[Guest post by Aaron Worthing; if you have tips, please send them here.]
Update: My post providing the promised for supporting documents is up and here. I purposely bumped it back so that it wouldn’t appear until after even Patterico’s post on Think Progress’ latest dishonesty.
Update II: And thanks to Ed Whelan for the link back.
On Friday, in the letters section of the New York Times, Bruce Fein, Esq. wrote the following:
Justice Antonin Scalia galloped beyond the farthest boundaries of judicial propriety in secretly meeting on Capitol Hill to discuss the Constitution with Tea Party members of Congress saddled with a co-equal duty to assess the constitutionality of legislative action.
Now James Taranto and Ed Whelan have done admirable jobs deconstructing the inaccuracy of that letter. Simply put, the meeting was not secret, it was not limited to Tea Party people only, and there is absolutely no evidence that Scalia discussed the constitutionality of Obamacare or anything related to any case likely to come before the Court. But Fein goes on to lecture Scalia about the supposed lack of ethics of it, and given what I knew about the man, it was a bit much.
But I have to rewind a little and tell you about another man. This man:
This is Ephraim Chukwuemeka Ugwuonye, Esq. I came to know about him when a colleague contacted me with an ethical conundrum posed by this man’s conduct and much of what I will tell you will come from that friend, although I verified all of the information myself. Mr. Ugwuonye sometimes shortens his middle name to Emeka, and sometimes uses that middle name as if it was his first name as you will see. Mr. Ugwuonye is a first generation immigrant from Nigeria. He is also a graduate of Harvard Law School. And at one time he was admitted and in good standing in Maryland, New York, and the District of Columbia as an attorney.
But in 2008, he was suspended in Maryland for ninety days for various forms of misconduct. The case is, well… colorful and worth a read through. You can read it all here, but it comes down to two major complaints. In one instance, he allegedly promised to just file a suit for wrongful termination—that is, to file it for tactical purposes and then let it die. The client disputed that point, claiming that he was promised that his case would be taken to fruition. Regardless, he failed to communicate with his client after he got notice after notice telling him the case was dying of neglect, and eventually the case was dismissed with prejudice. Which means that if there was any merit in his claim, he had flushed it down the toilet with neglect. In that incident he was charged with having failed to provide timely communications with his client.
The second incident discussed in that case involved taking too much money for a frivolous case. Namely he took $3,500 to take the case of a man who claimed that Montgomery County (Maryland) Crime Solvers owed him a total of $25,500,000. Five hundred thousand of those dollars was allegedly owed for helping to catch the D.C. Snipers, which is stretching plausibility, but its within the realm of possibility. As for the $25 million, his client asserted that he earned that by helping them find Saddam Hussein. Mind you, he felt that the Montgomery Country (Maryalnd) Crime Solvers owed him this money. In footnote thirteen, the court notes dryly: “Saddam Hussein was captured on 13 December 2003 in the cellar of a farmhouse located near the town of Tikrit in Iraq, a location of some distance from Montgomery County, Maryland.” The Court’s point was to argue that you didn’t need $3,500 to figure out that the man’s case was worthless and thus that fee was excessive and unreasonable.
So he was suspended for ninety days in Maryland. And in D.C. and New York by reciprocity. Ninety days later, he was readmitted in Maryland, but something funny happened in D.C. and New York. He was not reinstated in those two jurisdictions (see, e.g. here for his New York status). In D.C. When he was suspended in D.C. the order (linked here) stated that it was
FURTHER ORDERED that for purposes of reinstatement respondent’s suspension will not begin to run until such time as he files an affidavit that fully complies with the requirements of D.C. Bar. R. XI, § 14 (g).
That rule, which you can read here, required him to inform a large number of people of the suspension, including current clients and then provide an affidavit giving positive proof of that action. According to the D.C. Bar, he never filed that affidavit, so while his suspension started immediately, the ninety days never started to run. And as of about fifteen minutes ago, I checked and he still hadn’t been reinstated.
As for New York, well bluntly, I couldn’t get an answer out of them I could trust. But one way or the other, once he was suspended, he never emerged from that suspension in New York, either.
And what does this have to do with Mr. Fein? We are about to find out these two men are very close…
Now I came into this story almost a year ago when my colleague came to me asking for ethical advice. He told me his client was being threatened with suit by Mr. Ugwuonye. I have promised this friend anonymity, but I can say that I was sufficiently involved that I can verify each and every accusation. As he was interacting with Mr. Ugwuonye, he googled his name, as he does with all of his adversaries, attempting to get the measure of the man. He quickly learned about the man’s suspension and the fact he was forbidden from practicing in D.C. and New York.
And then he started noticing signs that Mr. Ugwuonye was actually practicing in D.C. For instance, the original “nastygram” from Mr. Ugwuonye came in an envelope with a pre-printed D.C. address, with a label placed over it giving a Maryland address, suggesting a recent move.
