Trials & Litigation

Lawyer with over $543K in student debt gets reprimand vacated after telling court of financial hardship

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A federal appeals court has vacated its reprimand of a lawyer who skipped oral arguments in a late-settled case, citing information provided in her request for reconsideration.

In a Jan. 14 order, the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals at Chicago vacated its Dec. 3 reprimand of Farva Jafri of Armonk, New York.

In her motion for reconsideration, Jafri said she “truly thought that any arguments would have been waived by virtue of the settlement.” She also cited her financial hardship and her client’s inability to pay for her trip from New York to Chicago.

Jafri had filed a motion to dismiss the appellate case at the close of business Friday, Oct. 22, because it had settled that day. The court didn’t grant the motion, and oral arguments proceeded Monday, Oct. 25. Only the opposing counsel was there. Jafri had said in response to an order to show cause that she relied on the opposing counsel to represent the joint views of the parties.

But the appeals court said in its Dec. 3 reprimand Jafri’s motion was incomplete, and the court’s ability to inquire about costs or other terms was frustrated by Jafri’s failure to show up.

Jafri filed the motion for reconsideration Dec. 20.

Jafri said she is an inexperienced lawyer, and she “has never missed a court hearing in her two-year legal career, let alone an oral argument. Her discipline record is spotless.”

Jafri said she and her client were “severely financially constrained,” and it would be difficult for either of them to pay for the Chicago trip.

Jafri told the court in a footnote that she currently has federal student loan debt of $543,200. She is a graduate of the University of Illinois College of Law and is licensed to practice in Illinois and New York, according to lawyer information published by those states.

“Jafri’s financial status is not something of which she is proud,” Jafri’s motion said. “But her law practice primarily serves the poor. She does not have clients that pay high hourly fees.”

Jafri was admitted to practice before the 7th Circuit in September 2021 to represent her indigent client because his main lawyer had serious health issues. Jafri had represented the client in a separate case—his Illinois divorce, where hearings were taking place on Zoom. The client has no assets and relies on family members for financial assistance.

“If Jafri were to get on a plane and fly to oral argument from New York, or drive 32 hours round trip, that would lead to significant expense” for the client and his entities when the matter was already settled, Jafri said.

“The court, by reprimanding Jafri, penalizes those with less financial resources,” she wrote in the motion.

After the reprimand, Jafri consulted with an ethics lawyer who advised her to stop taking on indigent clients who cannot pay for flights or fees.

“Such advice has devastating effects on the public and is an outcome that should be repugnant to the courts and the legal profession,” she wrote.

The motion also said the order to show cause was vague, and the court had “moved the goal post” in its reprimand. The show-cause order had directed Jafri to explain why she should avoid discipline for failing to show up for the oral arguments.

But the reprimand said Jafri didn’t explain why her motion to dismiss the case was filed so close to argument or why it was incomplete. The court had not sought that information, however, in its show-cause order, Jafri said.

Jafri commented in an email to the ABA Journal.

“I believe that the court’s decision to vacate the reprimand and discharge the rule to show cause was correct, pursuant to the law and public policy cited in my motion for reconsideration,” she wrote.

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