Legal Ethics

Longtime Jackson Kelly Lawyer's License Suspended for Filing Incomplete Medical Report

Rejecting a disciplinary panel’s recommendation that the case against a longtime West Virginia lawyer be dismissed, the state supreme court has suspended the law license of Douglas Smoot for a year, finding that the nearly 30-year practitioner violated legal ethics rules by submitting an incomplete medical report to an administrative law judge in a federal black lung case.

Smoot, 54, is a partner in the Charleston office of Jackson Kelly, where he has worked since he graduated from law school in 1981, according to the Record.

By removing a five-page executive summary from a report by a doctor who had examined the plaintiff in the case, Smoot acted dishonestly and submitting an altered document to a court was a serious offense that required a suspension despite his lack of any prior disciplinary history, the supreme court unanimously ruled.

A hearing panel of the Lawyer Disciplinary Board recommended earlier this year that the charges against Smoot be dismissed, saying that it hadn’t been proven by clear and convincing evidence that he violated any rule of professional conduct. Smoot was not required to disclose the executive summary, it held, and disassembling such reports was common practice.

However, the panel erred, the supreme court said, by not giving more weight to testimony of the administrative law judge who heard the case against the plaintiff’s employer, Westmoreland Coal Company. He said he’d never before seen a lawyer tamper with evidence, and contended that it was, as far as he was aware, not common practice to take apart medical reports and submit only a portion of them.

The black lung case brought by Smoot’s client was also dismissed.

Related coverage: “Censure PD Who Copied Docs He Found on Machine & Was Entitled to Discover, Panel Says”

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