Lakin could face penalty in Illinois

Ann Knef Jul. 19, 2005, 8:48am

Kathleen Clark

Howard Brill

Suspended from practicing law for a year after improperly soliciting personal injury clients in West Virginia, Madison County plaintiff's attorney Thomas Lakin could face sanctions in Illinois by Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission (ARDC).

A spokesman for ARDC, an agency of the Illinois Supreme Court which investigates attorney misconduct, said the state abides by a reciprocal discipline rule. But different rules apply for lawyers in trouble in other states where they're licensed and those who practice pro hac vice--a courtesy extended to out-of-state lawyers.

"That rule (reciprocal discipline) is created to allow lawyers with dual licenses to be barred or sanctioned," said James Grogan of the ARDC.

"When it comes to our attention that a lawyer has been sanctioned in other jurisdictions over ethics it is standard operating procedure for our office…to review and ask the lawyer to explain.”

Pro hac vice lawyers in trouble out of state, as in Lakin's case, do not face automatic discpline. They answer to an ethics code. A misconduct investigation could be opened for the type of violations Lakin is accused of in West Virginia, Grogan said.

"They have to report a discipline," Grogan said, although there is no time frame for reporting defined by law.

Lakin, founder of the Lakin Law Firm, was barred by a West Virginia Appeals Court June 24 for soliciting another lawyer's clients. He has not reported the transgression to the ARDC.

A law professor who teaches legal ethics and professional responsibility said that courts generally adopt attorney disciplinary rulings from other states.

"Most jurisdictions give a great deal of weight to other states," said Howard Brill, a professor at Vincent Foster University at the University of Arkansas.

Washington University law professor Kathleen Clark said it is "routine" for states to discipline lawyers that have been disciplined by other states.

Brill said that a lawyer's conduct would have to be "egregious" to earn a one-year suspension.

"If someone is suspended one year that is a significant sanction," said Brill.

A lawyer who interferes with another's clients may not just face discipline, he added. "It's a tort under tort law," he said.

In a dissenting opinion issued July 13, West Virginia Appeals Court Justice Larry Starcher, concurred with the court's opinion, but stated that the Lakin Law Firm also should have been barred from practicing law in West Virginia.

"When Governor Joe Manchin said 'West Virginia's Open for Business, I do not think he meant that out-of-state lawyers were free to come into West Virginia and attempt to steal the clients of our State lawyers while violating our Rules of Professional in a dissenting opinion July 13.

Excerpts from the court's opinion include:

With regard to Count I, Kevin James Berry, a resident of Kenova, West Virginia, had a personal injury claim arising from a July 1997 bridge construction accident.

Berry was represented in the claim by Menis Ketchum, a lawyer in Huntington, West Virginia. Soon after the retention of Ketchum, Al Richter and an individual named Gentry appeared at the Berry residence. Neither of the two men were previously known to Berry.

Gentry was the stepson of one of Berry’s co-workers, and, according to Disciplinary Counsel, Richter, a resident of the State of Pennsylvania, was a former client and de facto agent of the Lakin Law Firm.

Although Berry told them that Ketchum was representing him, Richter, as alleged by Disciplinary Counsel, told Berry that Ketchum would “sell him out” and that Berry could get more money from the accident if he hired the Lakin Law Firm.

Berry also received a telephone call from Howard Pederson, the chief investigator for the Lakin Law Firm, who allegedly attempted to solicit him as a client for the Firm. Berry declined the offers of Richter and Pederson and continued to be represented by Ketchum.

With regard to Count II of the Statement of Charges, Denver Copley, a resident of Williamson, West Virginia, and former railroad employee, had a personal injury claim arising from an October 1997 train accident.

In January 1998, Copley retained Menis Ketchum to represent him in the claim. Thereafter, Copley began receiving numerous telephone calls from fellow employee, Colin Kelley, who, according to Disciplinary Counsel, was a former client and de facto agent of the Lakin Law Firm and who attempted to solicit Copley upon the Firm’s behalf.

In September 1998, Kelley arranged a meeting wherein Copley met with Kelley and attorneys Brad Lakin and Charles Armbruster of the Lakin Law Firm at Copley’s home. The testimony before the Hearing Panel Subcommittee indicates

Count III of the Statement of Charges states: “The foregoing actions on the part of the Lakin Law Firm, L. Thomas Lakin and the attorney members and employees of that firm reflect a pattern and practice of improper solicitation of . . . residents of the State of West Virginia, all in violation of the West Virginia Rules of Professional Conduct.”

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