Here’s a short entry order from last summer, and a short entry order from this fall. It’s a reciprocal discipline two-fer.
We’ve seen a few cases about reciprocal discipline in the last couple years. It goes like this. Attorneys are licensed by the state to practice law. This is true in every state in the country. Attorneys have conduct rules to follow, and a big reason for many of the rules is to ensure the public’s confidence in attorneys. Ha ha, insert some sort of lawyer joke here about how we’re all terrible, blah blah blah. But the truth is that when someone needs a lawyer, they need to trust that the person they encounter is going to protect their interests. The fact there is an onerous process to get to the point of having a license granted by the state helps to ensure that the people who actually get licensed are, in fact, qualified and fit to practice law.
Attorneys can be licensed in more than one state. This means they’re subject to conduct rules and also discipline in each state where they’re licensed. And because licensing is meant to help protect the public, it makes a lot of sense that if an attorney is disciplined in one state for certain conduct, that they should be disciplined everywhere in the same way. Probably nobody wants to hire a lawyer in Vermont and find out that lawyer is actively suspended or disbarred in another state. And honestly, Vermont doesn’t want that either.
Vermont does reciprocal discipline. If there’s a Vermont-licensed lawyer who gets in trouble in another state where they’re also licensed, Vermont is generally going to impose the same discipline as the other state.
So, that takes us to our two-fer.
First is William Conner. He was licensed to practice in both New Hampshire and Vermont, which is pretty common in these parts. Without getting into too many details, it looks like between 2001-2003 he represented some clients in some unnecessary (and perhaps unmerited) litigation following an arbitration. He wasn’t truthful with his clients about what happened with the case or with the fees, and in the long run this led them to report him to the New Hampshire Professional Conduct Committee.
New Hampshire found Mr. Conner’s conduct serious enough that he should be disbarred. Even though there were some mitigating factors presented, the New Hampshire board found that Mr. Conner’s conduct outweighed those mitigating factors. However, they also said he could reapply for a license in three years if he was able to show compliance with certain rehabilitative measures. His effective date for calculating his re-licensure was July 1, 2008.
Mr. Conner had actually let his Vermont law license expire on June 30, 2007 and did not renew it. It’s not clear if he ever planned to renew it or not.
In March 2018 the Vermont Supreme Court ordered Vermont’s Disciplinary Counsel to inform the Court why Mr. Conner shouldn’t also be disbarred in Vermont. Disciplinary Counsel and Mr. Conner both wrote to the Court. Mr. Conner acknowledged that he was required to inform the Vermont Court about his disbarment, but he reasoned that since he’d let his license lapse a year before that, that he was signaling to Vermont that he didn’t intend to practice there anymore. He suggested they reprimand him for failing to report the disciplinary action and make any disbarment retroactive to the time he got disbarred in New Hampshire.
Disciplinary Counsel argued there should be an identical sanction, and that Mr. Conner not be permitted to reapply for a license until more than 3 years from any SCOV order on the matter, and being reinstated in New Hampshire.
SCOV agreed with Disciplinary Counsel and opted to impose identical discipline. There was no reason presented not to do the same thing New Hampshire did. The Court was also concerned that if it made the disbarment date retroactive to New Hampshire’s date that it could seem like a reward to Mr. Conner for failing to report the disciplinary action when it happened. SCOV went a step further and said this action is also meant to serve as a warning to other lawyers that they must report out of state discipline.
Here’s the second part of our reciprocal discipline double-header.
Michelle Sherer was licensed to practice in Colorado and also in Vermont. In August of 2019, SCOV got notice that Ms. Sherer got disbarred in Colorado. There aren’t a lot of facts in this entry order – it’s only about a page long. But it looks like there were some issues in Colorado involving fees and failing to act diligently and communicate with clients. She was subject to disciplinary action there and ultimately the Colorado Supreme Court determined disbarment was the appropriate sanction.
This information was communicated to Vermont, and SCOV ordered Vermont Disciplinary Counsel and Ms. Sherer to provide information about why there shouldn’t be a reciprocal disbarment. The rule requires identical discipline unless either party shows that such discipline would be unwarranted.
As it turns out, neither Ms. Sherer nor Disciplinary Counsel filed anything in response to SCOV’s order, so SCOV imposed identical discipline and issued an order of disbarment.