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Like the proverbial potted plant, Bryan Chapman seems to prefer practicing osmosis instead of law. Which may be why the solo D.C. practitioner was recommended for a 60-day suspension, with 30 days stayed upon completing one year of probation, by the D.C. Board on Professional Responsibility on July 30. Chapman represented Ann Bright, an African-American woman who alleged discrimination by the Federal Communications Commission in 1998. Bright says she received low performance evaluations and was passed over on promotions at work because of her race and gender. Chapman agreed to represent Bright on a 40 percent contingent fee basis along with a $3,000 retainer. But before Bright’s deposition, Chapman never met with his client. Instead, he called her the night before her deposition to tell her he was preparing for her testimony while sitting in bed. When pressed by Bright about how he was getting ready for her case, according to the board’s report, Chapman responded that his style consists mainly of talking with a client “about the case on a regular basis over the phone. By osmosis, the client begins to gradually understand the case the way you do.” Chapman followed up that unorthodox style of lawyering by not interviewing any of Chapman’s co-workers at the FCC or producing documents requested by the defense. Not surprisingly, the U.S. District Court of the District of Columbia granted summary judgment to the government. The board noted in its report that while the case appeared difficult, it was made impossible by Chapman’s legal tactics.
Bruce Sanders was informally admonished for sloppy bookkeeping by D.C. Bar Counsel in July. The admonishment says that Sanders, a solo practitioner in Silver Spring, Md., could not explain adequately to Bar Counsel why several financial transactions were made in recent years from a client’s trust account. The fuzzy math included paying a number of client expenses from the trust account on whose behalf Sanders was making the expenditures. Bar Counsel Wallace “Gene” Shipp Jr. made a point to note in the letter that Sanders cooperated with the office’s investigation, which lessened the punishment’s severity. Sanders has the option to appeal the informal admonishment, but he would have to request a special hearing.
Andrea Merritt-Bagwell was informally admonished by Bar Counsel in July for not being around much for her client. In March of 2005 the name partner at Harmon, Wilmot, Brown & Bagwell failed to make an appearance on behalf of her client at a mediation session of a civil case in D.C. Superior Court. Merritt-Bagwell had also failed to comply with several discovery requests. In October 2006, a day before a status hearing, Merritt-Bagwell filed an emergency motion to continue the hearing. The court said no. The next day Merritt-Bagwell was a no-show when testimony was taken and judgment given in favor of the plaintiff to the tune of $243,000. “It was a very unfortunate situation and I deeply regret that it occurred,” says Merritt-Bagwell. “I was very honest and admitted to the mistake once it happened.” That judgment was later vacated, and the counsel who received the case from Merritt-Bagwell reached a confidential settlement. Bar Counsel says in its report that it considered Merritt-Bagwell’s poor health, her general compliance with the investigation, and the payment of attorney fees to the client’s next lawyer as reason enough to not hand down a harsher penalty.
What’s a book worth? For Barry Nakell, it may cost him his law degree. The Board on Professional Responsibility referred Nakell’s case to a hearing committee last month to determine whether the solo practitioner committed a crime of moral turpitude — which results in automatic disbarment — when he stole a book from a bookstore. Nakell was convicted of misdemeanor larceny by the General Court of Justice of Stanly County, N.C.. He received a suspended 30-day jail sentence in favor of a year’s probation and was also ordered to undergo psychiatric counseling. If Nakell is found to not have committed a crime of moral turpitude, it will be left to the hearing committee to recommend any other discipline.
Samuel Bailey was informally admonished by Bar Counsel on August 4 for not properly handling a suspension given by the D.C. Court of Appeals. In September 2005, Bailey received a 9-month suspension from the court for, among other things, failing to maintain complete trust account funds for a client and subsequently not notifying a physician of the client’s settlement. Bailey’s suspension was to become effective on Oct. 15, 2006. On Oct. 11, however, Bailey failed to show up at the client’s settlement mediation before trial. D.C. Bar rules required Bailey to notify all of his clients of the looming suspension. He never did so with this client, who found out about the suspension from Bar Counsel.
The state of Maine’s Board of Overseers of the Bar tipped off D.C. Bar Counsel that David Vincent wasn’t all that interested in doing a little lawyering for a client. As a result, he was informally admonished in July. After repeatedly filing motions to extend the time of an appeal brief for the client in summer 2005, Vincent never responded to the Maine petition to dismiss the time extension. And for several months, Vincent failed to return phone calls and letters from his client. But, perhaps in an effort to show that he does retain the ability to return a phone call, Vincent cooperated with Bar Counsel’s investigation.
Nathan Carlile can be contacted at [email protected].

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