What started as a routine labor-management dispute five years ago in Miami now provides a unique opportunity to see how the D.C. Bar Association tries to keep Washington lawyers on the straight and narrow.
Moreover, it shows one of the few times when indiscretions by lawyers associated with major firms - here in this case, the prestigious firm of Ardent. Fox, Kintner, Plotken & Kahn - has come into public view.
The D.C. Bar disciplinary board recommended that a former associate of that firm, Joel I. Keiler, who is now in practice by himself, be suspended for one month for "wrongful conduct which perpetrated a sham aritration proceedings" - an activity the bar found "inexcusable" for a lawyer.
A partner of that firm, Allen G. Siegel, received a private reprimand from the Bar's inquiry committee, which came to light only after Keiler asked for further hearings on the private reprimand he also received initially. It was this added hearing that brought the recommendation for a stiffer penalty.
The situation started in 1971 when Keiler - a specialist in labor law with Ardent, Fox, Kintner, Plotkin & Kahn - went to Miami to look into a dispute between Teamsters Local 198 there and his client, Sanotaru Linen Service.
According to legal documents filed in the D.C. Court of Appeals, which determines if the bar's disciplinary board recommendations for suspicion should be carried out, the union's business agent, Eli Schutzer who no longer works here, told Keiler to pick an arbitrator.
When Keiler returned to Washington, he asked Siegel, the partner in his firm in charge of the Labor law division, if he wanted to be the arbitrator in the sidpute. Siegel accepted.
These facts came to light in 1974 when two attorneys with the firm of Williams and Connolly - Charles H. Wilson and Brendon V. Sullivan learned of it while dealing with Keiler on another matter. They reported Keiler's action to Fred Grabowsky, the D.C. Bar Counsel, who started disciplinary action against both Keiler and Siegel.
Sullivan said he and Wilson acted on the belief that attorneys have a responsibility to report cases of possible misconduct to the Bar.
According to papers filed in the court, which still hasn't acted on the disciplinary board's recommendation, Albert Arent, senior partner of Arent, Fox, Kintner, Plotkin & Kahn, learned that his partner, Siegel had acted as an arbitrator in a case where a member of the firm, Keiler, represented one of the parties.
Argent, according to court documents, neither chastised nor reprimanded Siegel or Keiler.
The Bar's inquiry committee - the lowest level of disciplinary hearing with the exception of an admonition from Bar Councel Grabowsky - issued both lawyers a private reprimand.
The case would have died there - with all the proceedings secret - had not Keiler decided to ask for a further hearing to wipe out the reprimand. Siegel, for instance, took his case no further.
After a hearing, the Bar's disciplinary board found that Keiler and Siegel had not told the union they were members of the same firm. Siegel, the board said, acted "as if he was a disinterested arbitrator" while Keiler served as the employers' attorney.
At the end of the hearing, Siegel found in favor of the employer, represented by Keiler, his legal associate.
"Certain steps were taken to mask the relation between the arbitrator and his law firm," the Bar disciplinary board reported.
For instance, it said that Siegel signed his name "in a form never utilized by him, as if John F. Kennedy were to have signed J. Fitzgerald Kennedy."
Moreover, Siegel by prearrangement, mailed his findings to a relative in Florida who then forwarded it in a different envelope with a Miami postmark to the union, the bar group said.
Court papers said the Teamsters agreed to pay half the cost of an arbitrator if he came from miami.
On the basis of those findings, the Bar's disciplinary board recommended one month's suspension for Keiler.
"We are mindful of the fact that the co-respondant (Siegel) bears a heavy responsibility for having participated and served as the sham arbitrator," the Board said. "None the less, respondent (Keiler) initiated the idea of the sham arbitration, never questioned the proposal and willfully participated in it."
Besides recommending that Keiler be suspended for a month, the Bar disciplinary board said a copy of its opinion should be sent to the union.
Stan Lichtman business agent of the union, said recently he had not yet received his copy.
Keiler could not be reached for comment yesterday. Siegel, still a partner in Ardent, Fox, Kintner, Plotkin & Kahn, said, "the attorney who represented me" would make any comment, but he declined to supply the name of his lawyer.