usually a giant waste of a lawyer’s and a client’s time.
Ainsworth could have expected some judicial admonishment for going to the bathroom instead of holding it until after his proceeding. He could not have expected what Judge Sandra Peake did next.
Judge Peake removed the entire case from the jury docket to the non-jury docket. Which is a bit of an extreme remedy for tardiness. I mean, he wasn’t late because he at the bar knocking back tequila shots. Dude had to go to the bathroom and botched the timing. I know there are going to be some GLORY BOYS reading this who will say, “That’s why I wear a diaper to court,” but come on.
The Texas court of appeals decided that Peake abused her discretion, and put the case back on the jury docket. Which is the right answer. Ainsworth has now been sufficiently shamed as the guy who almost lost a case because he had to pee. That’s also the right answer I guess.
Me, I don’t understand how we’re living in the future, yet we still can’t tell people that their case will be heard at 9:39 before 9:39.
The Yelpification of the legal industry is here to stay. The constant and often anonymous feedback from review sites may be the thorn in the side of many firms, particularly small and solo shops, but it isn’t likely to change any time soon. Not even with litigation.
Texas attorney Chris Sanchez did not like the reviews former clients Trevor Nikos Kocaoglan and Pablo Trejo posted about him, so he’s decided to take the matter to court. As reported by Texas Lawyer, Sanchez takes issue with Google reviews and Facebook comments the pair left and filed a lawsuit for defamation and libel, seeking damages, lost profits, attorney fees, costs, and interest.
In their response to the litigation, the pair say the comments they left were true, so they aren’t defamatory. But, perhaps more importantly, they also seek dismissal of the lawsuit under the Texas Citizens Participation Act’s protection against “strategic lawsuits against public participation.” And an attorney representing the defendants is getting salty about it too:
“It’s clear that he’s meaning to harass,” Houston solo practitioner and defense lawyer Jason Castaneda said about McAllen attorney Chris Sanchez. “I think it’s definitely going to get dismissed. The question is whether the court is going to sanction his conduct.”
It’s always good to be confident in your legal argument.
Kathryn Rubino is a Senior Editor at Above the Law, and host of The Jabot podcast. AtL tipsters are the best, so please connect with her. Feel free to email her with any tips, questions, or comments and follow her on Twitter (@Kathryn1).
Georgia personal injury lawyer Gene Brooks is hearing lawyer shark jokes from colleagues and friends as he recovers from a shark bike that sent him to the emergency room.
Brooks, a Savannah lawyer, says a shark bit him as he was swimming in the Wilmington River on Sunday, report Savannah Now and the State. He received 23 stitches, 20 of them in his arm and three in his chest.
Experts say the likely culprit was a bull shark that can survive in fresh and salt water, according to the State. The shark may have mistaken Brooks for food because of murky waters caused by heavy rain.
“It all happened so fast. I was about 20 feet away from the dock when it hit me,” Brooks told Savannah Now. “I felt like I got punched, which is what I’ve always heard a shark does. I hollered and skedaddled over to my boat, which was tied to the dock. I pulled the ladder down and climbed in.”
Brooks told the State that the shark likely decided it didn’t want Brooks after discovering he was too bony. “It wasn’t a full bite, but the teeth hit me in the chest and underneath my arm,” he said.
He told Savannah Now that he’s grateful that his injuries weren’t more serious.
“It scared me, but I feel real lucky,” Brooks said, a day after the run-in with the shark. “It didn’t hit muscle, bone or blood vessels so I’m good to go.”
According to Savannah Now, a picture on social media shows Brooks bandaged up, smiling and holding a Landshark beer provided by a neighbor. The Savannah Now story also referenced a song by Jimmy Buffett called “Fins” from the late 1970s—“he saw no fins to the left or fins to the right,” the story said. Brooks is taking the jokes in stride.
Young Florida attorneys are finding their legal careers fall short of the expectations they’d had of the profession.
