Legal Ethics

Plagiarizing Lawyer Sent to Law School

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In an acerbic opinion, a federal bankruptcy judge has ordered an Iowa lawyer who submitted a largely plagiarized brief to return to law school and take a legal ethics course.

In addition to presenting as his own work a 19-page brief containing 17 pages of material lifted from a scholarly article, Peter Cannon also plagiarized in another brief by copying a string citation from the article without attribution. Plus, he “billed his client for an amount well in excess of the time he could reasonably spend preparing these briefs,” writes Judge Paul J. Kilburg in an Aug. 21 opinion. These actions violated the Iowa Rules of Professional Conduct, the judge found.

Charging $5,737.50 for 25.5 hours of work on the two briefs was “unreasonable given the actual labor Mr. Cannon invested in these projects,” the opinion states. In fact, “given the quality and utility of the finished products, any amount Mr. Cannon charged his client for the time required to put these briefs together is unreasonable,” the judge continues, ordering Cannon to disgorge all client fees paid for the briefs.

The judge expressed concern that Cannon seemingly doesn’t fully appreciate the wrongfulness of his conduct. For that reason, Kilburg wrote, a continuing education class isn’t adequate and Cannon must return to law school to take a legal ethics course. “Mr. Cannon may complete the course at an accredited law school or arrange for private instruction from a professor of one of these institutions.”

The opinion says Kilburg asked Cannon to certify who authored the briefs after seeing they contained “an extraordinary amount of research.” Cannon said he authored both briefs, but disclosed that he had “relied heavily” on an 2005 article by two Morgan, Lewis & Bockius lawyers that isn’t credited in the briefs.

(Hat tip: Volokh Conspiracy.)

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