The D.C. Bar's disciplinary board has found District School Board President Conrad P. Smith "guilty of perpetrating a fraud" on a client and said he neglected clients. It recommended that the D.C. Court of Appeals take away his license to practice law for 18 months.
"We find Mr. Smith guilty of intentionally abandoning his client's cause in one case and neglecting his client's interests while at the same time deliberately misleading that client in another," the bar's Board of Professional Responsibility concluded in its recommendation to the appeals court.
"These are extremely serious charges and they warrant a serious sanction," it told the court, which has the final authority for disciplining lawyers who practice in Washington.
Smith's attorney, Rohulamin Quander, declined comment except to say the school board president will present his case to the appeals court.
Smith, a major supporter of Mayor-elect Marion Barry who has been named as a strong candidate to win interim appointment as Barry's successor on the City Council, failed to appear before the board on two separate occasions to present oral arguments on his behalf.
The Board of Professional Responsibility, the disciplinary arm of the D.C. Bar, was harsher on Smith than its hearing committees, one of which refused to recommend the fraud charge because he had volunteered the details while defending himself against a client neglect charge.
The board's penalties were also stiffer - 18 months instead of the six months recommended by the hearing committees - meaning that Smith would not regain his law license automatically.
If the court upholds the board's recommendation, he will have to reapply for admission to the bar and prove he is of fit moral character to practice law.
In the fraud case, according to the board, Smith was asked to check whether a Washington man who had just died had left any property or money that would benefit his widow, living in Miami. He made some preliminary checks, the board said, and decided the man had not left enough assets to warrant continuing the investigation.
Nonetheless, the board continued, Smith - who had neither sought nor received any money for his preliminary investigating - said he was "prepared to move ahead" and asked for a $280 retainer to pay filing fees and other costs.
During his testimony before the hearing committee Mr. Smith acknowledged that this letter was a 'subterfuge' since, when he wrote the letter seeking a 'retainer' and referring to possible 'filing fees', he had no intention of doing any further legal work," the board said.