Due to a typographical error, an item in yesterday's lawyers column was incorrect. It should have read, "Virginia lawyers rated their collegues and found that one-fourth of them do incompetent work - mainly because they are lazy, overworked or haven't kept up with the law."
WASHINGTON ATTORNEY Roderick K. Porter has told the Federal Communications Commission under oath what he earlier had refused to say to an FCC administrative law judge: that while he worked for the FCC he had nothing to do with a case involving a Florida FM radio station that later became his client.
Then Porter - who until last October had been an assistant to then FCC Chairman Richard E. Wiley - pulled out of the case over what he considered the unjustified suggestion by the administrative law judge, Reuben Lozner, that he had violated a canon of ethics against "even the appearance of professional impropriety."
Although Porter's dispute with the Commission has been settled, the larger issue of lawyers avoiding "even the appearance of professional impropriety" caused by their former government service - the often criticized "revolving door" - remains as strong as ever.
The FCC may take some steps to solve the problem as a result of Porter's case. It is considering whether it should make all former government attorneys appearing before it swear they had no official dealings in a case in which they now represent a private client.
Needless to say, the question as aroused great interest within the tight little world of Washington lawyers who regularly practice before the FCC, most of whom had worked for the commission at one time or another in their career. The FCC Bar Association, for example, filed a strong brief backing Porter in his original refusal to tell Lozner if he had any dealing in the case as a government attorney with the station that became his private client.
As for Porter, he said he made his stand solely as a matter of principle even though it would have been easy for him to make the disclaimer that Lozner wanted.
He was annoyed that Lozner raised the question of a possible conflict only with him, and with no other attorney in the case. "He should have asked all the lawyers" - one of whom also was previously employed by the FCC, Porter said.
Moreover, Porter insisted there are no rules, regulations, laws or canons of professional ethics requiring him to say he was clear of any conflicts.
If the FCC acts, that may no longer be true - at least for lawyers practicing before it.
R. Patrick Maxwell is quitting in November as executive director of the D.C. Bar Association to help set up the largest prepaid legal service plan in the nation, a fringe benefit, like health insurance being run by the United Auto Workers for its Chrysler members and retirees.
Maxwell, who came to the D.C. Bar as assistant director in December 1974 and became its director the next month, will be in charge of setting up offices in six areas outside of Detroit where Chrysler has plants.
The program is headed by Richard Scupi, who previously had directed a similar, but smaller, prepaid legal service program in Washington for members of the Laborers' District Council. That program is considered one of the best in the nation.
Experts believe the Chrysler plan, if it succeds, can transform the way middle-income Americans get legal help by making it possible for them to have a lawyer at a price they can afford.
Workers and the company will contribute funds to hire lawyers who will be available to write wills, cases and defend members on criminal charges, gives advice on house purchases, handle divorce
From the mailbag: Commenting on last week's column, Alexandria attorney Kenneth E. Labowitz said maybe the clients were right to be upset when they found out that legal fees for all sides in a big case totaled $270,000 - far more than the value of the settlements.
"How could the lawyers not have informed their clients of what was involved so as to prepare them for the final bill?" Labowitz asked. "It is inexcusable that the clients were not kept informed of their respective cases and of the nature of the respective bills so as to remove the shock at settlement. Such a shock is produced from a lack of understanding by the clients about what the lawyers have done on their behalf."
Dr. Uicholas N. Kittrie, a former counsel to the Senate judiciary Committee and director of the American Bar Foundation project on the rights of the mentally ill, has been named the new dean at American University's Washington College of Law. He had served as acting dean during the year-long search.
The school has expanded its enrollment from 706 to 800 students this fall. Kittrie says there is good reason for the expansion: "With the 'federalization' of America and the complexity of government and life, more people need to know the law and learn it where it is being made."
Short takes: Virginia lawyers rated their colleagues and found that one-fourth of them doing competent work - mainly because they are lazy, overworked or haven't kept up with the law . . . Oral O. Miller, a lawyer with the Small Business Association, was named president of the American Council of the Blind. He also is president of the American Blind Lawyers Association . . .