A lawyer who is not licensed to practice law in the District has been appointed to represent several indigent defendants this week during the lawyers' strike at D.C. Superior Court, in what officials say may have been a breach of rules set down by the D.C. Court of Appeals.
Striking lawyers, who have tried to persuade other attorneys to stay away from the court during the strike, said they were outraged that the lawyer had been appointed to represent defendants. They said they had complained to the Public Defender Service and the D.C. Bar.
The lawyer involved, Ann Louise Lohr, is employed by a local firm headed by attorney Andrew Chopivsky. Lohr is a member of the Illinois Bar Association, according to court records, but has not been admitted to practice law in the District of Columbia.
With only rare exceptions, court authorities said, lawyers must be members of the D.C. Bar in order to practice law here.
The D.C. Court of Appeals, which sets rules for the bar and oversees the practice of law here, allows unadmitted attorneys to make five court appearances each calendar year after receiving permission from the courtroom judge.
According to court records, Lohr has been assigned under the city's Criminal Justice Act to represent 10 defendants appearing before the court in the last three days and has made court appearances on behalf of at least eight of them.
"You should ask my boss about it," said Lohr yesterday. "He tells me where to work."
Chopivsky, reached last night, declined to comment, saying he would try on Monday to call Frank Carter, director of the Public Defender Service, which oversees the CJA program and has been enlisting attorneys from law firms to step in and take indigent cases during the strike.
Judge Fred B. Ugast, chief of the Superior Court trial division, said he had asked Carter to look into the matter and assure that court rules were not being violated.
"I'm not sure what happened," Ugast said. "Inadvertently she may have taken more cases than she should have. I'm not sure they were aware of what the rules are."
"Whether it's a technical violation, I can't say," Carter said yesterday. Carter said that PDS officials knew of Lohr's status as an unadmitted attorney last week, when she volunteered, along with Chopivsky, to accept cases during the strike.
"I have not personally talked with them," Carter said.
An official with the court's unauthorized practices division could not be reached last night. A bar official said he did not know what formal action might be taken, but that "I'm sure they're going to pull her Lohr's plug soon."
Karen Dixkoskoff, vice president of the Superior Court Trial Lawyers Association and a strike leader, said that Chief Judge H. Carl Moultrie I yesterday ordered the striking lawyers to keep their signs out of the courthouse.