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 ​​​​​​​​​​​The Latest Legal News & Industry Information

Law Firm's Report Blasts Councilmember
For Alleged Financial Conflicts of Interest

     The law firm of O’Melveny & Myers came out with a scathing report last week that documents financial conflicts of interest and apparent cover-ups by D.C. Council member Jack Evans.
     The report is adding to calls for Evans (D-Ward 2) to resign or be forced out as the D.C. Council’s longest serving lawmaker. It also has prompted inquiries from federal prosecutors.
     “O’Melveny’s investigation found that Evans made some efforts to avoid ethical issues associated with his outside legal and consulting activities, but his overall approach was inadequate and based on a ‘I know it when I see it’ standard, rather than adherence to the actual provisions of the Code of Official Conduct,” the law firm’s report says.
     In 2011, Evans proposed a bill to move more city government deposits into local banks, one of which was EagleBank. Since then, the city’s deposits in the bank have grown from $25 million to $67 million this year, according to city records.
     However, Evans never disclosed that he owned tens of thousands of dollars of EagleBank stock. The D.C. Council’s Code of Official Conduct requires the financial disclosures on forms filed with the city government.
     In addition, EagleBank was a client of the consulting firm Evans organized in 2016, partly on a suggestion of the bank’s chief executive officer.
     Evans was chairman of both the D.C. Council’s finance committee and the board of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority when city officials and the transit agency deposited tens of millions of dollars into EagleBank accounts.
     “He received over $400,000 for doing little or no documented work for consulting clients most, if not all, of whom were also ‘prohibited sources’ under the Code of Official Conduct,” the O’Melveny & Myers report says.
     Evans was ousted from both the finance committee and the WMATA board earlier this year.
     His attorneys have described the lack of disclosures as a misunderstanding because the D.C. Council’s current disclosure rule was enacted in 2013, after Evans already made some of the questionable personal investments.
     The D.C. Council commissioned the law firm’s investigation and report following media reports of possible financial improprieties by the Ward 2 Councilmember.
     For more information, contact The Legal Forum (www.legal-forum.net) at email: tramstack@gmail.com or phone: 202-479-7240.

Task Force Recommends Replacing
D.C. Jail After Safety Complaints

     The local jail should be replaced and more city-wide programs should seek crime prevention, according to a report released last week that was sponsored by the District of Columbia government.
     The task force also recommended better community reentry programs for offenders released from prison.
     The District Task Force on Jails and Justice based its recommendations on interviews with more than 2,000 inmates, their families, jail employees, homeless persons and residents near the jail in Southeast Washington.
     “The District should make early investments in fulfilling the basic needs that research shows prevent justice system involvement, focusing on safe and affordable housing, quality education, physical and mental wellness and reducing income disparities,” the report says.
     “Demand is high for community investment in housing, mental wellness, youth programming and basic needs, jobs and alternatives to police, in part because of preference for addressing crime through prevention and alternative interventions,” it says.
     The report was written by Shelley Broderick, former dean of the University of the District of Columbia’s David A. Clarke School of Law. She helped lead a 26-member team that included defense attorneys, college professors, behavioral health professionals, civil rights leaders, prosecutors and ministers.
     They are trying to respond to persistent complaints about health and safety concerns at the jail, which opened in 1976.
     The task force plans to spend most of the next year seeking feedback from the community to help city officials decide whether to replace the jail and institute other criminal justice reforms.
     Last year, an average of 2,059 people were in the D.C. Jail at any one time. When persons awaiting trial, on probation or under court supervision are added, about one in every 22 D.C. residents is involved with the correctional system.
     If a new jail is built, the task force report recommends space dedicated to family visitation, inmate education and vocational training.
     It also recommends space for religious practice, personal counseling and a D.C. Public Library branch. In addition, there should be more natural light.
     For more information, contact The Legal Forum (www.legal-forum.net) at email: tramstack@gmail.com or phone: 202-479-7240.

