No, stop, this is not a post about politics. Not sure why you’d think that just from the title…
It’s Groundhog Day here in the United States. As a person of a certain age, Groundhog Day makes me think of the Bill Murray movie more than the actual parlor trick with a rodent that happens in Pennsylvania, so mining a situation that happens over and over again (unfortunately) in the world of ethics feels like low-hanging fruit. That situation: Lawyers losing their license over the willingness to lie.
But, today’s entry involves a lawyer on his way to being disbarred from practicing law in Michigan for conduct of an extent that (fortunately) you don’t see every day. The conduct is level of mendacity that is difficult to imagine explainable as anything other than an actual psychological condition — someone who comes across as a pathological liar or a sufferer of narcissistic personality disorder. Again, stop, why do you keep trying to think about politics in this post. You should stop being so weird about this.
The lawyer in question is a gentleman named Ali Zaidi.
Now, before grabbing snippets of the Opinion issued by the State of Michigan Attorney Disciplinary Board that details the lengths and breadths of Mr. Zaidi’s false statements that cost him his license, the subject matter of some of the falsehoods gives an opportunity for a brief reminder about an aspect of the ethics rules not always spoken about or focused upon.
Michigan, like most jurisdictions, has a version of Rule 7.1 that makes it unethical for lawyers to make false statements about themselves or their services. Lots of lawyers think of that rule – Rule 7.1 — as applying only to advertising – because it is housed in the 7s – but it actually applies to any communications by lawyers. An example I’ve used from time-to-time at seminars is to make the point that a lawyer who sends inflated bills to a client wouldn’t only violate RPC 1.5 but also would run afoul of RPC 7.1 because the contents of the billing statement would be a false and misleading communication about the lawyer’s services – specifically about the amount of time the lawyer spent providing those services.
With that more academic pursuit behind us, here are the snippets from the order that show the scope of the falsehoods this to-be-disbarred Michigan attorney used in bringing about his own downfall:
failing to correct his resume during his employment with one firm; submission of fraudulent resumes to a potential associate, a staffing consultant to fill a position with another attorney, and the Bank of Montreal; repeated failure to provide his correct address to the State Bar; misrepresentations in and related to respondent’s website for Great Lakes Legal Group; and misrepresentations in his answer to the Request for Investigation.
The order lays out in pretty significant the extent of the falsehoods in the various resumes which included claims to be licensed in two states where he wasn’t, claims to have worked as a summer associate at three firms where he never worked, claims to have earned an undergraduate degree from Harvard which he didn’t, and claims to have competed in an Olympics for a U.S. Field Hockey Squad of which he was never a member. Beyond his resume claims, the lawyer also practiced law under the name of a law firm, Great Lakes Law Group, which he later admitted wasn’t really so much an actual law firm as an “idea that is still in progress.” The panel also even threw shade on parts of the lawyer’s resume not proven in the proceedings to be false in a footnote that lists other claims in terms of education and work history about which the panel is clearly quite skeptical.
This lawyer also did his cause no favors by representing himself and parts of the order focus on things that were said during the defense of the case that were also false like his reason for not showing up for hearings. But, he may have even done himself more damage when he was present and involved in the hearings:
[PANEL MEMBER 1]: Where do you live now?
MR. ZAIDI: I currently-my-to establish clarity on that, this has been a source of some issues and concerns, I will be in Texas. My whole goal after my tenure ended in Michigan is
[PANEL MEMBER 1]: See, it’s not a trick question. Where do you live now?
MR. ZAIDI: I have a place. It’s not a simple answer. I’m trying to explain to you and give you that answer as well. Texas was a goal, which is why I always put Texas. She mentioned my current address is in New York. And even when I called [the State Bar of Michigan] and I updated my- I let her know that Texas – that address in Addison, Texas is still the best address for me.
[PANEL MEMBER 1]: Who lives there?
MR. ZAIDI: It’s my family business. And the reason – and part of the reason – let me explain to you why
[PANEL MEMBER 1]: So it’s not even a home? It’s a business address?
MR. ZAIDI: Yes, it’s a business address.
[PANEL MEMBER 2]: What is your family business.
MR. ZAIDI: My Dad owns some restaurants.
[PANEL MEMBER 2: So you gave the address of the restaurant in Texas?
MR. ZAIDI: No, it’s not a restaurant. It’s basically his office where he operates and there are other offices there. It’s just basically a big office building. And that’s where
[PANEL MEMBER 1]: When did you come to Michigan for this hearing?
MR. ZAIDI: I came this morning.
[PANEL MEMBER 1]: Where did you fly from?
MR. ZAIDI: I didn’t fly. I drove.
[PANEL MEMBER 1]: Where did you drive from?
MR. ZAIDI: I drove from Toronto.
[PANEL MEMBER 1]: What are you doing in Toronto?
MR. ZAIDI: Well, my wife lives in Toronto. And I live in Toronto for the most part, but I travel routinely to Lewiston where I’m trying to establish some business there.
[PANEL MEMBER 1]: Where’s Lewiston?
MR. ZAIDI: It’s in New York.
Not to say that having a lawyer represent him during the proceedings would have let this lawyer be spared disbarment, but not representing himself was clearly the only possible way that outcome might have been avoided.