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Defendant Claims He was Denied Due Process

In a disciplinary case, the Supreme Judicial Court of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts vacated an order imposing a two-year suspension on K. and entered a judgment suspending K. from the practice of law for four years, retroactive to October 24, 1997. K’s disciplinary proceeding in Massachusetts arose as a result of K’s unlawful payment of $12,000 to a congressman for the purpose of arranging a transfer of K’s uncle from one federal prison to another.

A New York Criminal Lawyer said that the Florida Bar filed a complaint against K and attached a copy of the Massachusetts judgment to the complaint. In his response to the complaint, K admitted that he had been suspended in Massachusetts and that the order attached to the Bar’s complaint setting forth the facts leading to his suspension was genuine and admissible as evidence. The Bar filed a motion for summary judgment. K did not appear for the hearing on the motion. Instead, he filed a pleading entitled “Respondent’s Objection to Complainant’s Motion for Summary Judgment” in which K alleged that he had been denied due process in the Massachusetts proceeding. Following the hearing, the referee granted the Bar’s motion.

In her report, the referee found that K. did not demonstrate that he had been denied due process in the Massachusetts disciplinary proceeding. The referee further determined that the Massachusetts adjudication of misconduct constituted conclusive proof of K’s misconduct in the instant disciplinary proceedings pursuant to Rule Regulating the Florida Bar 3-4.6.

The referee recommended that K. be disbarred and that he be required to pay the Bar’s costs. In reaching this conclusion, the referee found as aggravating factors Karahalis’s prior disciplinary history (a 1985 private reprimand from the Supreme Judicial Court for Suffolk County, Massachusetts; a 1991 public censure from the Supreme Judicial Court for Suffolk County, Massachusetts; and a 1992 public reprimand in Florida based upon the discipline in Massachusetts, along with substantial experience in the practice of law. The referee found that the absence of a dishonest or selfish motive and a cooperative attitude during the proceedings were mitigating factors. Nevertheless, an NYC Criminal Lawyer said the referee found that the aggravating factors outweighed the mitigating factors and noted that “the amount of money involved in this case and the circumstances are egregious.”

In recommending disbarment, the referee further relied on Florida Standard for Imposing Lawyer Sanctions 5.11, which provides that disbarment is appropriate when “(b) a lawyer engages in serious criminal conduct, a necessary element of which includes intentional interference with the administration of justice, false swearing, misrepresentation, fraud, extortion, misappropriation, or theft; or … (f) a lawyer engages in any other intentional conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation that seriously adversely reflects on the lawyer’s fitness to practice.”

Neither K. nor the Bar has challenged the validity of the order attached to the Bar’s complaint, which sets forth the facts leading to K’s suspension in Massachusetts. Therefore, pursuant to Rule 3-4.6, the Court finds K. guilty of the misconduct which served as the basis for the Massachusetts discipline; that is, the payment of $12,000 to a congressman for the purpose of obtaining a transfer of K.’s uncle from one federal prison to another.

K. does, however, challenge the referee’s recommendation of disbarment. K. argues that a four-year suspension like that imposed by the Massachusetts court is appropriate.

The issue in this case is whether the referee erred in her recommendation that K. be disbarred, by virtue of his misconduct.

The Court in deciding the case said that in reviewing a referee’s recommendation of discipline, this Court’s “scope of review is somewhat broader than that afforded to findings of facts because, ultimately, it is the Court’s responsibility to order an appropriate punishment.” However, generally speaking this Court “will not second-guess a referee’s recommended discipline as long as that discipline has a reasonable basis in existing case law.” Further, when the disciplinary proceeding is premised upon an adjudication of guilt in another state, this Court is not bound by the discipline imposed by the sister state. Thus, the Court concludes that K. has not sustained his burden of demonstrating that the referee’s recommendation of disbarment is inappropriate.

As to attorney misconduct involving bribery, this Court has found: Bribery, a criminal act, is a particularly noxious ethical failure under the Code of Professional Responsibility, because it not only involves a breach of the individual attorney’s public trust as a member of the legal profession, but also represents an attempt by the offending lawyer to induce a third party to engage in fraudulent and corrupt practices. Such conduct strikes at the very heart of the attorney’s responsibility to the public and profession. We are, therefore, not inclined to leniency in bribery matters, absent mitigating factors in the individual case.

In cases involving bribery, this Court has favored disbarment as a form of discipline. In the instant case, Karahalis committed serious misconduct in paying a United States Congressman a large sum of money for special treatment of a family member. While K. argues that the fact he was trying to help his family warrants less severe discipline, the Court does not agree. K. did not seek transfer of his uncle to another prison because his uncle’s life was in danger. Rather, he paid the bribe because it was “inconvenient” for his family to visit the uncle who was incarcerated in Florida. Making life more convenient for family members is simply not adequate justification for such egregious misconduct. Our honored profession is soiled by the conduct which has brought K. to this day. If we do not act to cleanse the stain from our profession, we would depart from our oath and give the citizens of this state cause for concern.

Accordingly, the Court held that K. is hereby disbarred. The disbarment shall be effective thirty days from the filing of this opinion to provide K. sufficient time to close out his practice and protect the interests of existing clients. If K. notifies this Court in writing that he is no longer practicing and does not need the thirty days to protect existing clients, this Court will enter an order making the disbarment effective immediately. K. shall accept no new business from the date this opinion is filed. Judgment is entered in favor of The Florida Bar, 650 Apalachee Parkway, Tallahassee, FL 32399, for costs from K. in the amount of $830.00, for which sum let execution issue.

Every lawyer must act in accordance with the Code of Professional Responsibility, for the practice of a law is a noble profession. Any lawyer who violates such code must be reprimanded. If you know a lawyer who commits bribery in the practice of law, seek the advice of a Suffolk Criminal Lawyer and/or Suffolk Order of Protection Lawyer. Stephen Bilkis and Associates can help you with that, whether you have been charged with theft, drug possession or sex crimes.

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