The D.C. Court of Appeals, in an unusual, apologetic statement, admitted yesterday that it "acted too hastily" in April in accusing a D.C. Superior Court judge of giving "a judicial stamp of approval to an unethical practice" by a law student in small claims court.
The statement followed a five-page, single-spaced letter of protest to the clerk of the appeals court from Judge John R. Ness who complained that if the high court had "followed its own rules" it would not have reached "such an erroneous and unjust determination" in the case.
Hess, who had asked the court to review its decision, argued that if he had been asked about the facts as presented in the appeal-as court rules provide-the record would show that the matter resulted from a misunderstanding between the court and the law student.
Yesterday, the appeals court acknowledged that Hess' point was well taken and said he was entitled to public acknowledgement of our procedural error.
'The dispute centered on the appeal of an automobile negligence case in which the defendant contended that Hess first asked a law student to try to resolve the dispute between opposing parties and, when the failed, appointed the student to represent the defendant.
The defendant argued that the dual role violated the American Bar Association's Code of Professional Responsibility and, in an unsigned opinion issued last April, the appeals court agreed.
Judges Frank Q. Nebeker, J. Walter Yeagley and John M. Ferren participated in the decision and ordered a new trial. They also found that Hess erred when he directed the student to proceed with the trial before the student had a chance to contact his supervising attorney.
Under Superior Court rules law students may appear in a limited number of matters with written approval of their supervisors in various clinical programs.
In his letter, Hess conceded that perhaps he should have waited for the student's supervisor to arrive in court, but, he added, he thought it was "more desirable" to see to it that the defendant was represented in court.