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After being convicted of assaulting his wife in an attack that dislocated her shoulder, attorney Peter H. Jacoby received a slap on the wrist from the Supreme Court of New Jersey, which ordered only a public censure. It might not go so easy for Jacoby in the District, where he is also licensed and where he works as an in-house lawyer for AT&T specializing in federal communications. Last month, the D.C. Board on Professional Responsibility recommended that Jacoby be suspended from practicing law for 60 days. In its unanimous decision, the board noted it may have sought more severe punishment but felt “constrained somewhat in our recommended sanction” because it was a reciprocal discipline case. “Had these facts come to us as an original proceeding with a fully developed evidentiary record, we would undoubtedly recommend a multiple-month suspension” beyond 60 days, the board’s May 11 decision stated. Jacoby, who referred questions to his lawyer, doesn’t agree with the board’s recommendation. He has appealed to the D.C. Court of Appeals, requesting a lesser punishment, says Barry Cohen, a legal ethics and malpractice partner at Crowell & Moring who is representing Jacoby. “Obviously once it happened, he was mortified,” Cohen says about the assault. “This could happen to anyone, and he feels awful. He wants to go on with his life [so] this doesn’t affect his ability to practice law.” (For the record, Jacoby is not Peter G. Jacoby, who also works for AT&T as a lobbyist and vice president of federal relations.) AT&T general counsel James Ellis did not return calls seeking comment. In March 2005, while Jacoby was working for AT&T, police officers responded to a call from the couple’s home in Somerset County, N.J., where they found Jacoby’s wife “crying and shaking” and “lying on her back on the front walkway,” according to a police report. During an argument about Jacoby’s children from a previous marriage, Laurann Jacoby asked him to step outside so he could calm down, away from the children. While leaving the house, Jacoby grabbed her by the throat and threw her twice against a wall, the police report stated. Laurann Jacoby suffered a dislocated shoulder, which required six months of physical therapy before she could return to work on a part-time basis, according to the report by the D.C. Board on Professional Responsibility. In October 2005, Jacoby pleaded guilty to simple assault and was sentenced to probation for one year and was ordered to undergo psychiatric treatment. The judge noted that it was his first criminal conviction. The New Jersey Office of Attorney Ethics then asked the state’s disciplinary board to suspend Jacoby from practicing law for three months. The board agreed, noting similar punishments for attorneys convicted of domestic violence offenses. But the Supreme Court of New Jersey ruled a censure was sufficient in a decision delivered with no written opinion. The censure in New Jersey carried more weight in New York — where Jacoby also is licensed and where he received the same punishment of censure — than it has so far in the District. Jacoby reported his assault conviction to D.C. Bar Counsel, as he is obligated to do. But the D.C. Board on Professional Responsibility wasn’t going soft on Jacoby. Although it acknowledged that there’s a presupposition to accept another state’s ruling in reciprocal discipline cases, the board wrote that “the discipline in New Jersey is outside the range and substantially different from what would be imposed in this jurisdiction.” D.C. Bar Counsel sought at least a 30-day suspension but argued for as harsh a penalty as the board deemed necessary. The board recommended a 60-day suspension after noting that Jacoby had been under psychiatric treatment since 1985 for “explosive behavior that was occurring at home.” Jacoby also was diagnosed with bipolar disorder by a psychologist he has been seeing since 2001, according to the Bar Counsel report. Cohen says a 60-day suspension is too harsh. He questioned whether the board feels pressure after a previous recommendation for a public censure in a sexual assault case was rejected by the D.C. Court of Appeals as being too lenient. That case involved John Harkins, the former executive vice president and chief executive officer of the Printing and Graphics Communications Assoc-iation in Washington. Harkins was convicted of sexual abuse after he fondled a woman in a Metro subway car in 1999. Harkins followed the woman, grabbed her leg and buttocks, and told her, “Give me a call sometime, baby,” according to the D.C. Court of Appeals ruling last year. The Board on Professional Respon-sibility had recommended only a public censure — rejecting Bar Counsel’s request for at least a 30-day suspension — stating Harkins’ actions had nothing to do with his practice as a lawyer. The Court of Appeals didn’t buy it and suspended Harkins for 30 days. “I think what happened for Mr. Jacoby is, the board has allowed its pendulum to swing too far in the other direction,” Cohen says. In another recent case, the Court of Appeals again found the board was too lenient. In April, the court rejected a recommended 30-day suspension for Jill Pennington, who already had been disbarred in Maryland after she lied to a client and used her own money to pay a “settlement” in an auto claims case. The court instead issued a two-year suspension. “We cannot help concluding that the recommended 30-day suspension by the Board reflects disagreement with the very nature of the misconduct found by Maryland — a disagreement that was beyond its authority in this reciprocal matter,” the court wrote on April 26. D.C. Bar Counsel argued the case against Pennington together with a case against attorney Frank Wiggins, a former co-worker and friend of Pennington’s who gave her some very bad advice. The court suspended Wiggins for 60 days but stayed 30 days of the suspension pending completion of one year of probation. The pair worked together at Cohn & Marks two decades ago. Pennington — who was a solo practitioner in Upper Marlboro, Md. — asked Wiggins for advice in 2003 after her client’s auto accident personal injury case was dismissed on a technicality. The clerk’s office in Prince George’s County Circuit Court mistakenly gave the case the wrong docket number. Pennington didn’t learn of the error until October 2002, after the statute of limitations had run out on filing a suit. Wiggins — who at the time specialized in communications law at Venable — told Pennington she didn’t have to inform the client about the dismissal and could instead personally pay $10,000 to the client, which was the minimum amount authorized to settle the case, according to the D.C. Court of Appeals ruling. Before she got disbarred in Maryland, Pennington claimed in a reply brief during her disciplinary proceedings there that she gave her client $10,000 from her own pocket as a simple act of kindness. Pennington’s client, Denise Butler, was a mother of four who learned she had cancer after the 1999 car crash. Pennington became close with Butler while representing her and claimed she was fearful Butler would “feel lousy about taking [money] from her friend, rather than from a nameless, faceless insurance company.” On the settlement form, Pennington left blank the lines for the name of the insurance company and the personal injury claim. The “settlement” cost her $10,000, but she deducted legal fees, in effect paying herself with her own money, and medical expenses for Butler’s health care provider. She then gave Butler a check for $4,129 and change.
Nathan Carlile can be contacted at [email protected].

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