Panel questions whether lawyer has a 'fully functioning ethical compass'

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A panel of three judges has ordered the federal court suspension of a criminal defense lawyer after a federal magistrate judge concluded she lied about sending text messages to a drug defendant during an intimate relationship before his arrest.

The Dallas lawyer, Temani Me’Chelle Adams, was suspended from practicing before the Northern District of Texas for six months, Law360 reports. The judicial panel’s Aug. 20 decision is here.

The judicial panel cited evidence of Adams’ misstatements about texting and her violation of a court order to stop communicating with a second defendant. To make matters worse, the judicial panel said, Adams tried to avoid direct answers during a hearing held for her to show cause why she shouldn’t be sanctioned for the alleged misconduct.

Adams “has seemingly been unwilling to answer material questions directly and candidly, and we have found some of Ms. Adams’ answers to be intentionally obtuse and disingenuous,” the panel said in its opinion.

The panel noted that Adams filed an unsworn response to a report by a panel investigator, didn’t call witnesses at the Aug. 4 show cause hearing, and presented arguments but did not testify at the hearing.

“We think it likely,” the panel said, that those decisions “were calculated: the product of an intelligent mind, but one that lacks a fully functioning ethical compass.”

Adams had said she filed the unsworn response because she had a 99 degree temperature and she didn’t want to risk others’ safety to swear to the declaration. The panel said in a footnote that that assertion “strains credulity” because Adams had the option of signing the declaration under penalty of perjury.

The panel said Adams’ alleged wrongdoing concerned two cases.

In the first, Adams was accused of having a relationship with drug defendant Detonte Laserria Spearman as recently as the date of his May 2018 arrest on a drug charge. Drug Enforcement agents had recovered a cellphone used by Spearman with 1,440 text messages between him and a phone subscribed to by Temani Adams PLLC. An agent also observed Adams’ 2016 Maserati parked at Spearman’s residence.

The government sought to disqualify Adams from representing Spearman, arguing that Adams’ representation of Spearman represented a conflict of interest because she could be a witness in the case. Spearman waived any conflict of interest, however.

Adams contended the government’s request to disqualify her was motivated by her motion to dismiss the indictment. She also contended that most of the text messages were from a former contract paralegal who had dated Spearman. She made that claim when she contacted prosecutors who were filtering materials protected by attorney-client privilege.

During a February 2019 hearing, U.S. Magistrate Judge Renee Toliver disqualified Adams from representing Spearman and said there was evidence Adams had lied about the authorship of the text messages to the government filter team.

The three-judge panel said it was “troubled by aspects of Ms. Adams’ conduct in the Spearman case,” but it found insufficient evidence of misconduct in the representation. The panel said it was unclear whether she was required to withdraw from the representation.

The panel did say, however, that there is “ample support in the record to find under a clear and convincing evidence standard that Ms. Adams made false statements of material fact” to the government filter team.

Adams avoided direct questions about the issue in a show-cause hearing, the panel said. “Only when pressed about whether she wrote the text messages did Ms. Adams admit that some of the messages were from her,” according to the panel opinion.

Adams was asked in the show cause hearing whether she lied to the filter team, the panel said, Adams “responded that some messages were from her and there was another number that she texted Spearman on as well. Ms. Adams then volunteered the irrelevant response that there were several pictures of various women and videos of Spearman and his girlfriend and other women, so if there was anything going on between Spearman and her, it was not much because there were hundreds of photos and videos, and she was not in a single one.

“In sum, when given the opportunity to respond directly to the allegation that she had lied to the government filter team and to this panel, and to comply with her duty of candor, Ms. Adams dodged the questions, offered various half-truths (such as that some messages were from her), and proffered various non sequiturs.”

The second case involved Adams’ communications with defendant Armando Contreras-Martinez after she was removed from the Criminal Justice Act panel of lawyers providing representation to indigent defendants. After Adams was removed as appointed counsel for the defendant, she sought to represent him as retained counsel. The motion was denied and Adams was ordered to have no contact with Contreras.

Adams then filed a motion to reconsider, a motion to strike the government’s response to her motion, and a motion for leave to reply to the government’s response. Contreras said he had asked his sister to ask Adams to file motions on his behalf.

Adams had maintained she did not have contract with Contreras through his sister. When asked about a letter written by Contreras and delivered to Adams by the sister, Adams rationalized she complied with the judge’s order because she did not initiate contact, the judicial panel said. “Such a response not only attempts to split hairs but disregards other evidence in the record demonstrating that she did initiate contact with his sister,” the judicial panel said.

The panel also said that Adams failed to disclose her fees before agreeing to represent Contreras.

The panel cited as an aggravating factor “the revealing and disquieting response” Adams gave at the show-cause hearing when asked what she would learn from the experience if no discipline is imposed.

Adams said she learned she should not communicate with prosecutors by telephone, she should keep better records to fend off false allegations, and she should fire her briefing lawyer who thought a motion for reconsideration was acceptable.

“But what about her misconduct in the two cases that are the subject of this disciplinary matter? Did Ms. Adams learn any pertinent lessons? Obviously not,” the panel said.

Adams told Law360 she hadn’t read the court order and couldn’t comment on any possible appeal.

Adams told the ABA Journal in an email that she spoke about the cases publicly last September and directed the Journal to her Facebook profile.

Updated at 4:45 p.m. to include Adams’ comment and to correct wrong word in the seventh paragraph.

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