Also, his twitter account stated that “[h]e practices law in Washington DC [sic].” You can look today at his twitter account and it doesn’t say that. But I saw it at the time and it did say that, and I will provide images of a print out from the Twitter account from last April that verifies my recollection. That and several other large jpg images will be attached to a separate post I will create after this one, so that the images don’t clog your memory unnecessarily.
And further, his own firm website profiled him as “International Business Lawyer in Washington D.C.” in the title bar. The same site stated that he was
admitted to practice law in several jurisdictions in the United States and Nigeria, including, but not limited to, the Supreme Court of the United States; the Supreme Court of Nigeria; New York; District of Columbia, State of Maryland, several Federal District and Circuit Courts, and the United States Court of International Trade.
(emphasis added). Like the twitter biography, this information has disappeared from the internet. Indeed his law firm’s entire site has disappeared. But like the twitter feed, I have print outs from his site that I can show you, and I will show you in the separate post.
My friend’s conundrum was that all of it suggested unauthorized practice of law, but it didn’t quite prove it. But as I pointed out to my friend, D.C.’s unauthorized practice of law rule is unusually broad, stating that:
No person shall engage in the practice of law in the District of Columbia or in any manner hold out as authorized or competent to practice law in the District of Columbia unless enrolled as an active member of the District of Columbia Bar, except as otherwise permitted by these Rules.
So it is not just actual practice, but also holding one out as authorized to practice in D.C. And with his website, he had certainly done that. So I advised my friend that he had no choice, but to report the man. Much of those print outs and images that I will post are taken directly from the report he did file. And its worth noting that the twitter biography changed shortly after the complaint was filed, as did his website (before it disappeared complately), so it no longer constituted a standing violation of the D.C. unauthorized practice rules. Whether further action and investigation occurred, is purely a matter of speculation.
But that was not the only evidence of unauthorized practice. There was also this interview he made with Chika Onyeani about a controversy involving his withholding of money from a client, the Nigerian Embassy, allegedly to pay debts that his client owed him:
[Mr. Ugwuonye speaking: “]But listen, the Embassy owes me a lot of money. I have even forgiven a $1 million that they owe for work I did for them in New York. People are writing all kinds of rubbish in the internet, they are jealous and they can’t stand the fact that I am the most influential Nigerian attorney in the Washington, DC area (I thought he was going to say in the whole U.S.).”
“I have been practicing law since 1995, and I have built a 22-man law firm,” Mr. Ugwuonye boasted.
“But you were suspended for 90 days by the State of Maryland from practicing law,” I said to Mr. Ugwuonye. “And how could you be doing work for them when you are also suspended in New York State from practicing law?” I asked Mr. Ugwuonye.
Ugwuonye seemed taken aback by these questions. He quickly recovered, cleared his throat, and said, “If you have been practicing law for 15 years and have a 22-man office, somebody is likely to run afoul of the law. And the fact is that anything that happens in this law firm is my responsibility. So, I was suspended for 90 days from October, 2008. Well, it is over,” though I didn’t see where Mr. Ugwuonye has corrected the sanctions imposed on him. But reading through the case, I agree it was one of the lawyers in his office who was responsible for the breach of proper legal representation.
“But the one in New York is not over,” I advised him as a consequence of being suspended in Maryland and the District of Columbia (Washington, DC). “Well, I will take care of it when I have to do something in New York state.”
Now Mr. Onyeani’s writing is not exactly a model of clarity, but he seems to be suggesting that the man could not have been practicing in New York, at the time he in fact was doing exactly that.
Hey, by the way, would you like to see and hear from Mr. Ugwuonye? Because we have video, right here:
Watch closely at about the 1:45 mark and who do you see? Bruce Fein. You see, Bruce Fein was a partner in Mr. Ugwuonye’s firm.
And that Nigerian Embassy controversy is about to get real important. You see, last November the controversy erupted into a lawsuit. Who was sued? Well, Mr. Ugwuonye, naturally. But so was his firm, the ECU Law Group (ECU being Mr. Ugwuonye’s initials), which happened to include (drum roll please), Bruce Fein. In that case Mr. Fein allegedly presented himself as Mr. Uqwuonye’s lawyer, at a time when the suspension had just begun. It is unusual in my experience for an attorney to feel the need to be represented by a third party in interacting with his client, so it raises the question of how Ugwuonye explained this to his colleague. The suit goes on to allege many instances of actual unauthorized practice of law. And also, remember how D.C.’s rules required Mr. Ugwuonye to positively prove he had informed his clients of his suspension and he allegedly failed to do so? Well, over and over, the Embassy’s states that Mr. Ugwuonye failed to inform it that he had been suspended.
Now all of that last paragraph is purely from a complaint filed in court. It could all be lies, I suppose. But they are lies that line up with what I happen to know through my friend.
And at the same time, I suppose Bruce Fein might have had no idea what his partner was doing. But if he is going to start waving fingers at others about their ethics, perhaps he could answer two questions for me:
What did you know about Mr. Ugwuonye’s suspensions? And when did you know it?
[Posted and authored by Aaron Worthing.]