A new study showed nearly one-third of fledgling lawyers would not apply for law school knowing what they now do about the field, many take little or no vacation, and 58% of respondents have considered changing careers, switching to a different firm or practice, and feel the legal work is becoming “less desirable.”
The data comes from a newly released survey by the Young Lawyers Division of the Florida Bar. Between Nov. 15, 2018, and Dec. 6, 2018, the group collected 1,967 responses from attorneys across the state over a six-month period, with input from psychologists.
Young Lawyers Division membership is open to attorneys who have been practicing for less than five years or are younger than 36. Division president Christian GeorgCourtesy photoe said the survey was designed to gauge the mental health and wellness of attorneys who had recently entered the workforce, to then fine tune programs and resources aimed at providing relief.
“The goal was to find out … what mental health issues are affecting our constituents and how people are dealing with it, either in healthy ways or not,” said George, managing partner of Akerman’s Jacksonville office,
Attorneys on the group’s health and wellness committee put together the survey, then a team of voluntary psychologists modified it, and a Florida Bar in-house statistician made edits and gave it back to the psychologists.
“We didn’t want to just throw a survey together that wasn’t looked at by actual professionals,” George said.
It was worth the effort.
The survey also showed more than one-third of respondents said stress had caused them to leave a law office in the past, and more 25% reported they felt they are unable to balance their lives with their legal careers.
Almost one-third of those polled said time constraints kept them from taking more vacation time in 2018.
The topic of mental health in the legal profession has become a subject of renewed focus in recent months, thanks to high-profile incidents. Last year, for instance, Florida’s legal community reeled in the wake of Miami-Dade County Administrative Law Judge Timothy Maher’s Aug. 24 suicide during a standoff with law enforcement.
Florida Bar president Michelle Suskauer said the results of the survey and “Health and Wellness Month” present an opening for the state bar to better assist those in need.
Courtesy photo“It’s a challenge but it’s an opportunity,” she said. “It’s an opportunity to say, ‘What can we do better to help our young lawyers? What can we do better to help lawyers, all of our lawyers, in dealing with these issues?’ ”
Suskauer said it’s her hope the survey will ultimately provide a guidepost on the challenges faced by Florida lawyers.
“I know this is going to help frame the opportunities for future presidents, young lawyers and bar presidents moving forward,” she said. “They’re tough numbers, but they’re instructional.”
She adds, “I think data always helps you fine tune. … It makes you rethink what are the programs we have and how can we do better?”
George said he’s “too close” to the profession to have been shocked by the survey’s findings.
“This has been one of my passions for so long I was not that surprised,” he said. However, he pointed to other numbers from the results — such as the 79% of lawyers who report a personal sense of satisfaction from their work — that pave a path forward for a profession grappling with how to take care of its own.
“There’s hope,” George said. “If you’re a lawyer and you’re struggling with these issues you’re clearly not alone, and you shouldn’t be afraid to address them.”
He adds, “ I’m hoping as a result of this and other efforts, in five years the disheartening responses will be more positive.”
Last week, I wrote an article about some of the dirty tactics I have seen attorneys use during my career. I received numerous positive emails about the article, and I think most practicing attorneys have experienced adversaries using underhanded strategies at one point or another. Some attorneys have urged me not to write a follow-up piece lest I give attorneys ideas for underhanded strategies they can use against adversaries! However, since my article last week seems like it struck a chord with some attorneys, I decided to write a follow-up piece listing additional dirty tactics that lawyers should rarely employ. I hope I don’t give anyone any ideas.
Sending Documents to the Wrong Office
One of the most annoying tactics I have seen adversaries employ is sending documents to the wrong office. Many law firms, like some of the shops at which I have worked, have multiple offices, and attorneys may rarely visit locations of a firm other than their home office. As a result, if adversaries send documents to the wrong office, it can be difficult for the appropriate attorney to review the materials.
