Copyright troll dodging disbarment by resigning from the bar?

John Steele is the colorful copyright troll whose work in shaking down people by threatening to link their names to gay porn with spurious lawsuits has been augmented by a series of bizarre legal maneuvers, including allegedly stealing his caretaker's identity in order to create a disposable buffer between Steele and his operation.

But he's got a new wheeze that takes the cake:

He's voluntarily given up his Illinois bar card, seemingly in order to avoid disbarment -- at least, that's Fight Copyright Troll's theory. It's a kind of auto-disbarment that seeks to avoid the special consequences that befall officers of the court who play games with the law.

How to avoid disbarment? Disbar yourself!

Notable Replies

  1. You can't fire me; I quit!

  2. hallam says:

    I doubt that this twit is the first US lawyer to have tried this dodge. In fact the Green Card lawyers tried it back in the day. Didn't work for them.

    The reason is that suspending membership does not usually suspend disciplinary actions against the member. And when you try for another bar you are required to state that you have no pending disciplinary hearings at your previous one.

    On top of that, it looks like the court is going to sanction the lawyers involved. That goes on the lawyer's record and has to be disclosed when applying to any bar. It is the sort of thing that might lead a court to refuse to allow pro hac vice representation out of state.

    So no, I don't think it is likely to work.

  3. hallam says:

    You mean what is the chance that the guy's reputation will follow him after his activities have been on Boing Boing etc.

    I would conservatively estimate that probability as 1.0

  4. Full disclosure: I work for a State Bar, but not in the Admissions or Discipline departments.

    Most state bars have reciprocal discipline systems. So if a lawyer is disbarred in one state, the other states take note and disbar him/her as well. They have their own hearings and in rare cases the discipline is not reciprocated, but in a case like this it would definitely be noticed.

    In the state I work, a resignation while under investigation is classified and coded differently than a normal voluntary resignation (or simply going 'inactive'). There are even blogs like http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/legal_profession/ that gather all of the disciplinary actions from various bars and compile them. I am very, very confident that this guy will not be a lawyer anymore in any state.

  5. I actually highly doubt that this is what he is doing. It wouldn't keep him from getting disbarred in any state I know of, and Illinois is a state with very well-developed lawyer discipline law due to the fact that it's a big state with a lot of lawyers. If he was just giving up, they'd do what in Pennsylvania (IAAL in PA) is called "disbarment on consent," which is a voluntary disbarment with no findings of fact or law. Doing it by consent and saving the state bar a lot of money by not having to put on a case theoretically makes it easier to get reinstated, in states that allow reinstatement from disbarment (but even in those, you're talking about maybe 3 people in 100 getting reapproved later, and those are usually in cases where the problem was drugs or booze and you can document that you've been sober for umpteen years and have been washing the feet of lepers on alternate Tuesdays when you run out of other good deeds to do).

    The sanctions orders are still in effect in California-- that would keep him from going to another state to set up shop, even if going inactive would somehow cause him to escape the clutches of Illinois, which it wouldn't. The general public really doesn't realize how much information you have to provide about yourself (so that a state can do further research) before being admitted to a state bar. Ask a recent law graduate who's passed the bar about how his or her "character and fitness" is going, and prepare yourself for a long story even if it's going well. TV portrays lawyer licensing as a simple and routine thing. It isn't-- it takes dozens of hours of paperwork, credit checks, criminal background histories, fingerprints, etc. even if you've never gotten a speeding ticket in your life (mine was three times as voluminous because I have a hyphenated last name, and so had to prove a negative for every conceivable variation of my name). And that's just the part where you accumulate your packet to hand over to the Character and Fitness People-- you usually wait for months after that to get any sort of response.

    I suspect that Steele's reason for going inactive is far more prosaic-- it costs a lawyer hundreds of dollars a year to keep a license active (registration fees, plus the cost of taking continuing education). If you're going down anyway, why waste the money to keep a license you're not using anyway (because of bad publicity) active?

Continue the discussion bbs.boingboing.net

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