From the 1980s through the mid-1990s, Elvira M. White was a compelling and controversial figure in the Prince George's County legal community.
She was the county's first black female assistant defender. She tried to become the first black woman on the Circuit Court bench, launching an unusual and unsuccessful campaign to unseat one of six sitting judges. White eventually sued the public defender's office, alleging racial discrimination, and was herself accused of making racially charged remarks regarding the 1992 Los Angeles riots.
White's tangled legal career in Maryland ended ignominiously last month, when the Maryland Court of Appeals agreed with a Baltimore Circuit Court judge that White had behaved unethically in a civil case, lied under oath when questioned about her actions and lied at a post-conviction hearing. The decision by the state's highest court disbarred White, who was admitted to the Maryland bar in May 1980.
White, now teaching a paralegal course at Grambling State University in Louisiana, did not return two phone calls seeking comment.
Her attorney, Edward Smith Jr., of Baltimore, said: "I think she's moved on with her life. Probably the less said about Maryland from her point of view, the better."
The appellate panel concluded its 21-page decision by saying that White "has engaged in a continuing pattern of misconduct and has given false testimony in the federal and state judicial systems. She has exhibited no remorse nor has she ever admitted to her misconduct. . . . We cannot permit actions such as those that occurred here, which affect not only the personal integrity of [White] but the integrity of the courts, to go unpunished."
"A sorry damn day," said former Circuit Court judge Vincent J. Femia, who retired in 1996. "Here was a young lady who I think all of us were pulling for. I liked her because she was a feisty little lawyer."
In disbarring White, the appellate panel upheld the findings of a Baltimore Circuit Court judge that she gave false or misleading sworn testimony on two separate occasions: at a post-conviction hearing relating to a former client in a notorious murder case, and in a deposition arising from her federal lawsuit accusing the public defender's office of racial discrimination.
The high-profile client was Amy Lynn Smith. In July 1991, Smith, then 17, allegedly tried to team up with her boyfriend, Derek Edward Jones, to kill Smith's parents. The scheme unraveled when Smith's father, a county park police officer, wrestled a handgun from 17-year-old Jones and shot him to death.
White, then an assistant public defender, represented Smith. A Circuit Court jury found Smith guilty of conspiracy to commit murder, attempted murder and 12 other felonies. Smith filed for a post-conviction hearing, contending that she was inadequately represented by White.
During the hearing, White was questioned, under oath, about the extent of her private practice while she was an assistant public defender, according to the appeals court decision.
White testified that as of July 1990, the state office of the public defender had prohibited assistant public defenders from practicing law privately. White testified that she represented only one client after the prohibition went into effect, with the knowledge and permission of her supervisor.
The appellate panel agreed with the state's Bar Counsel, which prosecutes cases of alleged unethical conduct by lawyers, that White in fact represented at least six clients in court after the ban on practicing privately went into effect.
Smith's conviction was overturned, and she was granted a new trial. Before going to trial, she pleaded guilty in May 1995 to conspiracy to commit robbery and a handgun violation and was sentenced to 15 years in prison.
CAPTION: Elvira M. White was the county's first black female assistant defender.