Now I know what you are thinking, surely there are times when attorneys innocently send materials to the wrong office. Of course, this is the case, and I have had experiences when I have notified my adversaries of their mistake, and they later sent materials to the appropriate location. However, sometimes adversaries have routinely sent materials to the wrong office, and unless the Keystone Cops are running their firms, there is no way they would constantly send materials to the wrong place.
My practice is to always send materials to the correct office, and email a copy of the relevant documents whenever I can. This is the 21st century, and emailing materials makes things easier. However, some attorneys intentionally send materials to the wrong location, and if people really trusted their abilities, they would make it easier for their adversaries to review materials.
Behavior at Depositions
Attorneys often employ a number of dirty tactics at depositions. Since a court officer is usually not present at depositions, there are often few consequences to employing underhanded strategies at examinations before trial. One of the dirtiest tactics I have seen at depositions is attorneys giving nonverbal advice to their clients during the proceedings. Of course, the court reporter cannot record nods of the head from counsel, so attorneys can usually employ a number of nonverbal methods to instruct their witnesses.
I remember one time earlier in my career, I was conducting a deposition of a plaintiff who had suffered a slip and fall. After every important question I asked, the attorney representing the plaintiff shook his head or nodded his head, and I was pretty sure this was a way for him to tell his client that he should either answer “yes” or “no” to the questions asked. I ended up calling him out on his behavior, and this started one of the biggest verbal confrontations of my legal career. The plaintiff tried to say that he couldn’t even see what his attorney was doing, since he was in a neck brace and wasn’t able turn his head. Of course, this was total malarkey. In any case, behavior like this at depositions is unacceptable, and attorneys should not abuse the deposition process to unfairly disadvantage their adversaries.
Most attorneys understand that when a party files a motion, there is a set time for the opposition to the motion to be served and filed, and then the party filing a motion usually needs to serve and file their reply within a prescribed timeframe. Sometimes, attorneys try to file sur-replies to a reply, which is obnoxious, and I can probably devote an entire article to this topic! In any case, many times, attorneys will serve their documents a few days after they are supposed to, which puts the other party at a disadvantage when drafting their reply papers. Sometimes, parties do not want to adjourn the return date of a motion because of a few days’ delay in serving the opposition papers, since this could postpone a case. Everyone knows when their papers are supposed to be served and filed, and it is unfair to serve documents late.
I had a colleague earlier in my career who employed another method to give his adversaries less time to respond to motions. Court rules generally require that parties simply drop their papers in the mail to an opposing party on the date they are due to serve papers. My colleague would routinely drop his documents in the mail after business hours, and better yet, before a holiday or weekend, to try and give his opponents less time to respond. Of course, now that electronic filing is almost universally used, it is more difficult to employ this method against an adversary, but attorneys should not use underhanded tactics to give their adversaries less time to respond.
In the end, lawyering is an adversarial profession, and every attorney is charged with diligently representing their clients. However, there are a number of dirty tactics attorneys should avoid using, since they unfairly disadvantage other parties, and people should trust that their legal abilities will be enough to succeed on behalf of their clients.
One of my favorite courthouses to visit is the Supreme Court of New York, Kings County in downtown Brooklyn. The building and the community have a certain vibe to it, and it is a delight to visit the courthouse, even though litigating there is not always so pleasant. One of the unique characteristics of this place is that it is one of the few state courthouses I have visited that has a dedicated attorneys’ room. Anyone who has visited this attorneys’ room can relate that this room is a pretty sad-looking place, and it is usually strewn with garbage, paper, and other items.
However, on a wall in the attorneys’ room in this Brooklyn courthouse is a picture of an old-school-looking attorney with a card held up. The card reads: “I’d never hurt another lawyer.” I have no idea who put this picture on the wall, and I am not sure if the picture is still there; it’s been a while since I’ve been to the courthouse. However, I think that this picture is a great testament to how attorneys should treat one another.
