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Federal Grievance Committee v. Williams

United States Court of Appeals, Second Circuit

February 13, 2014

Federal Grievance Committee, Petitioner-Appellee,
v.
Stephen John Williams, Respondent-Appellant

Stephen John Williams, APPELLANT, Pro se, Storrs, CT.

FOR APPELLEE: Wick R. Chambers, of Winnick Ruben Hoffnung Peabody & Mendel, LLC, New Haven, CT.[1]

Before: Cabranes, Sack, and Wesley, Circuit Judges.

OPINION

Page 29

PER CURIAM:

Stephen John Williams appeals from an order of the United States District Court for the District of Connecticut (Chatigny, J.) reciprocally suspending him from the practice of law before that court, based on an order of the Connecticut Superior Court. For the following reasons, the district court's reciprocal suspension order is AFFIRMED.

The district court's reciprocal suspension was based on a 2005 order of the Connecticut Superior Court, which suspended Williams for six months, with readmission contingent on completing courses on ethics and Connecticut practice, due to his pursuit of a meritless mandamus motion in that court and his intimidation of a state court deputy chief clerk " with improper unsolicited advice." The state judge essentially found that Williams had pursued a disruptive course when he sought to reopen a state court proceeding to challenge a speeding ticket.

I. Standards of Review

The district court's reciprocal suspension is reviewed for an abuse of discretion. In re Edelstein, 214 F.3d 127, 130-31 (2d Cir. 2000). When a district court is considering reciprocal discipline, the attorney bears the burden of demonstrating, by clear and convincing evidence, that a different disposition would be appropriate, due to: (1) " absence of due process" in the prior disciplinary proceeding, (2) " substantial infirmity in the proof of lack of private and professional character," or (3) " 'some other grave reason'" that reciprocal discipline would be inconsistent with " 'principles of right and justice.'" In re Roman, 601 F.3d 189, 193 (2d Cir. 2010) (quoting Selling v. Radford, 243 U.S. 46, 51, 37 S.Ct. 377, 61 L.Ed. 585 (1917))(additional quotation marks and citation omitted). These standards require significant deference to both the district court and the state court. In the present appeal, Williams has not met his burden under this difficult " double deference" set of standards: he has not shown that the district court abused its discretion in imposing reciprocal discipline after it found that Williams had not shown by clear and convincing evidence that reciprocal discipline based on the state's suspension was unwarranted.

As a preliminary matter, we reject Williams's contention that the " clear and convincing evidence" standard does not apply because Selling does not explicitly use that phrase. Prior panels of this Court have held that the clear and convincing evidence standard applies to reciprocal discipline determinations, see Roman, 601 F.3d at 193;

Page 30

In re Friedman, 51 F.3d 20, 22 (2d Cir. 1995), and we are not free to revisit those holdings, see In re Zarnel, 619 F.3d 156, 168 (2d Cir. 2010) (holding that panels of this Court are " bound by the decisions of prior panels until such time as they are overruled either by an en banc panel of our Court or by the Supreme Court" (internal quotation marks omitted)). We also reject the suggestion that the " clear and convincing evidence" standard discussed in Roman and Friedman applies only to reciprocal discipline imposed under the local rules used in those cases. That standard applies to all reciprocal disciplinary proceedings in the federal courts of this circuit.

II. Allegations that the State Courts Violated Due Process

We reject Williams's argument that he lacked adequate advance notice of the charges against him. The state court's order requiring Williams to show cause why he should not be disciplined did not detail the factual basis for the charges; it simply stated that his " pleadings" may have violated certain practice rules. However, after Williams requested a bill of particulars, the state court judge orally described the factual basis for the charges. While that description was brief, it gave Williams adequate notice of the charges, which were not complicated. See In re Peters, 642 F.3d 381, 386-87 (2d Cir. 2011) ( " an attorney may receive adequate notice of a misconduct charge by means other than a sanctions motion served prior to the sanctions hearing" ). He also had adequate time to defend ...


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