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For lawyers such as Harriet Miers, who was suspended for nearly a month for failing to pay her dues to the D.C. Bar, the decision last week from the D.C. Court of Appeals was a kind of validation, with the court ruling that such suspensions are little more than slight blemishes on their record that are easily wiped clean. But Michael Sitcov views it differently. Sitcov is the Department of Justice attorney who, as a member of the D.C. Bar since 1980, was suspended in 2002 for the same reason as Miers — failure to pay dues. His, however, went for a much longer period of two years. But unlike Miers, who was already a member of the Texas State Bar, Sitcov was only a member in Washington. His suspension, therefore, was a larger problem because lawyers for the federal government must be licensed in at least one jurisdiction. Sitcov claimed he never received notification to pay dues and only learned about the missed payment when DOJ was verifying his bar membership in 2004. Bar officials stood by their suspension of Sitcov. Fearing that his employer could punish him for practicing law without a license, Sitcov filed suit, arguing that the bar should wipe out — nunc pro tunc — the suspension from its records. Eight former D.C. Bar presidents jumped to Sitcov’s aid, filing an amicus brief earlier this year against the bar’s position. But the court’s three-judge panel was not persuaded. The reason? Concurring with the bar, the court ruled that a suspension for nonpayment amounted to an administrative violation, which doesn’t leave any record of disciplinary action once the individual has been reinstated. That may not placate Sitcov. His attorney Elizabeth Sarah Gere of Ross Dixon & Bell says they are still debating what step to take next. Part of Sitcov’s claim — including questions about whether the bar violated his constitutional rights — is still pending in federal court. The D.C. Bar issued a statement praising the decision, but officials declined to comment. Still, the court’s ruling has already created a stir within the bar among attorneys worried that bureaucratic precision is infringing on basic equity. “They seem intent upon destroying his career,” says Charles Work, a partner at McDermott, Will & Emery and a former D.C. Bar president. “The question is, was he authorized to practice law at that time or not? And if he was, why would anyone pay the dues? A suspension is a suspension.”
Emma Schwartz can be contacted at [email protected].

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