Subject: Restoring Integrity and Ethics in the Legal-Judicial System
Date: Mon, 03 Jan 2000
From: Doug Schafer
To: Members of the Washington Legislature [sent to all 144 members having e-mail addresses]
The national spotlight is shining upon our state's lawyer and judge disciplinary systems due to their largely ineffective response in the case of former Judge "Cadillac" Anderson and the State Bar's pursuit of me for reporting him. The National Law Journal has done a cover story on them for its 1/10/00 issue that already is posted at http://www.nlj.com/. The details are on my website at: http://bigfoot.com/~d_schafer/ or http://members.aa.net/~schafer/ .
I believe Legislative attention is needed to correct the many problems with both our lawyer and judge disciplinary systems. The Legislature is the branch of government that most closely reflects the basic values and morals of our society.
Since 1974, the "ethics" of the legal profession have been set nationally by its trial lawyers who see themselves as hired-gun mercenaries for their clients. While they say it's "ethical" to disclose their clients' secrets to help themselves collect their fees, they declare it "unethical" for a moral lawyer who discovers he's been used by a client to defraud others to make disclosures that help the victims recover their losses.
National writers for years have cautioned the legal profession about its misguided "ethics." Law Professors Geoffrey Hazard and Wm. Hodes in their treatise "The Law of Lawyering," wrote, "Many lawyers will chafe under a rule that threatens to punish them if they do what they know is morally right. The public, when it understands these implications, will not praise the profession for imperiously decreeing that its "ethics" supersede prevailing notions of morality."
Writers have cautioned that self-regulation of the legal profession (the trade or business of law) will be lost if its "ethics" and effectiveness fail to meet society's need for confidence in its legal-judicial system. "If the legal profession fails to reform an area of ethics that provokes an effective response from the general public, control may be shifted to non-lawyers through the political process. ... Accordingly, internal reform must begin soon if the profession wishes to avoid losing the self-regulation it now enjoys." Quoted from L. Kocontes, "Client Confidentiality and the Crooked Client: Why Silence is not Golden," Georgetown Journal of Legal Ethics (v.6, p.283, 1992).
I personally have lost, after 21 years as a lawyer, any hope for responsible internal reforms. I am quite prepared to abandon this profession, having developed an allergic reaction to the stench of moral decay and greed that permeates it. Reforms will only come from pressure or intervention by the legislative branch. If you have the will, I can show you the way.
In Short v. Demopolis, 103 Wn.2d 52, 691 P.2d 163 (1984), the Washington State Supreme Court held that the Legislature may regulate the "trade or commerce" aspects of the law business, implicitly agreeing with the Attorney General's position, at page 63, that the Supreme Court's only exclusive power was its power to admit, suspend, or disbar lawyers. The Court said at page 61, "These business aspects of the legal profession are legitimate concerns of the public which are properly subject to the CPA [Consumer Protection Act]."
In RCW 23B.15.020, the Legislature has denied the use of "any court of this state" by foreign corporations that fail to comply with our laws. The same bar could be installed for lawyers who fail to comply with legislatively imposed ethics rules designed to protect the consumers of this state from deceptive, unfair, and immoral acts by those in the trade or business of law. Judicial system funding could be withheld until its leaders address these profound problems.
I recognize that the Legislature has other important matters to address, but I urge you to reflect upon whether anything is more important than ensuring true ethics and integrity in the legal-judicial system. You've been elected to make such policy decisions--don't let any lawyer convince you otherwise.
Thank you for considering this plea.
Doug Schafer, Lawyer in Tacoma, Washington.