AT THE BAR; State JC won't let good deed go unpunished

Boston Herald; Boston, Mass.; Apr 22, 2003; Maggie Mulvihill; pg. 034  [ISSN: 07385854]
Copyright Boston Herald Library Apr 22, 2003

The public good - what does it really mean for a lawyer these days?

In other words, what's the point of trying to do the right thing if the outcome for you will be to lose your license for six months - not to mention damaging your reputation?

Consider a case from the state of Washington, the highest court of which punished an attorney who, it seems, wanted to do the right thing.

In a really mind-twisting decision, the Washington Supreme Court, in a 6-3 vote, suspended attorney Douglas Schafer after he exposed a corrupt judge.

The problem: Schafer allegedly disclosed a client's confidences in the process - an ethical bond the justices in Washington deemed more sacrosanct than the casting out of a dirty judge.

A client told Schafer in 1992 that a man who was about to become a state judge helped him buy a bowling alley at below-market price.

The judge, Grant Anderson, was a trustee of the estate that owned the bowling alley, legally bound to get the best price, not a cut price, for the property.

In return for his generosity toward Schafer's client, the judge-to-be got a nice new Cadillac.

Fast forward to 1999[*], when Schafer disclosed the judge's actions. The same court stripping Schafer of his license removed Anderson from the bench for a "pattern of dishonest behavior unbecoming a judge."

Anderson also was barred from practice for two years, though he is back at it now - even as the lawyer who brought the ex-judge's dirty deeds to light faces his own suspension from the bar.

Schafer's "crime" was as unforgivable as that of the dirty judge, according to the majority of the Washington Supreme Court, even though it had to agree the "public was served" by his actions.

Of course, Schafer didn't disclose the judge's corrupt conduct until years after he learned of it - in fact, not until Anderson sanctioned him for bringing a frivolous lawsuit in 1995.[**]

But trying to get some payback doesn't erase the fact this judge was a bad one, and who knows what else he arranged for himself from his perch on the Washington bench? There are plenty of other things a judge can horse trade and get far more than a free luxury car as a thank-you note.

The majority decision will do nothing to lessen the public perception that lawyers will keep hidden the dirty deeds of their black-robed brethren.

Client secrets are far more sacred than the integrity of the judiciary is the bottom line out in Washington.

So here is the lesson for lawyers - keep your mouth shut no matter what you might learn from a client about a judge. Because doing the right thing, as Douglas Schafer now knows, means losing all.


Corrections added by Doug Schafer:

*   I reported corrupt Judge "Cadillac" Anderson to authorities in February 1996.  He was not finally removed from judicial office until September 1999.

**  I never brought a "frivolous lawsuit" (or any lawsuit) and Judge Anderson never sanctioned me nor made any rulings or statements that impacted me personally in any way.  This Boston Herald journalist was misled by the New York Times law department lawyer-journalist Adam Liptak who, in his April 20, 2003 story, misleadingly embellished the misleading language in Justice Bobbe Bridge's majority opinion. My multi-year effort to debunk this myth that I was vindictive toward Judge Anderson is discussed in my Motion for Reconsideration, that is on-line (click here).  I had waited for the three-year statute of limitations to lapse (from late 1992 until late 1995) on my former client's complicity in the suspected fraud (I did not then know just what he had done) before I began looking into the matter and then became convinced of Judge Anderson's corruption.

For the full story, go to http://www.DougSchafer.com.