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A federal appellate panel in Atlanta has asked the chief judge of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to discipline a New York attorney who didn’t appear for an oral argument. According to opposing counsel, an obviously affronted 11th Circuit Judge Edward E. Carnes said in court that in a decade on the federal bench no attorney has failed to appear before him for oral argument. Within 24 hours, Carnes, Senior Judge James C. Hill, and 9th Circuit Senior Judge Jerome Farris, sitting by designation, had asked Chief Circuit Judge J.L. Edmondson to consider disciplinary action against Darnay R. Hoffman. According to the judges’ request, “without any justification or advance notice,” Hoffman had failed to appear Nov. 13 for an oral argument he had requested . Hoffmann-Pugh v. Ramsey, No. 02-12643 (11th Cir. Nov. 14, 2002). Hoffman was scheduled to ask the panel to reverse a lower court’s dismissal of a libel case against John B. and Patricia A. “Patsy” Ramsey, the parents of slaying victim JonBen�t Ramsey. Hoffman’s client, Linda Hoffmann-Pugh, was the Ramseys’ housekeeper when their 6-year-old daughter was killed in their Boulder, Colo., home in December 1996. Hoffmann-Pugh claimed that in the Ramseys’ 2000 book about their daughter’s slaying, “The Death of Innocence,” the couple had identified her as a suspect in JonBen�t’s death. U.S. District Judge Thomas W. Thrash Jr. dismissed Hoffmann-Pugh’s case last April. Hoffman did not return calls for comment Tuesday. Ramsey counsel L. Lin Wood Jr. said Hoffman apparently left a voice message at 12:30 a.m. Nov. 13 — the day he was to appear — at the clerk of court’s office saying he would not be present for oral argument because he could not get a flight. That message was delivered to the judges shortly before they took the bench at 9 a.m. On Nov. 12, however, Hoffman e-mailed a media alert to Atlanta journalists headlined “John & Patsy Ramsey in Court (Again)” that announced the scheduled argument. Wood is co-counsel on the case with James C. Rawls, a partner at Powell, Goldstein, Frazer & Murphy. Rawls is representing the insurer of the Ramseys’ book publisher, Thomas Nelson Inc. of Nashville, Tenn. PoGo associate Eric P. Schroeder was scheduled to face off against Hoffman, Wood said. When Carnes informed Schroeder from the bench that Hoffman had left a message saying he could not get a flight from New York, Schroeder apparently raised an eyebrow, Wood said. “I raise an eyebrow, too,” Carnes told Schroeder. “But this court will deal with Mr. Hoffman in an appropriate manner.” Hoffman’s Atlanta counsel, sole practitioner Evan M. Altman, did not appear before the appellate panel. Altman said Tuesday that his name was not on the appellate pleadings and, although he was co-counsel on Hoffmann-Pugh’s original complaint, he was not associated with her appeal. But he said that Hoffman did not travel to Atlanta because the flight would have aggravated an inner-ear infection. Hoffman, he said, had consulted with a couple of Atlanta attorneys about whether he would be forced to appear. “The information he received was that they doubted there would be any problem,” Altman said, “and that the court would just proceed with arguments from the other side.” Hoffman “felt the briefs as they were presented were sufficient on their face. He did ask for oral argument. I fully believe he intended on being there,” Altman said. Hoffman had also told the clerks he would be available at 8:30 a.m. to make his oral argument by telephone if the appellate panel agreed. Thomas Kahn, the 11th Circuit’s clerk of court, said the chief judge now might refer the disciplinary action request to the circuit’s Committee on Lawyer Qualifications and Conduct. The committee is composed of nine members of the bar of the court — three from each state in the circuit. Disciplinary actions could range from a private reprimand to suspension or disbarment, he said. “There’ve been times when I’ve been asked to call counsel and explain why this is bad and they really don’t want to do this again,” Kahn said. “Sometimes they may get a cautionary letter. We don’t consider it discipline, though, until the chief judge refers it.” Disciplinary procedures, he said, are confidential. On Monday, Hoffman sent a letter to U.S. District Judge Julie E. Carnes, who is presiding over another libel suit against the Ramseys in which Hoffman represents former Boulder resident Robert Christian Wolf. Wolf also claims the Ramseys listed him among those Boulder police investigated as suspects in their daughter’s death. In his letter, Hoffman informed the federal district judge that he has been referred to the 11th Circuit’s chief judge for disciplinary action and apologized “for any dishonor my actions may have brought on me as an officer of the court.” In his letter, Hoffman also wrote, “I have never in my nearly eight years of practice ever failed to make a court appearance and believe the Chief Judge ultimately will find that there are mitigating circumstances when he has a chance to examine the facts surrounding my absence. � “I meant no disrespect to the 11th Circuit by my failure to appear for oral argument,” Hoffman continued. “However, as a guest invited into your courtroom by virtue of your pro hac vice order, I deeply regret any embarrassment this unfortunate incident may have caused the Court.”

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