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Lawyers tangling with Geico in D.C. ethics cases have been on a losing streak lately. Turns out that cute little gecko has a pretty nasty bite. Salvatore Scanio, a litigation partner at Ludwig Robinson, found that out the hard way last month when the D.C. Court of Appeals suspended him from practicing law in the District for 30 days because of his allegedly dishonest conduct in an auto-claims case. Scanio had previously been fired for the same alleged misconduct from Spriggs & Hollingsworth, where he was a non-equity partner. The case stemmed from a September 2000 accident in which Scanio’s car was rear-ended. He sought treatment at a hospital and missed the next day of work at Spriggs. Though he wasn’t docked for any sick time and was a salaried employee earning $122 per hour, Scanio told Geico claims adjuster Melanie King he had lost $23,000 in income. In making the claim, Scanio reported a bogus $325 hourly rate and claimed he had missed about 76 hours at work while recovering from the accident. When King notified Spriggs of Scanio’s claims in April 2001, the firm fired him a week later, telling Scanio in a memo that his conduct was “incompatible with the ethics and values of this firm.” Scanio wasn’t the first D.C. lawyer to run afoul of the insurance giant. Two months ago, Penalty Box recounted the saga of Matthew Marshall, a disbarred lawyer currently serving jail time thanks to the diligence of another Geico claims adjuster. The adjuster learned from the D.C. Bar Web site that Marshall already had been disbarred, but he still was representing a client in an auto-claims case. The adjuster alerted Bar Counsel, and Marshall is back in jail. On Feb. 15, D.C. Superior Court Judge Harold Cushenberry Jr. followed Bar Counsel’s recommendation and sentenced Marshall — for the second time in as many years — to 180 days in jail for practicing law without a license. That’s not just a coincidence. Bar Counsel Gene Shipp Jr. says auto and medical insurers are reporting more improper actions by lawyers in claims cases. “Those companies have gotten really good at checking people out and then sending anything that isn’t right our way,” Shipp says. Spriggs forwarded the correspondence among Scanio, Geico, and the firm to Bar Counsel to comply with reporting obligations in the Rules of Professional Conduct. Scanio’s punishment didn’t come without debate after Bar Counsel recommended a six-month suspension. “We thought this was repeated dishonesty for financial gain,” says Julia Porter, senior assistant Bar Counsel. “And in his testimony [to the board] he repeated what was in his letter to the firm, which the board characterizes as a series of blatant lies.” But the D.C. Board on Professional Responsibility still only recommended a public censure, stating Scanio had engaged in “hard bargaining” tactics with Geico. Then-board member Lee Helfrich disagreed, asking instead for a 60-day suspension. The Court of Appeals split the difference and handed down a 30-day suspension, which is due to begin later this month. Scanio didn’t return phone calls seeking comment, nor did his new firm, Ludwig Robinson. “We recognize that respondent was not representing a client and that he has no prior history of discipline,” the court wrote. “However, our choice of sanction demonstrates our disapproval of respondent’s behavior more than a public censure would.”
OTHER RECENT D.C. ETHICS CASES INCLUDE THE FOLLOWING: • The D.C. Court of Appeals suspended Kenneth Hall from practicing law for 40 days after he pleaded guilty to gross misdemeanor child abuse and neglect. Hall, a solo practitioner in Las Vegas who is also licensed in D.C., had sex in his Las Vegas law office in 2004 with a woman while her 3-year-old daughter was watching. Hall also taped the encounter, which didn’t make his fianc�e happy when she found the tape. The fianc�e, who wasn’t the woman on the tape, called the police. Hall reported his misconduct to Bar Counsel, and the Court of Appeals ordered an identical punishment to the 40-day suspension handed down by the Supreme Court of Nevada. • Claude Stuart is the first former assistant district attorney to make Penalty Box. On March 30, the D.C. Board on Professional Responsibility recommended that he be suspended for three years, with reinstatement pending a fitness test. The case against Stuart, who worked as an assistant district attorney in New York City for 12 years, stems from his prosecution of Tyrone Johnson, who was tried in 2002 for the killing of a Queens nightclub owner during a failed robbery. During the trial, Stuart told the judge he did not know the location of a witness whose testimony could have helped Johnson’s defense. But four days earlier, Stuart had interviewed the witness with police detectives. Johnson’s conviction was later thrown out. Stuart is licensed to practice in the District but is with Brand Glick & Brand in Garden City, N.Y. Neither he nor the firm returned calls on the case. Stuart did not oppose the recommended three-year suspension, which is identical to one previously given by a New York state appellate court. The suspension still must be approved by the D.C. Court of Appeals. • Keith Rosenberg was suspended indefinitely by the D.C. Court of Appeals on March 22 after allegedly mismanaging a client’s account. The case came to Bar Counsel from the Court of Appeals of Maryland, which also suspended him indefinitely from practicing law in Maryland and ordered him to pay a $1,200 fine. In 2003, Rosenberg, a solo practitioner in Bethesda, Md., cut a deal with Desert Sky Productions to promote and sell shares in his new company, Big Risk Records. But the company lived up to its name, and Rosenberg sold just a single $10,000 share that year to John Henderson, the owner of J.M.H. Productions. Rosenberg then deposited the money into a personal account, instead of an escrow account, as had been agreed. The deal did not directly involve Rosenberg’s law practice, but the Court of Appeals still found his actions gave rise to an ethics violation for the crime of moral turpitude. Rosenberg can apply for reinstatement after five years.
Nathan Carlile can be contacted at [email protected].

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