Legal ethics

Just a sh***y lawyer practicing past his “sell-by” date

We here at this blog try not to write about things just for clicks or that revolve around stuff that simply every regular lawyer would know not to do.

But the world demands exceptions sometimes, so here I am today addressing a story that popped up right before Turkey Day and that might help suppress your appetite if you are trying not to overindulge.

The ABA Journal has a story about it, but this is a very short post about the ethics charges that have now been brought against an Ohio lawyer who . . . well … the headline for this post pretty much wrote itself into existence, but to describe the conduct … let’s just crib directly from the article to start:

An Ohio lawyer has been accused in an ethics complaint of depositing his feces into a potato chip can and then tossing it into the parking lot of a victims advocacy center.

The lawyer, Jack Allen Blakeslee, allegedly threw the uncovered, poop-filled Pringles can into the parking lot of the Haven of Hope victims advocacy center in Cambridge, Ohio, in November 2021, according to the ethics complaint….

Now the notion that any lawyer would do something like that ever is unfathomable. But, of course, there’s more as the ethics complaint itself addresses:

Respondent has engaged in similar conduct on approximately ten previous occasions, indiscriminately choosing the location where he throws the chip cans containing his feces.

Now, interestingly (obviously less interesting than the whole situation), the lawyer did plead guilty to misdemeanors for disorderly conduct and littering for the November 2021 incident and the nature of the rule violation charged against him is a non-standard rule provision that Ohio has — RPC 8.4(h) — that makes any conduct a violation if it adversely reflects on the lawyer’s fitness to practice law.

In other circumstances, that rule sounds very problematic sounding like it is untethered to any real standard whatsoever … almost to the point where you’d have constitutional questions. But not for this guy. Particularly, since most jurisdictions have a version of Model Rule 8.4(b) which makes something that is criminal conduct (which this would be) and that reflects adversely on fitness to practice law a violation.

But my final thought … and perhaps the only one that potentially makes this incident having actually been worth getting my hands dirty by delving into the story … is that this lawyer has been licensed since 1976. This is very likely a lawyer who — for whatever reason — is practicing past the point when they should have retired from the practice of law.

While it is likely that none of my readers have ever encountered a lawyer that they think would do the specific thing this guy has done, most have encountered lawyers who are continuing to practice beyond when they should have called it a day. A better lawyer than I once referred in my presence as “practicing past their sell-by date” hence the inclusion of the term in the title.

It is not the largest problem facing our profession, but it is a real problem. And it is a problem that goes just beyond how it often can result in a lawyer tarnishing their existing legacy. It also is not a problem with easy solutions because you cannot really force lawyers into mandatory retirement based on age and there is likely absolutely no popular support within the profession for requiring lawyers after a certain age to have to do something more than take CLE to prove competency. In fact, quite the contrary, as many states reduce or remove CLE requirements for lawyers once they get beyond a certain age.