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A New York lawyer who failed to show up for a high-profile oral argument at the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in 2002 defended his actions before the court’s discipline committee last week. “I am ashamed of having to be here,” Darnay R. Hoffman told the nine members of the 11th Circuit’s Committee on Lawyer Qualifications and Conduct, who gathered in the court’s en banc courtroom. But Hoffman argued that “labyrinth vertigo,” an ailment that he has suffered occasionally since 2000, prevented him from flying to Atlanta to argue his case. Dealing with a medical emergency “is not dilatory,” he said, referring to one of the accusations against him. The panel could recommend that the 11th Circuit dismiss the case against Hoffman, disbar him from the court’s bar or anything in between. Hoffman said he rejected an offer by the panel to accept a one-year suspension and a letter of reprimand because doing so effectively would cut off his way to make a living for a year; state bars typically honor sanctions imposed by courts. The panel members — three appellate lawyers from each state the 11th Circuit covers — struggled to understand Hoffman’s explanations. “We are left with a concern about your credibility,” said the panel’s chairman, Marvin E. Barkin of Tampa, Fla.’s Trenam, Kemker, Scharf, Barkin, Frye, O’Neill & Mullis. The panel usually conducts its business in secrecy. But Hoffman decided that he wanted the hearing to occur in the open so that his side could be heard beyond a closed courtroom. Three spectators attended, sitting in the court’s en banc courtroom. The panel was seated along a row of tables in front of the court’s bench, facing Hoffman, who sat alone. �MEDIA HOUND’ DEFENSE “I’ve been accused of being a media hound,” Hoffman said. By reminding the panel of his penchant for announcing his court appearances in press releases — a friend of Hoffman sent the Fulton County Daily Report an e-mail announcing the discipline hearing — Hoffman was trying to explain that he would never intentionally miss a chance to be in the spotlight. It follows, he told the panel, that he must have had a good reason for failing to show up on Nov. 13, 2002. That was the day a three-judge panel gathered to hear an appeal Hoffman brought on behalf of a client suing John B. and Patricia A. “Patsy” Ramsey, the parents of murder victim JonBen�t Ramsey. Hoffman’s client, Linda Hoffmann-Pugh, was the Ramseys’ housekeeper when the 6-year-old girl 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 identified her as a suspect. U.S. District Judge Thomas W. Thrash Jr. dismissed Hoffmann-Pugh’s libel case in April 2002. On Nov. 12, 2002, Hoffman e-mailed a media alert to Atlanta journalists headlined “John & Patsy Ramsey in Court (Again)” that announced the next day’s argument. WHY HE FAILED TO APPEAR Discussion at Monday’s hearing focused on this story: Hoffman left a voice message at the court shortly after midnight the day of the argument saying he would not be present because he could not get a flight from New York to Atlanta. That message was delivered to the judges shortly before they took the bench at 9 a.m. On Nov. 14, Judge Edward E. Carnes, Senior Judge James C. Hill, and 9th Circuit Senior Judge Jerome Farris, sitting by designation, asked 11th Circuit Judge J.L. Edmondson to consider disciplinary action against Hoffman. According to the judges’ request, Hoffman failed to appear “without any justification or advance notice.” Hoffmann-Pugh v. Ramsey, No. 02-12643 (11th Cir. Nov. 14, 2002). Five days later, the panel ruled for the Ramseys’ and affirmed the dismissal of Hoffman’s client’s suit. Nearly a year and a half later, Hoffman stood in the building where he was supposed to be the day of the argument. Pressed several times on whether he in fact told a clerk he could not get a flight, Hoffman said he didn’t know: “I was very upset.” Hoffman explained that the Friday before the Wednesday argument, he began suffering an episode of “labyrinth vertigo,” a recurring ailment that caused him to feel as if his head were being thrown from side to side and made him fall down. As the weekend progressed, he said, he hoped the vertigo would clear up so he could fly to Atlanta to present his case. Worried that he might be unable to make it, Hoffman said he located Atlanta appellate attorney David A. Webster by Martindale-Hubbell’s Web site and telephoned him for advice. Hoffman said he was left with the impression from Webster that if he could not make it to the argument, the court “would let me submit [the case] on the brief.” Continuing to reflect the candor by which he had invited the public to dissect an embarrassing moment of his career, Hoffman later read aloud a letter in which Webster strongly disputed Hoffman’s recollections. In the letter, Hoffman said Webster wrote that he had urged Hoffman to ask the 11th Circuit clerk what he could do. Hoffman said Webster added that he “didn’t know of anyone who had the chutzpah [to] simply fail to appear” at an oral argument. Hoffman’s discussions with an 11th Circuit clerk did not help, he said, because the clerk “was awfully angry on the phone.” “He kept repeating, �The court takes this matter very, very seriously,’” said Hoffman. Several times panel members asked why Hoffman did not, when he realized he would not be able to come to the argument, fax a motion to waive oral argument. They suggested that Hoffman could have told the court that a doctor’s affidavit explaining his condition would be sent later. Hoffman said the rules for doing so were confusing. NO PLANS FOR TRANSPORTATION More troubling for many panel members was Hoffmans failure to make plans — by plane, bus, train or car — to travel to Atlanta for the argument scheduled for Nov. 13, 2002, even though he had known for about two months that the court had accepted his petition to hold oral argument. Knowing a doctor had said Hoffman should not fly, Patrick T. O’Connor of Savannah’s Oliver Maner & Gray asked, “Why didn’t you look into alternative travel plans?” “I should have been more diligent,” Hoffman said later. He added that his wife, former “Mayflower Madam” Sydney Biddle Barrows, was a public figure and could arrange good hotel rates quickly, so he had few doubts that he could find a place to stay in Atlanta. Atlanta employment litigator R. Lawrence Ashe Jr. of Ashe, Rafuse & Hill led the panel’s inquiry. “Do you understand the judges come from out of town, from all over the circuit?” he asked Hoffman. The other members of the panel are James W. Gewin of Birmingham, Ala.’s Bradley Arant Rose & White; Cubbedge Snow Jr. of Macon’s Martin Snow; Arthur J. England Jr. of Miami’s Greenberg Traurig; Kenneth W. Sukhia of Tallahassee, Fla.’s Fowler White Boggs Banker; Sandy Robinson of Mobile, Ala.’s Cabaniss, Johnston, Gardner, Dumas & O’Neal; and Richard H. Gill of Montgomery, Ala.’s Copeland, Franco, Screws & Gill.

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