Friday, May 11, 2007

How dirty do you have to be to have a bunch of lawyers say you have no ethics?

Answer: You have to be really dishonest!

The California Bar Association says Elizabeth Schulman's behavior was acceptable.

Ex-Prosecutor Faces Panel on Ethics Charges
By Henri E. Cauvin
Washington Post
Monday, May 7, 2007

G. Paul Howes tried more than a few big cases as a federal prosecutor in the District during the late 1980s and early '90s.

Now, more than a decade after leaving the U.S. attorney's office for private practice, he faces what could be his biggest trial: his own.

Charged with ethics violations stemming from his conduct in two drug-and-murder conspiracy cases, Howes is to appear today before a D.C. disciplinary panel that could recommend his disbarment in the District.

A confidential Justice Department investigation, completed in 1998, found that Howes flagrantly abused the stipend system for witnesses, signing off on tens of thousands of dollars in unauthorized payments to witnesses and, even more significantly, to their friends and families.

Witnesses routinely are paid stipends when they go to court to testify or when they meet with prosecutors to prepare for the proceedings. But the payments must be disclosed to defense attorneys so informed assessments can be made of the witnesses' credibility. And relatives and friends who are not bona fide witnesses cannot be paid.

At the time of the cases that came under scrutiny, a witness in a federal case would have received a voucher for $40 for each day of service. In its charging documents, the D.C. Office of Bar Counsel cites questionable payments totaling more than $75,000 from among the nearly $141,000 in voucher payments issued in the cases.

The cases were the kind on which reputations can be made. In one, a D.C. police officer was charged with conspiring with a drug gang to kill its rivals, and in the other, members of the notorious Newton Street Crew were charged with running a criminal enterprise that was engaged in murder and narcotics distribution.

In each of the cases, Howes kept the defendants' lawyers in the dark about the unauthorized payments. His motivation remains unclear.

But the fallout was far-reaching. In the years after the abuses came to light, the U.S. attorney's office had to agree to significant reductions in the sentences of several defendants, including some who had been serving life prison terms. At least three defendants were released within months of the reductions.

No criminal charges were brought against Howes, however, and the Justice Department found no indication that he was acting for personal gain.

In 2002 -- four years after completing its investigation -- the Justice Department referred the matter to the bar counsel. That office investigates allegations of ethical misconduct by lawyers licensed in the District.

It wasn't until February that the bar counsel filed charges against Howes, now a partner at Lerach Coughlin Stoia Geller Rudman & Robbins in San Diego. Howes is accused of making a false statement, making an illegal inducement to a witness, failing to disclose potentially exculpatory evidence, committing a criminal act and other offenses.

In a written reply to the bar counsel's charges, Howes did not dispute many of the allegations. He said, for example, that he "engaged in conduct involving dishonesty or misrepresentation" and that he "engaged in conduct that seriously interfered with the administration of justice."

But he contested other accusations, denying that he ever offered "an unlawful inducement to a witness" and denying that he committed a "criminal act that reflects adversely on his honesty, trustworthiness or fitness as a lawyer."

Neither Howes nor his lead attorney responded to requests for comment.

In a letter sent earlier this year to a federal judge in Houston, where he has been representing shareholders in a class-action lawsuit against disgraced energy giant Enron, Howes alerted the court to his pending ethics charges. He told the judge that he has "always accepted responsibility for my conduct and that of the police officers who worked with me" on the D.C. cases, according to a report in the Houston Chronicle.

Such charges against a current or former federal prosecutor are rare, and the hearing that begins today could be the first time Howes publicly addresses his conduct in two of the biggest organized crime prosecutions of that era.

Leading the defense will be one of Washington's most prominent lawyers, Plato Cacheris, whose roster of clients has included former FBI agent Robert Hanssen and former CIA officer Aldrich H. Ames in two of the biggest spy cases in U.S. history, and former White House intern Monica Lewinsky, whose relationship with President Bill Clinton came under worldwide scrutiny and an independent counsel's investigation.

At stake is Howes's career as a lawyer.

After returning from service in Vietnam and earning a law degree and a master's degree, Howes went to work in government, first as a special assistant to FBI Director William H. Webster, then as a clerk for federal appeals Judge Roger Robb. He took a job as a Washington correspondent for ABC News but soon returned to government, joining the U.S. attorney's office, where he would remain for 11 years, until 1995.

As a prosecutor, he made a name for himself taking on murderous drug gangs that kept bodies dropping across the District in the late 1980s and early '90s. It was intense work, and it all seemed to be coming together in 1993, as Howes prepared to try two of the biggest cases of his career.

The first, the case against reputed gang member Javier Card, D.C. police officer Fonda Moore and others, was tried over seven months in D.C. Superior Court, concluding in April 1994.

The second, the Newton Street case, began a day after the Card-Moore case ended and spanned six months in U.S. District Court.

Both prosecutions ended with convictions and long prison terms and, taken together, should have been a capstone to Howes's career.
Now his professional future is largely in the hands of others.

Today, he will go before a three-member hearing committee of the D.C. Board on Professional Responsibility, the arm of the D.C. Court of Appeals that administers the disciplinary system for lawyers in the District.

Most lawyer discipline cases in the District stem from allegations that a lawyer neglected a client or misused money. Allegations such as those faced by Howes are unusual, said Phil Fox, a partner at Sutherland Asbill & Brennan, who was chairman of the Board on Professional Responsibility in the mid-1990s.

"I can't think of a case similar to this," he said.

Evidence will be presented by bar counsel lawyers and by Howes's lawyers. Howes himself could testify, along with character witnesses on his behalf.

The hearing is expected to last for at least a couple of days, and after it ends, both sides will submit briefs. The hearing committee will prepare a report to the board, a nine-member body of lawyers and nonlawyers.

The board will then prepare its own report and make a recommendation to the D.C. Court of Appeals, which has the authority to strip a lawyer of the right to practice in the District.

It is a process that could take quite a while to play out, Fox said. "It's going to be a couple of years."

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