Legal Ethics

D.C. lawyer gets harsher penalty for lying in discipline hearings

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A lawyer who convinced a District of Columbia bar discipline hearing committee that she was truthful about events from several years earlier had less credibility in a subsequent hearing by the Board on Professional Responsibility and ultimately, on Thursday, when the D.C. Court of Appeals upheld the Board.

Stephanie Y. Bradley’s “intentional falsehood” turned out to be an aggravating factor for the board’s decision, upheld by the appeals court (PDF), to suspend her from the practice of law for two years.

The initial hearing committee, though believing Bradley’s explanation on some key points, had found her ethical lapses sufficient to recommend 90 days. She had previously received three formal admonitions.

The suspension concerned Bradley’s failures as a court-appointed guardian for two persons. From 1999 until 2004, she represented the interests of a man with developmental disabilities who was hospitalized with head trauma, until she could have him moved to a nursing home; and from 1999 until 2004, she represented the interests of an elderly and infirm woman.

Though claiming she regularly visited the man at the nursing home, Bradley was shown to have largely ignored him for nine years, having filed only three of the required semi-annual reports with the superior court and ignoring calls and letters from the man’s family in Texas, who wanted to move him closer to them. In 2004, the family got another lawyer to initiate the move and filed a bar complaint against Bradley.

While guardian for the woman, Bradley failed to prevent a purported family friend and caretaker from embezzling between $200,000 and $250,000 from her bank account and failed to file for a payout from a life insurance policy and for a civil-service lump sum benefit due the woman.

In 2003, another lawyer represented the woman in removing Bradley from her care, then sued Bradley and recovered more than $400,000.

Lying to bar discipline authorities was the key reason Bradley’s suspension is for two years instead of the original recommendation of 90 days. For example, Bradley testified that she visited the man about three times a year when on her way to her parent’s vacation home, going 130 miles out of her way to do so. Six members of the nursing home staff testified that she did not attend any of their meetings over the nine years. The hearing committee, however, determined that Bradley “seemed honest” to them.

Though claiming poor memory when recounting events years later, Bradley offered granular details about her attendance at the meetings, saying they lasted 45 minutes and each occurred just before 8 p.m.

“It’s one thing to fail to recall specific facts about important events after a significant amount of time has elapsed; it is another thing entirely to have a specific memory of an event that never took place,” the court noted.

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