One of the ways that lawyers do not adhere to this guidance is by needlessly threatening each other. Throughout the course of litigation and while negotiating transactional matters, attorneys frequently threaten one another in a variety of ways. For instance, attorneys ask for discovery sanctions all of the time, even when the situation clearly does not warrant sanctions. Indeed, it is a common practice after filing a motion to compel to just throw in the kitchen sink and ask that an adversary’s pleading be struck and that sanctions be imposed on the other party.
I remember the first time I received a nasty document that included such threatening language towards the beginning of my career. I was so scared that I would be fired if my answer was struck, and I was incredibly nervous that sanctions could impact my professional standing. I stayed late at the office that night, drafted a letter to my adversary listing why he was wrong to seek sanctions, and prayed that the judge did not side with the other lawyer. Of course, the judge didn’t, but there was no reason for the other attorney to threaten me like this and put pressure on me for weeks.
Another way that lawyers inappropriately threaten other attorneys is by filing illegitimate frivolous lawsuit motions. Of course, it makes sense for lawyers to file frivolous litigation motions whenever a litigant makes one of those “natural man” arguments, or perhaps if someone sues for defamation when the speech at issue is clearly protected.
However, far too often, lawyers file frivolous lawsuit motions when their adversary has a meritorious claim. Of course, parties can disagree about whether such claims will prevail in court. Nevertheless, another way that attorneys threaten each other is by misusing frivolous litigation provisions, which puts a lot of stress on other parties to a lawsuit.
In addition, lawyers routinely threaten each other with ethics complaints. Even though conduct is clearly ethical, attorneys commonly threaten to report adversaries to bar authorities if they pursue a course of action. Of course, many states have ethics rules that explicitly prevent lawyers from making such threats. Nevertheless, it is very common in legal practice for adversaries to threaten you with ethics complaints, even if the conduct complained of meets every ethical standard.
I am not too sure why lawyers threaten each other on such a routine basis. One reason is that lawyers use threats to get an edge over their adversaries. On one level, I do not blame lawyers for trying to prevail in a dispute by making threats against another attorney. Indeed, lawyers are ethically required to provide diligent and competent representation. In addition, as I have noted in a few prior articles, most of the times the law and the facts alone will determine the outcome of the case, and lawyers have very little wiggle room to make a difference. Threatening other lawyers can be one of the limited tactics other attorneys can use to serve a client in some instances.
Sometimes, it seems that lawyers threaten other attorneys in order to keep up with the adversarial nature of the legal profession. I have seen many attorneys I know threaten other lawyers because they do not want to seem weak or incapable of using somewhat dirty tactics to serve their client’s interests. However, practicing law doesn’t have to be unnecessarily adversarial. Of course, the legal profession is full of tension, but just as there is an “unnecessary roughness” rule in football, there should be a similar standard limiting some tactics in the legal profession. Of course, I have handled many matters involving attorneys who were on good terms and merely argued the facts and the law of a case without stooping to making idle threats.
In the end, I am far from the first attorney to talk about the hostile nature of the legal profession. And receiving threats from adversaries about potential ethics complaints and frivolous litigation is just a fact of life for many lawyers. However, there is no reason for lawyers to make idle threats to one another, and if attorneys feel confident in their abilities, they should just argue the facts and the law of a case.
A Florida lawyer began a 60-day suspension over the weekend for a campaign of retaliation against the owner of the law firm that fired him.
The Florida Supreme Court ordered the suspension of Jacksonville lawyer Paul H. Green Jr. last month, to take effect in 30 days. Green also will have to contact Florida Lawyers Assistance for an evaluation. The Florida Record and the Miami Herald have coverage
The former chief counsel for the Seattle office of U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement was sentenced to four years in prison Thursday for stealing the identities of immigrants in removal proceedings to take out loans and credit cards.
U.S. District Court Judge Robert Lasnik of Seattle sentenced 44-year-old Raphael A. Sanchez on Thursday, according to the Associated Press, the Seattle Times and a Justice Department press release. Lasnik also ordered Sanchez to pay $190,000 in restitution.