Because of an attorney's mistake, Stephen Frazier, 25, of Arlington spent four extra months in jail, missed his infant daughter's first Christmas and birthday and was escorted in handcuffs by police to his father's funeral.
The attorney, Martin Fogel, 43, now says that he regrets not filing a writ of habeas corpus for Frazier that would have set him free while he awaited the outcome of an appeal of his manslaughter conviction two years ago.
Because of his "unwarranted delay" in filing the papers, the Virginia State Bar last week publicly reprimanded Fogel, who said he believes the action will ruin his 16-year career and his life.
"The net effect will be more than a reprimand," Fogel said in a telephone interview from his Arlington office. "It will be a personal disaster for me and my family. It cost me not just money. The stigma of a reprimand means you've done wrong and we want the public to know you've done wrong," Fogel said, adding that he was about to faint at the reality that his mistake would be published.
The purpose of the reprimand is to "improve discipline (among lawyers) in Virginia," said bar spokesman James N. Woodson.
"The Virginia State Bar is an arm of the (Virginia) Supreme Court," Woodson said. "We're the watchdog over the public interest. A public reprimand is to make people more skeptical. It's like a conviction for a lesser offense. I think a reprimand can be overcome, by good behaviour."
The allegation against Fogel was brought by Frazier before the bar's newly formed 12-member disciplinary board. The board was created last September to police attorney's behaviour more efficiently and make the punishment of offending attorneys more equitable, Woodson said.
The board also has the power to issue private reprimands to attorneys that only appear on the bar's books and in its central computer bank, and to suspend a lawyer's license or disbar a lawyer.Fogel received a public reprimand.
Attorneys from Norfolk and Virginia Beach were disbarred last week by the disciplinary board. As a result, the two can no longer practice law in Viginia or virtually anywhere else because of reciprocity agreements between Virginia and almost all other states, Woodson said.
Fogel's reprimand also could be known in all other juridictions because the information is kept in the bar's central computer bank in Chicago, Woodson said.
In the year ending last June 30, three attorneys were publicily reprimanded in Virginia, one was disbarred and six had their licenses suspended, Woodson said.
"I missed a deadline," said Fogel, explaining how his error in Frazier's case occurred. "I had a personal problem with one of my children at the time. I just didn't stay with the case.
"I've been practicing law 16 years," Fogel said. "I have three children. This is my only livelihood," he said.
"Sometimes all of us procrastinate. What more can I say?" Fogel said.
Frazier and his wife, Lynda, 23, said they have no sympathy for Fogel. They paid Fogel $1,000 to take his case, although the money was later returned.
"He (Frazier) missed our daughter's first Christmas, her first birthday," Mrs. Frazier said. "I was on welfare (and not wrking), I had to sell things. I almost had to move out of my house" for lack of money that her husband might have been able to provide had he been out of jail and working.
Frazier had been convicted of manslaughter in Rockingham County, Va. He and another man had been driving near Elkton in the state, when an argument ensued, Mrs. Frazier said. The man stopped the car on the shoulder of a narrow road, pulled a gun and Frazier shot the man in self-defense, according to his wife.
He was sentenced to five years in prison. But because a judge told the jury hearing the case that it was up to Frazier to prove his innocence, rather than the prosecution to prove his guilt, the conviction was appealed, Frazier and Fogel said. The burden of proving a criminal case is always on the prosecution.
Frazier was free until his conviction was upheld by the Virginia Supreme Court in August, 1975. Frazier then had to surrender to authorities and go to jail until a writ of habeas corpus was filed by Fogel to allow him his freedom until his case was appealed to the Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, where it is pending. Fogel never filed the writ.
The Fraziers said they hired Fogel in September, 1975, but that he did little on the case for the three months that he was Frazier's attorney. Mrs. Frazier said she wrote Fogel and called him once to ask him if he had filed the proper papers.
"I told her I was trying to get the work out," Fogel explained. "I just put her off so I could get some work done."
"I sat in jail for eight months," Frazier bitterly recalled. "He (Fogel) didn't do a thing for me. He damn near broke my family up, caused great hardship for my family."
Frazier said he was not satisfied with the public reprimand.
"Can he give me back those months? Can he give me back the public harassment that was undue? Can he give me back the hardships on my family?" he asked.
"A great deal of time there was nothing I could do about it," Frazier said. "I had to take the man's word" that he would file the proper papers.
Frazier said he finally wrote his own writ in December, 1975, and told judges the circumstances of his case. He was released last March 18.
"I've gotten back into my trade and my training," said Frazier, who is a steamfitter. He is sometimes away from home working and in classes 16 hours a day. "I've slipped back into the community, but I'm bitter about what happened."