Glenn C. Lewis , once one of the Washington area’s highest-paid and most-respected divorce lawyers and a former president of the Virginia Bar Association, has been disbarred for dishonesty, mismanaging clients’ funds and failing to fulfill his legal obligations, according to a state bar ruling.
The decision by a Virginia State Bar disciplinary council was issued late Friday after a hearing before four lawyers and one non-lawyer in Richmond. Lewis did not testify during the hearing, but he did address the panel before his punishment was pronounced, said Alexandria lawyer Ben DiMuro, who was a witness in the case. Lewis can appeal the ruling.
Lewis, 60, and his attorney, Michael Rigsby, were preparing a statement, Rigsby said.
Lewis once said in an interview that he was the most expensive lawyer in the region, charging $850 an hour for his services in divorce, custody and other matters. He maintained a large suite of offices in the District and an office in Fairfax City, and for many years he hosted a cable-access television show. He received a lifetime achievement award from the Virginia State Bar’s family law section. The state bar, which regulates Virginia lawyers, is separate from the Virginia Bar Association.
Although Lewis advertised that his Lewis Law Firm specialized in “high-end, highly complex divorce and custody cases,” court records show he began having financial troubles about 2009, when he filed a lawsuit seeking $500,000 from a former client.
The client, also a lawyer, had paid Lewis $378,000 for handling a divorce that had ended in 2004 without a trial.
“He owed us more than that,” Lewis said in a 2010 interview. “I feel as strongly today as I did the day we filed [suit] that [the client] owed every penny of it.”
But with experts lined up to testify that his billing in the case was excessive, Lewis paid the client more than $102,000 to settle the case, including sanctions for Lewis’s failure to show up for a deposition.
Bar complaints started to pile up against Lewis. Creditors began pursuing him, court records show, and in 2011, he filed for bankruptcy.
He closed his law offices in Washington and Fairfax, and when he didn’t respond to some of the bar complaints, his law license was suspended. A bank foreclosed on his house in Oakton, and another bank sought $890,000 for repayment of a $1 million loan.
The state bar investigated two complaints involving clients who had paid Lewis retainers and alleged that they received little or bad service.
In one, James Pettorini of Dumfries said he had paid Lewis $25,000 in a visitation case.
Pettorini alleged in court papers that Lewis didn’t show up for the hearing, lost the case and stopped communicating with Pettorini. Pettorini later won a default judgment against Lewis in Alexandria Circuit Court.
The second case involved Darrell G. Kerr of Alexandria, an Air Force lieutenant colonel, who said in court filings that he paid Lewis a $13,000 retainer for a divorce case in September 2011. Bank records showed that Lewis withdrew the money from his account and withdrew an additional $11,975 from Kerr’s credit-card account without authorization. A default judgment was issued in that case as well.
The state bar’s disciplinary board found that Lewis had committed 13 rule violations in the Pettorini case and seven violations in the Kerr case.
The violations involved rules concerning reasonable fees, communications with clients, diligence, safekeeping of funds, cooperation with bar investigations, wrongful acts and dishonesty or fraud.
DiMuro, who represents Pettorini and Kerr, said Tuesday that “my clients feel vindicated,” but he declined to comment further.