The court system is not used to a lawyer who stands up for her client's rights in abuse and neglect proceedings. They are less used to one who encourages clients to make injustices public.
NH judges have filed several reports against me with the state's Professional Conduct Committee (PCC), the part of the NH Supreme Court that investigates allegations of misconduct by lawyers. It seems that the PCC isn't sure of how to deal with me either, as most of my cases are still open. Details of the various events along the way are documented in waiting.html. This page will concentrate on the reports, charges, and outcomes.
With all the long-lasting complaints, I actually self-reported once to the Professional Conduct Committee. It again involved confidentiality, and I wound up attempting to do some research on the meaning of "sealed file." I never came up with a definition in NH statutes or case law, but the complaint was dismissed anyway. Not surprisingly, it revolved around the wording of RSA 169-C:25. It's not worth putting online, but if you really want to see it, yell or read it at the PCC Offices yourself. They're at 4 Park Street in Concord on the 3rd floor.
In 1999 Judge Larry M. Smukler filed the first report against me after a client went public in a newspaper article about her attempts to get her daughter out of foster care. Judge Smukler assumed that I must have been involved and that would be a violation of the secrecy laws that cover abuse/neglect proceedings. He asked the county attorney to investigate and he filed a report with the PCC.
The county attorney passed the complaint to the attorney general who let the matter drop. My client eventually got her daughter back. The PCC still hasn't finished its investigation.
One interesting aspect about this case is that the PCC asked for and received a "Special Matters Confidential" docket number. I petitioned the PCC to relax the confidentiality so I could talk about the report publicly. They attempted to prevent making the report public by petitioning the NH Supreme Court. I answered their petition the same day I received notice of it in the mail, and eventually the Supreme Court ruled in my favor.
The next year, Judge Smukler filed a report against me for violating the state's wire tapping statute because I sometimes surreptitiously record state employees at work. He also contacted the attorney general. At about the same time, the Portsmouth prosecuter filed a similar complaint with the attorney general. His decision was that that my actions were "legal but reprehensible." This helped convince the PCC to conclude that I had not violated the rules of professional conduct. I admit that for a short while after the court hearing with Judge Smukler that I thought they had me. I believe my statement to my husband was, "Honey, I think I bought the ticket to the big house, but if I did, it was worth it!" However, after going home and doing yet more research (all the while looking down the driveway for those blue lights), I relaxed and realized I was on solid legal ground in the first place. But to have the Professional Conduct Committee realize it first? Hey, I can take THAT to my grave!
Judge Gerald Taube reported me after my attempts to help a couple get me named as their court appointed lawyer failed. The actions and intentions are not agreed to, but one thing that is clear is that I wasn't appointed because I'm not on the list of lawyers Judge Taube uses. It turns out the list is the "Contract Attorneys List," and is maintained for use in criminal trials. "The attorneys on the contract list are screened and monitored by the Judicial Council." The simplest issue in this case is that my husband (and webmaster) referred to it as "The Magical Mystery List" on the web page and Judge Taube accused me of impugning the integrity of the court.
The PCC charges are in 00_036.html, my response is in resp_00_036.html. After a hearing and subsequent document exchanges, I received a reprimand, but I replied with a Request for Redetermination that was accepted byt the PCC. There are more details in the waiting page. Following the Request for redetermination, the PCC vacated the REPRIMAND, and reissued a WARNING. I've neglected for almost two years to put it on the web. Not sure I can find it at this point.
Also that year, an attempt by someone to fire her old attorney and use me got both attorneys reported by Judge William Lyons. The other attorney's report was dismissed in six months, but mine remained open for seventeen months more. One key issue is that I both asked to be appointed by the court and also asked my client for a retainer in case I was not appointed. Judge Lyons thought this was fraudulent and reported me to the PCC. He did not ask the attorney general to prosecute me. No one has identified a section of the fraud statutes that applies to my action, I certainly had no intention of double billing the matter.
The PCC did have a hearing in November 2001, they dismissed the report in March 2002.
On February 8, 2002, the Professional Conduct Committee recommended that Michael Kiely, Esq., the other attorney involved in this case, be suspended from law for two years "Because of this misconduct [case 00-N-071] and the misconduct in two other matters ...."
My involvement with the PCC and with DCYF's secrecy encouraged me to comment on proposed rule changes about the PCC's confidentiality rules.
The existance of the reports does not impact my day-to-day activities in New Hampshire. However, they are enough of a red flag so that the US Supreme Court will not admit me to its bar. Until these are resolved, I cannot argue a case before them, so it is important to my clients that the PCC act on the outstanding reports in a timely fashion. I've tried to get some action out of them, even to the extent of filing a a report against one member with the JCC, but it's not working very well. More about my attempts to accelerate the process is in the waiting page.
Contact Paula Werme, Esq. or return to Law Practice home page.
Last updated 2003 December 30.