Attorneys can’t avoid being disciplined by the 7th Circuit by simply resigning from the bar. If they do, the declaration, “I resign,” will be countered with, “You can’t; we’re disbarring you.”
Judge Richard Posner explained in the Dec. 9 order, “When an attorney is removed from the roll of attorneys admitted to practice before this court, we don’t want to leave the impression that the separation was innocent if in fact it was precipitated by the attorney’s wrongdoing.”
Attorney Lawrence Scott Wick was disbarred by the Supreme Court of Illinois for fraudulently overbilling clients.
The 7th Circuit then ordered him to show cause why he should not be expelled from it, as well. Wick responded by requesting permission to withdraw.
The court denied the request, and disbarred him instead.
Nate Cade, a Milwaukee attorney with Michael Best & Friedrich, who frequently represents attorneys in disciplinary actions, said, “Words cannot even describe the audacity of Mr. Wick in trying to slip this past Judge Posner. That alone is worth the price of admission.”
The court began by noting that it had only one previous requested to withdraw, which it granted, because there was no reason to suspect any ethical violation.
But the court added, “Why a lawyer would bother to request permission to resign a membership that imposes no financial or other obligations (such as commitment to an organization’s principles) is unclear, and this leads us to speculate that
the most common reason is a desire to avoid expulsion — a desire that should not be honored.”
Looking to the practice of other courts, it found that some routinely permit withdrawal, even after disciplinary proceedings are instituted, including the U.S. Supreme Court.
The court surmised that these courts do so to avoid the bother of completing the disciplinary process, but, given the rarity of such requests, the court concluded that this reason would not justify the practice.
As an aggravating factor, the court found that Wick had submitted misleading requests to withdraw prior to his Illinois disbarment, asserting that he had “not been suspended, disbarred or disciplined in other way by any court for any reason.”
The court opined, “All this was literally true, so far as we know, but it was misleading in view of the pending disciplinary proceeding.”
The court found, “He has no reason, financial or otherwise, for wanting to resign from the bar of our court other than to avoid the sanction of another disbarment. That is a bad reason.”
Lacking any good reason to permit withdrawal, the court denied the request, and ordered Wick disbarred.
What the Court Held
Case: In re Wick, No. D-10-0015
Issue: Can an attorney resign from the bar?
Holding: Yes, but not when the only reason is to avoid sanction.
David Ziemer can be reached at email@example.com.