An attorney licensed to practice in Oregon and Hawaii has been disciplined for unauthorized use of a Westlaw account for more than a year.
The Oregon Supreme Court on October 11 called for the public reprimand of Everett Walton, who continued to use Westlaw legal databases after he left a job as special prosecutor for the Republic of Palau, which was paying for the service. Walton used the account for 14 months after he quit the prosecutor job to work as a legal aid attorney, according to the decision.
Oregon’s high court found that Walton violated ethics rule that require attorneys to act honestly. The decision was a reciprocal disciplinary ruling based on a prior disciplinary action in Hawaii against Walton, who now is in private practice as a litigator in Hilo, Hawaii.
In issuing the order, the Oregon court rejected a sanction called for by the Oregon State Bar, which argued that Walton should be suspended from practice for six months.
"Although we have found that the accused acted intentionally, we have concluded that the Bar has not established that the accused engaged in criminal conduct, let alone serious criminal conduct," the court found.
Walton, reached by telephone, said that he accepted the ruling. "I think it was a good decision," he said.
The attorney representing the Oregon State Bar was Linn Davis. A spokesman for the organization declined to comment. The decision was first reported on the Legal Profession Blog.
Walton, who is licensed to practice in Hawaii and Oregon, was appointed special prosecutor in 2001 for the Republic of Palau, a group of islands in the Western Pacific with a population of 21,000.
In March 2007, while still holding that position, he entered into a three-year contract with Thomson Reuters Corp., the owner of Westlaw Internet legal research services. Under the contract, the Palau government agreed to pay a flat rate of about $1,170 per month for unlimited access to Westlaw until May 31, 2010.
Walton resigned from his job as special prosecutor in March 2008 and unsuccessfully tried to cancel the Westlaw contract, according to the October 11 decision. He took a job with the Legal Aid Society of Hawaii, where he continued to access the Westlaw account. During that time, the Palau government paid the Westlaw bill.
Palau appointed a new special prosecutor in April 2009, who discovered that Walton had been using the account. After heinformed Walton that he was considering filing criminal charges, Walton stopped using the account. The new prosecutor filed a complaint with the Hawaii office of disciplinary counsel, alleging that Walton’s conduct had cost the government about $20,000 based on its flat-rate contract with Westlaw—and otherwise were worth about $45,000. In 2011, the Hawaii Supreme Court issued a public reprimand against Walton.
In arguing for the six-month suspension, the Oregon Bar asserted that Walton’s conduct demonstrated a lack of fitness to practice and that he had committed a criminal act in Hawaii.
Noting that the Oregon Bar did not provide analysis for its argument that Walton committed a crime, the Oregon court considered that Thomson Reuters was paid for its services, that there was no evidence that Walton would have used the services if not for the Palau account and that he received no personal benefit from it because he was representing indigent clients at the time.
"Given those facts, and the fact that the accused has an unblemished record in 35 years as a practicing lawyer, we are satisfied that a public reprimand will adequately protect the public," the court reasoned.
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