Lawyer accused of drawing gun in social distancing tiff should get 9-month suspension, hearing board says
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A Vermont lawyer accused of trying to knock down a social distancing sign and pulling out a gun should be suspended from law practice for nine months, according to the Vermont Professional Responsibility Board.
Legus had been placed on interim suspension in May 2020.
The board said Legus should be suspended for failing to cooperate with the disciplinary counsel in its investigation of the April 2020 store incident, which resulted in a criminal charge of misdemeanor reckless endangerment.
The affidavit supporting the criminal charge said Legus entered a store in her community and began yelling about a social distancing sign. Legus allegedly said the sign was offensive and tried to knock it down.
When a store employee pledged to speak to the store owner about Legus’ conduct, Legus allegedly pulled out a handgun, pointed it at the employee and then left the store.
Later that day, Legus allegedly told police that she thought the sign at the store was a barricade, and people were shooting at the road from it. She also yelled that “everyone on the road is the military” and “her ex-husband was behind all this,” police said. She acknowledged having a handgun on her, and police determined that it was loaded, according to the police affidavit.
Legus had no prior discipline. She did not present any other mitigating factors, but the board said it wondered whether personal and emotional problems affected her dealings with the disciplinary counsel. The board cited the behavior alleged in the police affidavit and the likely stress caused by the pending criminal case.
Another factor raising questions: Legus appeared for a hearing on the merits while seated in a car, apparently by herself, and while wearing a face mask. Without explanation, she refused to remove the mask for a hearing.
She answered essentially every question by citing the Fifth Amendment or indicating that “you have my response.” Some testimony was disrespectful, the hearing board said. As an example, the board cited Legus’ response to one question: “Are you asking me to do pushups?”
She stopped the interview when her computer’s battery was running down. She refused an offer to go to another location where she could plug in her computer or to continue using cellphone audio.
Legus did not have a Fifth Amendment right to decline to be interviewed, the hearing board said.
“In order to make a proper assertion of her Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination,” the board said, Legus “had to sit for an interview and, during the course of the interview, raise objections to specific questions.”
Every instance in which Legus was nonresponsive to questions constituted a violation of an ethics rule requiring lawyers in disciplinary matters to respond to lawful demands for information, the hearing board said. The board had scheduled the interview after Legus evaded prior requests for an in-person or video hearing.
The board added that it didn’t assign any relevance to Legus’ refusal to answer specific questions, however, because a court had not ruled on the validity of her Fifth Amendment assertions.
Legus’ failure to cooperate with interview requests violated her duty of cooperation with the disciplinary counsel, the hearing board said.
Legus did not immediately respond to an ABA Journal phone message seeking comment.
Decisions of the hearing board can be appealed by either side. The Vermont Supreme Court can also order its own review, according to a “Disciplinary Prosecution” tab on the board’s website.