Rules of Professional Misconduct

Lawyer Who Said Disbarment Would Be “an Honor” Has Finally Been Honored

The sort of image not to send if being prosecuted by ODC

Question: How long do you think it would take to get disbarred if you not only agreed to that result, but actually requested and in fact rudely demanded that you be disbarred?

Your answer: Not long?

The right answer: Four years.

Well, I wouldn’t count on having four years if you’re planning to try this, but it took almost four years in this case.

The D.C. Court of Appeals disbarred Glenn H. Stephens III on March 25, 2021, not quite four years from the date that D.C.’s Office of Disciplinary Counsel first filed ethics charges against him. (The charges included filing frivolous claims and interfering with the administration of justice, which, you may be surprised to learn, are considered unethical and even occasionally punished.) He didn’t respond to the charges, and didn’t show up for the evidentiary hearing in March 2018. That hearing involved four witnesses and 176 exhibits—all offered by ODC—and resulted in a report that was 252 pages long. How’d that go for Mr. Stephens? Well, you might think that if the report that comes out of an ethics hearing is 252 pages long, it probably didn’t go well for the person whose ethics were being questioned. And if you thought that, you’d be absolutely right. I mean, it just makes sense.

The hearing committee recommended a three-year suspension, but on review, the Board of Professional Responsibility decided that disbarment would be more appropriate. This was partly because of the email Stephens sent ODC criticizing it, reminding it that he wasn’t disputing the charges, and asking to be disbarred. “Rather than wasting time, money, and paper on your sophistries,” he wrote, “please disbar me. Disbarment by ODC would be an honor”:

Please don’t kill trees, waste taxpayer resources and ODC personnel on me. ODC has no credibility or legitimacy to me. Or the drivel you generate. You are simply dishonest lawyers who do nothing to regulate dishonest lawyers. And racists to boot. Rather than wasting time, money, and paper on your sophistries, please disbar me. Disbarment by ODC would be an honor. To date, aside from competing in the triathlon world championships, my greatest honors are my PhD from UCLA and my law degree from Boalt. But a disbarment letter from ODC will be framed and go up right alongside those diplomas. Please do me the honor of disbarring me. I will be so very very proud.

Glenn

In Re Glenn H. Stephens, III, No. 19-BG-882, slip op. at 3 (D.C. Ct. App Mar. 25, 2021) (emphasis in original).

The World Triathlon site does list a “Glenn Stephens” from the USA as having participated in the 2013 London ITU Aquathlon World Championships in the 55–59 age group, and I have no idea if this is the same person and/or same event, but if so then that particular claim checks out. According to this he finished 41st out of 45, but given that if I tried this I’d have DNS (Did Not Survive) next to my name, I have no criticism of this achievement whatsoever.

The email itself was less admirable, of course, and as I mentioned at the time, Stephens followed that up with a mailing in which he enclosed an image of Flavor Flav with the text “ODC IS A JOKE” at the top (see my reconstruction above). That, plus his failure to show up for the hearing and his insistence that disbarment would be an honor, is what prompted me to speculate that disbarment would not take long at all in this particular case. See Lawyer Who Said Disbarment Would Be “an Honor” Will Probably Be Honored Shortly” (Oct. 4, 2019).

I was wrong.

It somehow took another 18 months for this to happen, and when it did, one judge dissented. Ordinarily that wouldn’t be very remarkable, but remember, this was a case in which the lawyer didn’t respond to the charges, didn’t show up for a hearing, insulted most of those involved in the process, and then, as the Court of Appeals put it, “explicitly and emphatically asked to be disbarred and declined to retract that request when the Board afforded him the chance to do so.”

Granted, COVID-19 delayed most things significantly during that time, but you’d still think they’d have put this one on a slightly faster track.

Stephens unsurprisingly did not appeal the Board’s decision, but usually the highest court of a jurisdiction automatically reviews disciplinary orders (or at least disbarments), and that’s what happened here. Why it took so long is still a mystery, but it was likely some combination of the usual bureaucracy, COVID, and the fact that the judges could not agree whether to disbar Stephens. To be fair, the disagreement was really over whether they had the power to disbar him, because (1) he hadn’t filed an affidavit consenting to the disbarment—he didn’t actively do anything in the case—and (2) the Board hadn’t reviewed the evidentiary record fully, because Stephens asked to be disbarred. In the dissenting judge’s view, the rules required either an affidavit or a full review, so he thought the court had to remand so the Board could do its job. And, of course, rules are rules.

But the majority didn’t agree that the rules required all that extra work just because Stephens refused to cooperate, even refusing to consent to the disbarment he didn’t oppose. Many rights can be waived, they argued, and it sure seems like Stephens waived any rights he had here. And “if the dissent is invoking some greater sense of injustice at respondent’s disbarment,” one of the majority judges wrote in a concurrence, “I do not share that sense.” Stephens not only got due process under the circumstances, the judge wrote, he got “an excess of process” given that he didn’t bother to defend himself and asked to be disbarred. What’s the problem?

Perhaps the Bar Rules entitled him to an even greater excess of process, but if so then we can afford him relief only if he asks for it. He did the opposite here, when more than three years ago he insisted that we not “kill trees” or “waste taxpayer resources” on him. We should have been quicker to abide.

Id. at 14 (Deahl, J., concurring).

The court above this one is the U.S. Supreme Court, but since it doesn’t take cases automatically, this is almost certainly the end of the (surprisingly long) road.