The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has the remarkable account of the local lawyer with serious prior disciplinary history who is a serious candidate to become the Dekalb County (Georgia) prosecutor. As the Bad Lawyer I know I have a lot to offer the legal profession even from my lowly perch as a blawger, but run for public office? I think not. Then again, there's Yale Law graduate, Joe Miller, who is about aa unethical a character to come down the pike in a long time--who might just become a U.S. Senator from Alaska, of course that's Alaska. Oh, and then there's: Sen. David Vitter, Sen. John Ensign, Sen . . . I digress, here's AJC reporter Megan Mattecucci's story:
Records obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution show Heard was suspended twice for violating State Bar standards. James has no complaints with the Bar, according to its records. The state Supreme Court found Heard guilty of three Bar standards: dishonesty and fraud; willful abandonment to the detriment of her clients; and commingling clients’ funds with her own.
The director of the National Institute for Teaching Ethics & Professionalism, who is not involved in the DeKalb race, said he would be concerned about any lawyer who violated those specific standards. 'I have no hesitation in saying that someone who has been suspended for violating [these standards] should not be a candidate for district attorney.' said Clark D. Cunningham, who also teaches law and ethics at the Georgia State University College of Law.
According to court records, Heard accepted retainer funds from clients for divorces but never filed anything in court on their behalf or represented them.
In 1998, she admitted to violating the Bar standards and agreed to a six-month suspension. She subsequently was suspended again in 2002 and ordered to return the money to her clients, court records show. For both complaints, Heard failed to respond to the Bar’s notices, according to court records.
Heard said the complaints occurred when she was suffering from depression, but she declined to talk about the specifics of her condition. 'That was medical. I’ve never done anything criminal,' she told the AJC on Tuesday. Heard said she stopped practicing from 1998 to 2002 and was treated. The Supreme Court reinstated her in 2002 after completing a mental evaluation, court records show.
'I’ve been practicing successfully since then,' she said. 'I’m doing quite OK.'
But Cunningham said those Bar standards, which are set by the Supreme Court, are some of the most important rules that govern lawyers. The three standards Heard was cited for are all punishable by disbarment or suspension -- the highest punishments.
'If the Supreme Court suspended a lawyer from practice, that means the court did not find any circumstances that excused the misconduct,' Cunningham said.
Both candidates said they hope voters make a decision based on their records. 'My record speaks for itself. Her record speaks, including multiple suspensions, speaks for itself,' said James, who resigned as solicitor-general last month to qualify for the race. Heard, 63, touts 15 years of working in private practice. Before becoming a lawyer, she taught in Atlanta public schools and at what is now Georgia Perimeter College.
James, 38, has spent his entire 11 years practicing as a prosecutor, including working with the DeKalb and Rockdale County district attorney's offices. In DeKalb , he served as the special prosecutor for crimes against children. In 2006, he was elected solicitor-general.
Both candidates said they are focused on public corruption, along with making DeKalb safer. Fighting public corruption is one of the reasons its is essential that the right candidate for district attorney win, officials said.
'There is no public official in the U.S. with more discretionary power than a district attorney or the equivalent position in the federal government. For example, a decision not to prosecute is not reviewable by any court or higher official,' Cunningham said. 'Such incredible power should only be given to persons who exemplify the utmost in integrity and ethics.'"
Some of the finest, most profound, and probably ethical people, I know, are active in recovery and professional mental health programming. Could you reasonably expect that some of us might be able to one day, honorably serve in positions of trust and public service after recovery? Sure. Might one of us prove to be more ethical and more honest than someone who has not experienced what we have experienced--you betcha!
Examples of this paradox work themselves out around the country all the time, witness, New York's Eliot Spitzer, Maricopa County;s Andrew Thomas, Cuyahoga County's William Mason--all paragons of piety and ethics. All gentlemen who were all quick to see the moat in the eye of others but blind to their visual defects.
Now objectively, does the idea of a lawyer who has been disciplined multiple times with a history of depression sound like a good candidate for prosecutor? No.
Does Constance Pinson Heard sound pretty clueless? Yes.