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When a court’s affirmative orders meet with lawyer silence

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Photo from website of U.S. District Court (W.D. Mi.).

Today, Virginia’s intermediate appellate court found a lawyer in contempt and disbarred her from practicing before the Virginia Court of Appeals (thanks to Ken Lammers for pointing out that the disbarment only applies to that court, and not to all Virginia courts) for her insufficiently explained silence in response to the Court of Appeals’ orders to file an amended petition for appeal after denying her petition to withdraw as court-appointed appellate criminal counsel (she also was silent when the order was repeated), not responding to a subsequent order to show cause why the foregoing behavior should not lead to a contempt order, and then not appearing in court on the date designated for hearing the contempt show cause matter. In re Lynch, Rec. No. 0051-09-1 (Va. App., Feb. 3, 2009).

The Virginia Court of Appeals re-set the contempt show-cause hearing for January 13, 2009. At that hearing, the lawyer insufficiently explained her actions, by saying her caseload was too heavy, and she failed to pay proper attention to the court’s orders. The Court’s contempt and disbarment Order permits the lawyer to petition for reinstatement after showing completion of “sufficient” continuing legal education in the areas of time management, appellate practice, and professionalism. Lynch

I remember taking a criminal court appointment for a drug felony appeal several years ago, not in Virginia, where the court-appointed appellate lawyer had already been dismissed from the case for twice missing court deadlines to file a simple, short docketing statement. I was very frustrated when I tried unsuccessfully to get the case file from him. The court’s order directed him to get me the file, but he dragged his feet for many days, and the briefing deadline was short. He finally hand-delivered the file to me.

Attorney Lynch committed more lengthy and more serious delays with the Virginia Court of Appeals than the foregoing predecessor lawyer in my appellate case, which probably caused more frustration to the appellate judges than I felt with the lawyer who delayed in getting me his file. Whether or not Ms. Lynch’s disbarment was appropriate, versus a lesser sanction of a short suspension at worst, it would have been folly for Ms. Lynch to have expected to get away with nothing more than a slap on the wrist after she finally appeared before the Court of Appeals for her contempt show cause hearing. Jon Katz