Blogger Sued for Defamation by Attorney
Who Was Accused of Elder Abuse

     A Washington, D.C., lawyer who writes a blog about attorney discipline is being sued for defamation by one of the people mentioned in his Internet posts.
     Attorney John Szymkowicz claims career damage and "personal humiliation" from the blog written by ethics lawyer Michael Frisch, who accused him and his father of misconduct while representing an elderly client.
     "Despite knowing that the disciplinary proceedings had been brought by a misguided disciplinary counsel, and despite knowing that J.P. Szymkowicz had been exonerated by every tribunal to have considered the matter, defendants continued to accuse him of misconduct and elder abuse — recklessly disregarding the repeated findings that these allegations were false," says the lawsuit filed last week in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.
     Frisch, a former bar counsel for the D.C. Court of Appeals, wrote about a family trust case handled by Szymkowicz & Szymkowicz LLP. One family member filed ethics complaints against both lawyers that accused them of dishonesty and conflicts of interest in representing her mother and brother.
     The ethics hearing committee report found "no evidence" of ethical violations. However, Frisch wrote that the committee ignored evidence and engaged in "a classic 'fox guards henhouse' approach to bar discipline."
     HIs blog post was titled "The Worst Hearing Committee Report In D.C. Bar History."
     The D.C. appeals court last fall affirmed the ethics committee decision to dismiss charges against the father and son law partners. Nevertheless, Frisch wrote that the court had endorsed "the most pro-attorney, anti-public protection recommendation in the history of the D.C. discipline system."
     "As a consequence, attorneys who clearly engaged in a gross conflict of interest get off scot-free for horrific elder abuse," Frisch wrote.
     Szymkowicz’s lawsuit responded by saying Frisch "continued to falsely accuse the Szymkowiczes of misconduct and elder abuse despite their knowledge that the disciplinary charges had been rejected by every tribunal to consider them."
     In addition to defamation, the lawsuit alleges invasion of privacy and infliction of emotional distress.
     The case is Szymkowicz v. Frisch et al., case number 1:19-cv-03329, in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.
     For more information, contact The Legal Forum (www.legal-forum.net) at email: tramstack@gmail.com or phone: 202-479-7240.

Supreme Court Arguments on Immigration
Hint at Conflict with D.C. Government

     Arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court this week indicate a conflict is coming soon with the District of Columbia government over immigration policy.
     Comments from the Supreme Court justices during oral arguments show a majority is leaning toward granting the Trump administration’s plan to end the “DACA” program that has allowed nearly 800,000 young people to avoid deportation.
     DACA stands for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. It is an Obama administration program that allows some residents brought into the United States illegally as children by their immigrant parents to remain without risk of deportation. 
     President Donald Trump wants to end the program, saying immigration should be reserved only for persons who enter the United States legally.
     The Trump administration policy conflicts directly with D.C. Council legislation, which forbids local law enforcement agencies from cooperating with federal officials to deport illegal immigrants without a court order.
     The Supreme Court’s five conservatives implied this week that the Homeland Security Department was acting within its executive branch authority when it moved to end DACA in 2017.
     Liberals on the Supreme Court said the Trump administration did not give an adequate explanation for the shutting down DACA that could be justified under constitutional law.
     "This is about a choice to destroy lives," said Justice Sonia Sotomayor.

Public Policy Foundation Appeals
Lawsuit Seeking D.C. Voting Rights

     Oral arguments are scheduled for this month in a lawsuit by a public policy foundation that accuses the federal government of violating constitutional rights of Washington, D.C. residents by denying them the voting rights of statehood.
     The lawsuit by the DC Appleseed Center for Law and Justice says the District of Columbia should be given two voting U.S. senators and one representative in Congress. Instead, there is only one non-voting delegate to Congress, namely Eleanor Holmes Norton.
     “Residents of the District have elected a delegate to the House of Representatives since 1970, but the delegate is unable to vote—even though Congress can and does act as the District’s local legislature,” a DC Appleseed Center statement says.
     Congress carved the District of Columbia out of parts of Maryland and Virginia in 1790 as a means of freeing itself from local politics that might influence national policies.
     The lawsuit was filed originally in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. The District Court dismissed the complaint, which led to the appeal scheduled for a Nov. 26 hearing.
     The lawsuit accuses Congress of violating the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment. Despite an obligation to pay federal taxes, D.C. residents have no vote in Congress, the lawsuit says.
     The DC Appleseed Center and its pro bono attorneys seek a declaratory judgment saying District residents should have their own voting representatives in Congress.
     Other groups have tried previously to sue in federal court seeking statehood or voting congressional representatives for the District of Columbia. So far, their court action has failed.
     The courts have ruled that Article 1, Section 8, Clause 17 of the Constitution gives Congress authority to grant voting rights only to states, not the District of Columbia.
     A pep rally is planned for Nov. 26 at the federal courthouse with speakers such as Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, Mayor Muriel Bowser and D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson.