A Herndon lawyer who represented a drug dealer in a recent capital murder trial in Prince William County and is now representing an Oakton teenager accused of killing his parents has been suspended from practicing law for 21/2 years for repeatedly mishandling the cases of other clients.
John H. Partridge, 35, heads a five-lawyer firm that handles all types of legal matters and advertises its services on the back cover of the Northern Virginia white pages phone directory. Last year, Partridge represented Justin M. Wolfe, the 22-year-old Chantilly drug dealer accused of ordering the murder of one of his associates. Wolfe was convicted of capital murder and sentenced to death.
Marvin Miller, the lawyer handling Wolfe's appeal, said yesterday that he is unsure how Partridge's suspension would affect Wolfe's case but said he hopes it will help. Last month, Wolfe lost an appeal to the Virginia Supreme Court, and Miller said he plans to file a reconsideration motion tomorrow.
"I think that a harder-fought case and perhaps a bit more legal experience may have yielded a different result" at Wolfe's trial, Miller said, adding that any claim of ineffective counsel would have to be raised on the federal level. "This boy doesn't deserve the death penalty, so we're going to go after anything that might work."
While Partridge was handling Wolfe's case, complaints against him were piling up at the Virginia State Bar. Ten complaints -- for mishandling funds and failing to perform work for his clients -- were found to be substantiated, and last week Partridge agreed to surrender his law license for 30 months, effective May 1.
In one instance, a man paid Partridge $4,000 to represent him in a possible divorce. When the couple later reconciled, Partridge declined to refund the man's money, according to state records and the man involved. In another case, a woman who paid Partridge $5,000 to file a discrimination suit said that he performed shoddy work, dismissed her suit when she was about to be awarded damages and then never re-filed it.
In an agreement entered last week, Partridge acknowledged that he repeatedly took payments from clients and failed to place them in trust accounts, in violation of state rules.
Yesterday, Partridge attributed his difficulties to "office management problems."
As part of his discipline, Partridge agreed to make restitution to the clients whose money he kept. And if he chooses to practice law again after his suspension expires, he must promptly hire a law office management consultant to monitor his practice for two years.
Partridge said yesterday that his office problems did not affect his defense of Wolfe.
Partridge is currently the attorney of record for Joshua P. Cooke, a 19-year-old Oakton resident charged with fatally shooting his parents in their home last month. The day after Partridge submitted the agreement to the state bar, he represented Cooke at a preliminary hearing in Fairfax Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court. Bar officials said this was not a problem because Partridge's suspension doesn't take effect until May.