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It was Matthew Marshall’s addiction to cocaine that he says got him in trouble with the D.C. Bar. But it apparently was his addiction to practicing law that landed him in jail. On Feb. 15, D.C. Superior Court Judge Harold Cushenberry Jr. sentenced Marshall — for the second time in as many years — to 180 days in prison for practicing law without a license. This came after Marshall, a former attorney with the D.C. Council, was caught, again, providing legal counsel in the same auto accident case despite being disbarred. “You continue on this pattern of behavior, which is extraordinarily destructive to our profession, and to what was once your profession which should be an honorable one,” Cushenberry said during the sentencing hearing. Marshall first came to Cushenberry’s attention after the personal-injury lawyer agreed to represent Lorenzo Young in an auto-accident suit against Jerilyn Davis in 2005. Davis, the defendant, was insured through Geico, so Marshall sent a memo to the insurance company saying he was Young’s lawyer. But while Marshall was indeed a lawyer, he no longer had a license. That’s because in November 2000 the D.C. Court of Appeals disbarred him for intentional misappropriation of client funds and for fabricating evidence during a D.C. Bar Counsel investigation. Marshall started his law career in 1984, when he was an attorney for the D.C. Council. But he was fired in 1987 for cocaine use, according to court papers. He then opened a private practice in the District that eventually floundered under accusations from clients that he was stealing. Those complaints led to the 2000 disbarment proceedings, where Marshall admitted his misconduct but also used a Kersey defense, saying his cocaine addiction led to a “dysfunctional emotional state.” The 1987 In re Kersey ruling by the D.C. Court of Appeals says under some circumstances, alcoholism or addiction to prescription drugs can be a mitigating factor when judges consider how to dole out punishment to a lawyer who has violated the D.C. Rules of Professional Conduct. But the appeals judges reviewing Marshall’s misconduct rejected that defense, noting cocaine is an illegal drug. In 2005, the D.C. Bar Counsel learned from several sources about the Geico matter and charged Marshall with practicing law without a license. Bar Counsel has jurisdiction to bring criminal contempt charges against someone who has been disbarred and continues to practice law. In January 2006, Cushenberry found Marshall guilty of two counts of criminal contempt and sentenced him to 180 days in jail, half of which he served in the Hope Village Halfway House. While still living in the halfway house, Marshall slipped up again, in June 2006. He sent a settlement demand to Geico, by fax and mail, requesting $50,000 for Young. The Geico claims adjuster, with whom Marshall had been communicating, eventually learned Marshall had been disbarred and alerted Bar Counsel. Marshall’s repeated misconduct resulted in another criminal contempt charge from Bar Counsel, another appearance in front of Cushenberry, and another 180-day jail sentence.
OTHER RECENT D.C. ETHICS CASES INCLUDE THE FOLLOWING: • Apparently the D.C. Board on Professional Responsibility does not want the District to become a haven for the legal profession’s ethically challenged masses. On Jan. 31, the board recommended that Walter Lebowitz, a solo practitioner in Van Nuys, Calif., be suspended from practicing law in D.C. for five years. It was the same punishment being sought by the State Bar of California before Lebowitz resigned. But what’s most compelling about Lebowitz’s disciplinary case isn’t what he did (though it reads like an instruction manual on how to get disbarred), but when he did it. Over a four-year period beginning in 2000, Lebowitz, who at the time was licensed to practice in California, was also dabbling in Florida cases — even though he had been disbarred by the Florida Supreme Court in 1989. This was new ground for the D.C. board to consider: Lebowitz’s illegal lawyering in Florida happened before he was admitted to the D.C. Bar in November 2004. And so the board faced the question of whether reciprocal discipline could be ordered if the conduct occurred before the lawyer was a member of the D.C. Bar. The board answered affirmatively, stating that “discipline is necessary, for otherwise such suspended or disbarred lawyers would be free to relocate in the District of Columbia and take up or continuing practicing law here.” • Peter Mitrano, a solo practitioner in Merrifield, Va., was recommended for disbarment by the D.C. Board on Professional Responsibility on Feb. 9, for improperly depositing $241,336 of his client’s money into a personal account. Mitrano claimed the money was his for work on the case, according to court files. The dispute stretches back to 1982, when Dano Resource Recovery Inc. was hired by the D.C. government to dispose of sludge and solid waste. But the relationship dissolved quickly after Dano became insolvent, and both sides lawyered up to decide who owed what on the contract. Mitrano was retained by Dano to represent the company with all contract termination disputes involving the District. Eventually, Mitrano helped secure a $241,336 settlement for his client. In January 1998, the District cut a check for that amount, which was then deposited by Mitrano into a personal account. A month later, the balance had plummeted to $1,013. Still, it took three years for his client to do anything about it — the owner of Dano filed a complaint with Bar Counsel in 2001. And then it took another four years for Bar Counsel to investigate and file charges, which it did in 2005. • On Feb. 15, Frank Winston, an immigration lawyer and former member of the California State Bar Board of Governors, was suspended from practicing law for five years by the D.C. Court of Appeals. The punishment came after Winston resigned his membership in the California Bar while disciplinary charges were pending in that state. Winston was suspended for negligent work, according to the Court of Appeals. In one case, a client hired Winston to ask the Immigration and Naturalization Service to re-evaluate his nonimmigrant visa and get an extension of his authorized stay. The client paid $3,000 in two installments that were deposited by Winston into a personal checking account. But Winston did nothing. The necessary papers were never filed, and calls made by the client asking about the case’s status went unanswered. The ethics case doesn’t state whether the client was reimbursed or if he ultimately was deported.
Nathan Carlile can be contacted at [email protected].

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