Legal Ethics

Lawyer who reported client threats is suspended for failing to file appeal on client's behalf

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The Kansas Supreme Court has indefinitely suspended a lawyer who blamed her failure to file a criminal appeal on her disillusionment with law practice and the client’s threats against her and family.

The lawyer, Debra Jean Fickler, failed to meet three extended deadlines to file a federal appeal on behalf of the appointed client, according to the Dec. 23 opinion (PDF) by the Kansas Supreme Court. The Legal Profession Blog has highlights.

Fickler testified at an ethics hearing that she was appointed to represent the defendant, and was told to continue the representation when she sought a new appointment. She testified at the ethics hearing:

“I do not have a good excuse. My excuse is at this time I was disillusioned with the practice of law and at the same time in—during my multiple meetings with [the defendant] in his incarceration I had had more than one threat against me and my family. Such as he made sure that I understood that his previous attorney, who was appointed, had his fingers broken. I am hearing impaired so at first I just laughed these off as, you know, I misunderstood him.

“However, in March, I believe, we live in the country so it’s not unusual to hear gunshots. At one point sometime during the night our shop was shot with a shotgun and then the next week there was a close range gunshot near our home, but as we ran outside, you know, whoever it was or whatever it was, you know, was long gone.”

Fickler said she couldn’t say with certainty that the shootings were related to the defendant, though she did report them to the U.S. marshal. The marshal advised her to let him know if there were any additional threats, Fickler testified.

Fickler also said was studying for a new career during the representation. “It was too much, and I did not do my duty,” she said.

Fickler acquiesced in the suspension.

Updated at 7:20 a.m. to add missing word.

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