Legal Ethics

Lawyer with Special Needs Niche Accused of Practicing Without License

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A Washington, D.C.-area lawyer who worked his way into the close-knit childhood autism and special needs community with a niche practice focused on special education issues wasn’t licensed for at least three years even while taking on many of the cases.

The Washington Post reports that Howard D. Deiner once signed another lawyer’s name on documents because he wasn’t licensed at the time. He was arrested in November on charges of fraud and practicing law without a license.

Yet he may still be advising clients in Virginia, the paper reports. Deiner declined to respond to the Post and reportedly hasn’t responded to the 74 charges filed by the District of Columbia Bar.

In a review of Virginia and D.C. court documents, the Post reports there emerged a pattern of Deiner’s “collecting thousands in retainers, and fees of $285 an hour, then not returning phone calls and e-mails while doing no work. At other times, records show, he did poor work and lost cases because of poor preparation or presentation.”

Deiner reportedly drew parents in by telling them he had a disabled child and that’s why he was interested in special education law.

The Post details numerous allegations of misconduct and notes that last year, after a family sued Deiner, an Arlington judge awarded them the $13,500 in fees paid, plus $100,000 in punitive damages.

Deiner’s name continued to appear on association sites listing him as a possible legal resource and associations reportedly didn’t delete his name until Pete Wright, a noted special education consultant and lawyer pressured them to do so.

“That someone would falsely hold themselves out as a lawyer to parents of children with a disability, that is about as bad as it gets,” Wright told the Post.

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