|The News Tribune - Tacoma, WA||April 18, 2003|
must serve suspension
KAREN HUCKS; The News Tribune
A Tacoma lawyer who publicly discussed a client's secret information to expose a corrupt judge will serve a six-month suspension, the Washington State Supreme Court ruled Thursday.
Doug Schafer, an attorney since 1978, uncovered misconduct by then-Pierce County Superior Court Judge Grant Anderson that led the Supreme Court to remove the judge in 1999.
But to do so, Schafer disclosed information that a client, banker William Hamilton, gave him in private.
Schafer said it was necessary to expose Anderson.
The Supreme Court, in deciding Schafer's appeal of a previous suspension, concluded the lawyer unnecessarily betrayed Hamilton's legal expectation of confidence.
"Schafer violated this trust by revealing Hamilton's ... secrets when he disclosed Hamilton's statements to the Pierce County prosecutor, FBI, (Commission on Judicial Conduct), Washington attorney general, (the Washington State Bar Association), IRS, three newspapers, his unprotected court filing in (another case) and by including the confidences in articles he had published in two local newspapers," Justice Bobbe Bridge wrote for the 6-3 majority.
Bridge wrote that although Schafer's unethical conduct resulted in the removal of a corrupt judge, it also was driven at least partly by vindictiveness after Anderson ruled against him in another case.
Schafer has 10 days to notify all his clients of his suspension, and then can't practice law for six months, a bar association spokeswoman said.
"I've had better days," Schafer said Thursday afternoon, and then directed The News Tribune to a written statement on his Web site.
"The ruling sends a clear message that client secrecy is more important than judicial system integrity," the statement says. "... Sadly, the court rejected my conviction that an honest judiciary is so fundamental to our justice system that preserving it takes priority over keeping secrets of a client. ... The ruling virtually ensures that no lawyer ever again will reveal a client's kickback, bribe, or other criminal conspiracy involving a sitting judge."
Bridge, in her opinion, said Schafer could have exposed Anderson through public documents without including his client's statements.
The justice said the attorney-client privilege benefits all of society and is pivotal to the administration of justice. It encourages clients to seek legal assistance early, and helps prevent crime by allowing lawyers to discourage clients from committing crimes they're contemplating.
Judge Robert Windsor - substituting on the court - agreed in a separate opinion that Schafer should be punished, but said 30 days was enough, taking into consideration the good he accomplished.
By contrast, substitute justice Judge Karen Seinfeld wrote in a dissent that justices shouldn't consider any positive outcome in such cases because that would allow lawyers to justify unacceptable conduct.
Hamilton suffered humiliation and financial costs because of Schafer, she wrote.
In 1992, Hamilton told Schafer that Anderson was "milking" the estate of a client. Schafer didn't investigate the judge more fully until 1995, after Anderson ruled against him in a separate case.
An investigation later concluded that Anderson sold Hamilton a bowling alley one of Anderson's former clients owned for a discounted rate after Hamilton paid $31,000 toward Anderson's Cadillac.
In 1999, the state Supreme Court removed Anderson from the bench, and the bar association suspended his law license for two years.
In 2000, a hearing examiner suspended Schafer's license for six months. When Schafer appealed to the bar association's disciplinary board, the board increased the suspension to a year.
Schafer said he isn't sure yet what he'll do after the suspension.
Karen Hucks: 253-597-8660
•The Washington State Supreme Court: www.courts.wa.gov
•Doug Schafer's Web site: www.dougschafer.com
•Washington State Bar Association: www.wsba.org
(Published 12:30AM, April 18th, 2003)