Tuesday, June 2, 2009

The Musings of a Cranky Old Twit. Part III

"Let's Kill All the Lawyers." Many pseudo English majors missed Shakespeare's point when Dick the Butcher uttered these words in King Henry VI. (Editors note: I did not see King Henry I-V, but I think VI is the one where he fights Ivan Drago). Billy Shakepeare's point was that the quickest way to creating chaos was getting rid of those who understand and enforce the law. Want anarchy? Eliminate those who defend concepts like due process. As an attorney, I'm pretty thick skinned. I can take the occasional lawyer joke. I can handle people looking for a reaction when an ambulance passes. I don't take it personally when a client takes out their frustration on me because their wife wants to keep the Beanie Baby collection in the divorce settlement. I take some solace in the fact that I am part of a wonderful profession. When you ask a mother what ideal future she envisions for her child, the inevitable answer is a career as a lawyer or a doctor. ACT I The practice of law is a noble profession. Unfortunately it is often practiced by the ignoble. I recently read an article in the New Britain Herald about former attorney Elizabeth Zembko. Written by the paper's crackshot criminal reporter Lisa Backus, Zembko was sentenced to fifteen months in prison for stealing $400 K from her former firm, Ericson, Scalise, & Magnan. She also stole an additional $137K from elderly clients. Zembko was ordered to pay back the dough and to give up her law license. A two decade career spiraled down the tubes. According to court records, Zembko spent much of money on a lifestyle of the rich and famous. The ill gotten funds were used for furs, house cleaning services, expensive cars and luxurious vacations. She violated her probation when it was discovered she only paid $1200 to her wronged clients. She has not made a payment in over a year and told her probation officer that she couldn’t afford to pay the 60 installments of $832. ACT II What happened next falls in the "what were you thinking" category? Out on bond, the former attorney decides to snatch a $1395 dollar Michael Kors handbag from the Nordstroms at the West Farms Mall. Mall security found two more pilfered bags in her car bringing the grand total to $1891. My first reaction was "why does a handbag cost over a thousand dollars?" Do people really buy these things? Why not buy something more practical like a seat from the old Yankee stadium. My second thought was that this lady was a lawyer. Did she forget how tough law school was? The endless hours studying for the bar? The wonderful anxiety of that first day you were sworn in as an attorney? Where did she veer off the path? As a former attorney, Zembko undoubtedly knew the consequences of her actions. As a criminal defense attorney myself, it drives me nuts when a client violates probation after getting an amazingly fair pretrial offer from the state's attorney. Zembko's lawyer must have been banging his head on the wall. Not surprisingly, the court stipulated that the disgraced lawyer must hand over an additional $25,000 for bond. She came up with the money two days later, was released with an electronic monitor and was put under house arrest. Zembko could only leave to meet with her lawyer or doctor. ACT III OK. So this tragic story ends here, right? A bright legal career felled by greed. At this point, I would advise my client to stay home. Stole from your clients. Strike One. Stole a Purse. Strike Two. Let's not make a strike 3 until your next court date. Stay in for Pete's sake! Order pizza. Wanna talk to me? Let's do a conference call. Unfortunately, in Act III, we find our troubled heroine leaving home to visit her dear friend. Leaving the house, she allegedly spots a purse in her host's car. Apparently, the bag looked a little too heavy for her friend. She lightened it for her by allegedly removing $300 dollars. So now let's add 3rd degree burglary and 5th degree larceny charges to the final act. I do not mean to make light of the situation. It seems apparent the defendant has some sort of psychological issues to sort through in her life. I hope she gets the help she needs. It just drives me crazy when it's a lawyer who gets arrested. It adds to the notion that our profession is full of charlatans and crooks. A few bad apples that spoil the bunch. I am proud to be an attorney. You should be too. If you happen to be one of the bad apples, please follow the following helpful 12 step program:
  1. Admit you are a jackass and that you have soiled the reputation of your profession.
  2. Stop using runners.
  3. Stop giving kickbacks to unscrupulous bail bondsmen, EMT workers and doctors.
  4. Stop stealing from your client fund account.
  5. Stop dressing like a priest to sneak into hospitals to solicit business.
  6. Stop Double Billing and Padding Bills
  7. Stop producing unethical or offensive over the top ads
  8. Stop chasing ambulances
  9. Read the ethics rules
  10. Become accountable for your actions
  11. Start showing civility to fellow lawyers, judges, court marshals and clerks
  12. Hand in your law license and become a Congressman.

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